Douglas Quail dreams of visiting Mars, still in the midst of colonization, but is unable to do so. He contracts Rekal, Incorporated to have false memories implanted fulfilling his fantasy. He further adds a twist of adventure, as these memories will make him an undercover agent of Interplan. McClane, the head of Rekal, promises that the memories will be sharper and more vivid than real memories, which blur and fade over time. This highlights how modern technology is able to be more “real” than reality itself, providing sensory stimuli well beyond what normal human interaction gives.
Before the implants take place, however, technicians discover Quail already had an implant that erased his memories of actually visiting Mars as an undercover agent, blowing a government secret. Now aware of his true past and scared for his life, Quail tries to run; however, he is contacted by Interplan agents who convince him to surrender. Interplan agrees to give Quail a new set of memory implants to replace the real Mars memories; in these new implants, Quail foiled an alien invasion as a child and only his continued survival prevents the invasion from resuming. Unfortunately, McClane discovers this may be the truth as well, as a drug-induced Quail moans that this secret was never to be revealed—again, right before the implants take place.
The addition of false memories is less troubling than the uncovering of true memories suppressed for a reason. It becomes difficult to verify what is “real” and what is “false” since what one has to rely on are the altered memories of a damaged man.