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Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story

The autobiography of Arnold Schwarzenegger

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Ah-nuld Unwrapped

  • Dec 17, 2013
Arnold Schwarzenegger wants us all to know this: He might look like and act the part of a giant muscular lug in his movies, but no matter what you think of his personal politics and behavior in real life, he ain't stupid. Kids who were born and growing up in the same era I did know Ah-nuld as one of the era's biggest ubiquitous celebrities, and despite the recent battering his image has taken, it's still not unusual to meet people about my age who idolized him or held up certain parts of his behavior as things to be emulated.

His autobiography, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, makes that abundantly clear. Schwarzenegger views himself as the supreme poster boy of The American Dream, and in his autobiography, he wants to share his story and prove he's not nearly the dunderhead he's made out to be half the time. Even taking into account the recent bad revelations about his character, in fact, we were right to idolize this guy. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been a lot of different things in his life: Businessman, bodybuilder, actor, politician, and ultimately what he's doing in his autobiography - the autobiography is called Total Recall, but I'm just going to keep referring to it is Arnold Schwarzenegger's autobiography to lessen confusion with a movie he made which was also called Total Recall - is returning to the entertainment industry in book form. He is an entertainer, after all. As a bodybuilder, he competed in a sport, and sports are basically an extension of the entertainment industry. The movies he made speak for themselves. He's been a pitchman for a chain of gyms, and doing that requires a technique in entertaining in order to get customers to like you. He was a politician, and politics is little more than drama half the time, or so it at least seems that way to a lot of outsiders.

What the autobiography reveals is the story of an extremely driven man who never stopped believing in himself. Really, he comes across as a real life version of his most famous character, The Terminator: When he sets his mind to doing something, he absolutely will NOT stop. He can't be reasoned with or bargained with, and he'll just keep on pushing and pushing until he gets whatever it was he was going after that time. Arnold Schwarzenegger the brilliant little boy from Thal, Austria, was once given a school assignment in which he was handed a picture from a newspaper and basically had to describe what was going on. The picture happened to be of bodybuilding champion Reg Park, and what impressed the young Schwarzenegger was that Park was wearing glasses. At that age, Arnold had come to associate glasses with intelligence, and from then on, he resolved he was always going to be both strong AND smart. Reg Park became his idol, and eventually one of his workout partners.

Arnold decided he would become the greatest bodybuilder in the world, and he did. He wanted to be an A-list leading man in Hollywood, and he did that too. An old Sylvester Stallone movie from the early 90's called Demolition Man makes a joke about a President Schwarzenegger Memorial Library. At this point, it seems like just about the only thing stopping Ah-nuld from a run at the Presidency is that he's not a natural-born American citizen. Knowing that, he settled for a hell of a consolation prize by taking the Governorship of California, which controls the world's eighth-largest economy. Along the way, he made some real estate investments and earned a couple of college degrees. Yeah, it's safe to say Arnold led one hell of an extraordinary life.

The autobiography isn't here for any kind of real introspection, dirty laundry airing, or stories about regrets. The working theme is that Ah-nuld started as a working class boy in Austria but worked hard, stayed focused, and never gave up, and look at how awesome he is because of that! Seriously, that's an idea he appears to want his readers to take away from the book, and if it doesn't become apparent during the story itself, then the end chapter is a list of "Arnold's Rules" that he swears by which were a big help in getting him ahead. They're all good rules, and there's nothing impractical about them, but I think he should have added one more to the list: Never let your list of interests stagnate. That's one thing I took away from the book that he doesn't explicitly spell out. The other things are things I've started applying in the last few years.

In spite of this, Arnold doesn't maintain quite as many illusions as you might think. Yes, he got where he is by working his ass off, but he also knows he's been very lucky. When he was trying to break into Hollywood as a leading man, he happened to be there when someone needed a Conan the Barbarian. It was said that, while they were creating the movie Conan, if there hadn't been an Arnold Schwarzenegger around to play the role, they would have had to build one. While he loves acting the poster boy of The American Dream, he also acknowledges the fact that the privileges that came upon his success revealed the fact that not everyone in the United States is subjected to the same advantages he had. Even in Austria, he had a lot of positive role models and facilities that were able to provide him with the help and support he needed to accomplish everything he did, and he realizes that not everyone has that. I do, however, think his belief that the Los Angeles Riots wouldn't have happened if there were more and better after school programs for children is pretty farfetched.

The most interesting thing I learned from reading Arnold's autobiography was that bodybuilders aren't lunkheads the way they're made out to be. Now, realistically, I think everyone knows that having enormous muscles isn't going to come at the cost of your brains. But as an exercise science student at a major university, I was impressed by just how much knowledge bodybuilders have to retain about the way their bodies work. It isn't just going into the gym and lifting any random weights until your limbs fall off. There are certain workout patterns that affect peoples' bodies in very specific ways, ways to change your build to emphasize certain parts of your body, and ways to emphasize muscle tone over muscle building. In bodybuilding competitions, there are specific poses and ways to pose in acknowledgement to musical rhythm and what judges expect and ways to strategize to focus on strengths.

One of the other things that really stood out is that Arnold Schwarzenegger is REALLY an actor. He's fully aware of his thespian limitations, but he took a lot of acting lessons and he became a Method actor who prepares the same way Robert De Niro would. When he writes about The Terminator, he acknowledges that some were wary about his lack of chemistry with stars Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton. His response is that he was basically playing a robot, a machine which does everything coldly, without a trace of emotion, so if anyone had felt there was chemistry between him and the other stars, he was doing something wrong. He learned to shoot in order to prepare, and actually had to perform a physique change for another role.

Arnold does acknowledge that he does have regrets - the scandal a few years ago with the child he fathered with his housekeeper is one, and he writes openly that he hopes to fix things up with his now-ex-wife - but he wants to be an inspiration, and so he writes about his success and what got him there. Being an entertainer, he turns it into a narrative that's a lot of fun to read.

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December 18, 2013
He did star in a number of good action movies. In addition, Arnold has weight training down to a science.
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Nicholas Croston ()
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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