At the very outset, here’s a disclaimer: I’m an Arnie fan. I’ve been an Arnie fan since I was 12 years old, and first saw him drive a car through a police station wall, calmly get out and riddle everyone in the immediate vicinity with bullets of varying calibers. It was my first introduction to gratuitous violence and it was love at first sight. So it was with surprise and delight that I pounced on the last remaining copy of Total Recall at an airport a few weeks ago, wondering how the hell I hadn’t heard about this.
In an era when a few million YouTube hits is deemed worthy enough to warrant a ‘life story’, it’s strange that it’s taken Mr. Schwarzenegger this long to get around to writing his autobiography. And let’s be clear-this is a guy with a story to tell. Thirty five years ago, he was The World’s Greatest Bodybuilder. Twenty years ago, he was The World’s Biggest Movie Star. And five years ago, he was The Governor of America’s most populous state.
Of course, this being an autobiography what we get is Arnie’s version of his life. I wouldn’t exactly call it sanitized (he gleefully admits that his first ever words to Eunice Shriver, his future mother-in-law were “your daughter has a great ass”) but let’s just say that if you’re looking for the brutal, soul- baring honesty of Andre Agassi’s ‘Open’, you’re probably reading the wrong book.
For example, a large portion of the first half of the book is (justifiably) dedicated to his glorious bodybuilding career- his training regimen, his mental preparation, his Mr. Olympia rivalries with Sergio Oliva, Lou Ferrigno & Frank Zane and his enduring friendship with Franco Columbu. But nowhere is there any mention of anabolic steroid use. Granted, he does passingly admit to steroid use later on in the book, but to go through more than a 150 pages without so much as a mention cannot possibly be accidental.That being said, Total Recall is never less than compelling- chock full of humor, intensity and even the odd bit of self-deprecation.
As a lifelong Republican, a fair portion of Schwarzenegger’s book is dedicated to describing what it’s like to be married into the most famous Democrat family in America. But let’s be honest- we all know why we’re here; the movies. And Arnie doesn’t disappoint.From Conan the Barbarian to The Expendables 2, this book touches upon most of his catalogue. Some (the Conan & Terminator franchises, Predator, Twins, True Lies, Last Action Hero) are discussed in a fair amount of detail while others (The Running Man, The 6th Day, Collateral Damage, End of Days and the cringe inducing monstrosity known as Batman & Robin) mercifully warrant no more than a mention.
If you like his movies, you’ll love the trivia this book delivers. Arnold writes at length about clashing with James Cameron on the set of The Terminator regarding his most iconic line. Schwarzenegger preferred ‘I will be back’, arguing that a machine wouldn’t use contractions while Cameron insisted on ‘I’ll be back’ which he felt sounded better.
He talks about crawling through the jungles of Mexico filming Predator a day before his wedding and the ignominy of having to turn up in Church with a crew cut. And of course he talks about the genesis of his famous answer to ‘What is best in life?’ from Conan the Barbarian (to crush you enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women- in case you were wondering).
On the personal front, Schwarzenegger goes to telling lengths to paint a picture of love and respect for his family- both immediate and distant. Of course, we all know where this is leading- to the final few chapters of the book, where he finally addresses his infidelity and his illegitimate child.
Thankfully, this incident appears only at the end of an exceptionally readable book and does nothing to take away from its immense enjoyability.
Sure, Arnold may not be Mr. Perfect, but then who is? The author of an autobiography earns the right to tell his story his way and that is exactly what he does. This may have a marginal impact on the factual accuracy of the book, but none whatsoever on its fun quotient.
A little bit about our reviewer
John Thangaraj is 34 years old, and spends most of his time reading comics, listening to obnoxiously loud metal and playing with his dog (who does not like the obnoxiously loud metal). He also occasionally finds the time to work, though given that he works in advertising, the actual definition of ‘work’ is ambiguous at best. Having been traumatized by his parents at the tender age of 7 by being made to watch The Omen, The Exorcist and Salem’s Lot in quick succession, he has a somewhat unhealthy obsession with horror and fantasy. His favourite authors include Stephen King, Road Dahl, Bill Bryson and Neil Gaiman. He thinks The Lord of the Rings rules and The Fountainhead sucks.