Schwarzenegger plays Douglas Quaid, a construction worker living an ordinary life with his wife Lori (Sharon Stone). Quaid is plagued with an obsession about Mars. He believes he has a virtual vacation on Mars implanted in his mind by the Rekall company. The procedure apparently goes wrong and uncovers some of his suppressed past life. He finds himself pursued by killers led by Richter (Michael Ironside) and is forced to go to Mars for real where he joins the struggle against Mars Administrator Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox). However, the "real" events on Mars are uncannily like the events described as occurring in his implanted vacation, and even at the conclusion the viewer is not entirely sure what the reality of the situation is.
Philip K. Dick is credited as one of the inspirations of the movie, from his short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. The title comes from the name of the studio management software for the SSL brand of audio mixing consoles.
One of the points made in the film is whether what is happening to Quaid is reality or is a delusion being fed to his brain is a critical point in the plot. The issue is far more heavily emphasized in The Matrix, is raised slightly in the movie EXistenZ, and is touched upon slightly in the film Vanilla Sky.