Total Recall: Partial Recall

With Total Recall hitting theaters this week, we try to remember some noteworthy films about memory loss.

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The Majestic

42%

A sentimental ode to the films of Frank Capra -- and to the magic of the cinema in general -- Frank Darabont's The Majestic was supposed to wrap audiences up in the heartwarming tale of a rising screenwriter (Jim Carrey) whose promising career is threatened by the HUAC hearings of the 1950s -- and then derailed completely when he drunkenly careens off a bridge, loses his memory, and washes up on the shore of a small town where he's mistaken for a long-lost World War II hero whose family just happens to own a dilapidated movie theater. Alas, most critics found The Majestic overlong and overly sentimental, but it found an appreciative audience with the New York Observer's Rex Reed, who wrote, "Carrey gets the best role of his own career -- and plays it with tenderness, valor, bravery and deeply moving conviction. I find him positively captivating."

The Manchurian Candidate

98%

A pitch-black manifestation of Cold War political paranoia, John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate tapped into the lethal turmoil of the post-WWII global landscape to frame the story of a soldier (Laurence Harvey) who's captured during the Korean War and, along with his men (including Frank Sinatra), subjected to brainwashing by Communist agents. Back home, Harvey's a war hero, but his programming -- and the machinations of his politically ambitious mother (Angela Lansbury) -- threaten to unleash dire consequences. The 2004 remake earned positive reviews, but there's no substitute for the unbearably tense original; wrote Roger Ebert, "Not a moment of The Manchurian Candidate lacks edge and tension and a cynical spin."

Memento

92%

The grim noir puzzle that reaffirmed Pearce's leading-man talent and served as Christopher Nolan's full-fledged Hollywood coming-out party, Memento offered an early glimpse of Nolan's fondness for narrative games -- as well as his ability to get the most out of his actors. Playing a man who spends most of the film as not only a mystery to the viewer, but to himself, Pearce won a pile of honors from various film critics' circles, and was a major part of what led the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan to call Memento "provocatively structured and thrillingly executed film noir, an intricate, inventive use of cinema's possibilities that pushes what can be done on screen in an unusual direction."

Mulholland Drive

81%

It resists synopsis and analysis in characteristically Lynchian fashion, but whatever it may or may not actually be about, Mulholland Drive definitely includes scenes depicting a character who appears to be suffering from amnesia, so it would have been uncharitable to leave it off this list. As for the film itself, well, critics have been puzzling over its surreal imagery, nonlinear plot, and jumbled narrative since Mulholland arrived in theaters -- but whether or not you can figure out what it all means, argued the New York Observer's Andrew Sarris, it's "One of the very few movies in which the pieces not only add up to much more than the whole, but also supersede it with a series of (for the most part) fascinating fragments."

Overboard

50%

The hit 1980s comedy that argued that true happiness lies in leaving behind a life of luxury to do housework for a stranger and his four children, Overboard united real-life sweethearts Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell for a comedy about a haughty heiress who tries to cheat her carpenter out of payment for a job -- then promptly falls off her yacht, loses her memory, and ends up becoming the unwitting pawn in his scheme to pass her off as his wife in order to exact revenge. It sounds like it could be the outline for a brutal psychological thriller -- and a major portion of critics just thought it was generally no good -- but for Time Out's Nigel Floyd, Overboard was a "hilarious and touching romantic comedy" that triggered memories of "the integrated plotting and sophisticated dialogue of '30s Hollywood."

Paris, Texas

100%

Using the windswept desolation of rural Texas as a sort of visual representation of the loss felt by a man with no memory, Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas follows the ambling trail of Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) after he emerges from the desert, collapses in a saloon, and is reconnected with his brother (Dean Stockwell) and estranged son (Hunter Carson). While far from the most mainstream offering on this week's list, it might be one of the most emotionally affecting; as Luke Y. Thompson argued for New Times, "Wenders' slow, moody style isn't for everyone, but this is the epitome of it."

Spellbound

83%

At Vermont's Green Manors mental hospital, it's hard to tell who's more in need of therapy -- the patients, or the new director (Gregory Peck), an eccentric fellow whose quickly multiplying quirks turn out to mask a case of amnesia that might have something to do with murder. This mid-period Hitchcock thriller rests on a series of coincidences -- and seems to exhibit a rather hostile view of the psychology profession -- but critics were mostly, well, spellbound by Spellbound; as John J. Puccio wrote for Movie Metropolis, "It may not be first-rank Hitchcock, but even second-tier Hitchcock is better than what most other directors produce."

Total Recall

84%

Loosely based on Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," Total Recall placed peak-era Arnold Schwarzenegger square in the middle of a ruthlessly high-concept plot about a construction worker on a distant future version of Earth (or is he?) who pays for an exotic memory implant, changes his mind at the last minute, and suddenly finds himself at the center of a long-brewing political revolution on Mars (or does he?). Part thought-provoking sci-fi flick, part mindless FX extravaganza, Recall was a huge box office hit, spinning off a TV series, a scrapped sequel (which eventually morphed into Minority Report), and, of course, this week's main feature. "Total Recall is too much," admitted Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, "but it's too much of a good thing."

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don't forget to check out the reviews for Total Recall.

Finally, here's an ode to memory loss from yacht rock legend Michael McDonald:

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