Schwarzenegger plays Douglas Quade, a Martian intelligence officer who has had his memory erased, and been placed in a new life on Earth. He remembers his real identity when he goes to a memory-implantation "travel agency" that accidentally unlocked his memory, rather than implanting memories of a "vacation." Quade goes to Mars where he joins Martian rebels in rebellion against his former boss, the dictator Cohagen, who controls Mars by controlling its air supply. Together with the rebels, Quade discovers and activates an ancient alien technology capable of providing Mars with plenty of oxygen.
Total Recall contains a number of liberal themes. It glamorizes terrorism, such as in a scene where the heroic Martian rebels bomb a public square in a terrorist attack. Conversely, it demonizes the government seeking to stop the terrorism as an oppressive police state. The film also makes villains of those who control resources in short supply, the way liberals today vilify oil companies. It also romanticizes an ancient alien race (like the Native Americans) by supposing that their prehistoric ways are superior to modern means, and are the only way to free humanity from want.