Total Recall, Aubrey Beardsley, and the Challenge of Our Past

“While our past is always there to haunt us, our salvation is accomplished in the eternal Passion of Christ.”

The Past Fools Us

In the 2012 remake of the movie “Total Recall,” Douglas Quaid is fighting to recall who he truly is. His memory has been altered and he can no longer trust what he thinks is true. He believes the key to discovering his true identity is in recapturing his past. To this end he is on a search for a “prophet” named Matthias. Quaid believes that Matthias can help restore his past to him. 

But when Quaid finally finds Matthias, a leader of a resistance movement, the prophet tells him “that is not the only reason you are here.” “I want to remember,” responds Quaid. “Why?” “So I can be myself, be who I was.” 

“It is each man's quest,” Matthias tells Quaid, “to find out who he truly is but the answer to that lies in the present, not in the past. As it is for all of us.”

“But the past tells us who we've become,” answers Quaid.

“The past is a construct of the mind. It blinds us. It fools us into believing it. But the heart wants to live in the present. Look there. You'll find your answer.”

A Christian always looks at the present and the future, not the past. We do not forget the past but use it as a guide for our future. We learn from it and move on.

Our entire existence here on earth is a journey towards Christ. It is pointless to look back. Dwelling on past sins can only bring us harm, past sins can be forgiven.

God did not want the people of Israel to look back, constantly dwelling on a period of exile. He urged them to look forward to a New Covenant.

The Promise of Salvation

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Paul tells us to forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead. We are oriented to the future, to the promise of salvation.

When the woman taken in adultery is brought before Jesus, the Gospel tells us that “Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.” (John 8:6)We are not told what He was writing, but many Bible scholars speculate that He was writing out the sins of those who brought the woman to Him. Faced with their own transgressions, they shamefully melted away until there was no one left to accuse her. 

Jesus shows us that we are all culpable. We are all delivered to disobedience. He does this so that God might have mercy on us all.(Romans 11:32)When all her accusers have left, Jesus voices words of forgiveness. No one can condemn another in the presence of God. Jesus suffers for us all in order to obtain God’s mercy and forgiveness for all. 

A Deathbed Conversion

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public domain

Aubrey Beardsley was a towering figure in the world of Art Nouveau. He was a master of the line as demonstrated by the hundreds of pen and ink drawings that survive him.

In 1896, “high class pornographer” Leonard Smithers published “Lysistrata” by the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. It was illustrated with erotic drawings by Beardsley. Smithers would go on to publish other works featuring the art of Beardsley, such as “The Rape of the Lock,” and “The Pierrot of the Minute.”

In July of 1896, Beardsley met Father David Bearne, a convert who had been ordained a Catholic priest by the Jesuit order only a year before. This encounter led to a lifelong friendship and marked the beginning of Beardsley's eventual conversion to the Catholic faith in 1897. 

In letters to his patron, Andre Raffalovich, the artist wrote:

“I feel now, dear Andre, like someone who has been standing waiting on the doorstep of a house upon a cold day, and who cannot make up his mind to knock for a long while. At last the door is thrown open and all the warmth of kind hospitality makes glad the frozen traveler.”

Beardsley's health was always frail in and in 1898 he contracted tuberculosis. On March 7 he wrote to Smithers.

“Jesus is Our Lord and Judge

Dear Friend,

I implore you to destroy All copies of Lysistrataand bad drawings. Show this to Pollitt and conjure him to do the same. By all that is holy – ALL obscene drawings.

-Aubrey Beardsley”

Recognizing the financial value of the drawings, Smithers did not honor the artist's last request. Some may applaud the publisher for preserving the art. Some may sympathize with Beardsley in his desire to atone for any part he may have played in leading others to sin. But in the end it doesn't matter. According to author Karen Edmisten:

“On March 16, 1898, at the age of twenty-five, Aubrey Beardsley died of tuberculosis. He was in a state of grace, in love with Our Lord, and in communion with the Holy Catholic Church.” (Deathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish Line)

While our past is always there to haunt us, our salvation is accomplished in the eternal Passion of Christ. This act of God is the destination of our journey for it is here that God creates something new.

Pope John Paul II said: "The Christian looks at the past with gratitude, lives the present with enthusiasm, and looks to the future with hope."

Or as Master Oogway, in “Kung Fu Panda” put it, "The past is history, the future is a mystery, the present is a gift; and that's why it's called a present." 

We look ahead to Palm Sunday and Holy Week. The past is irrelevant; God has offered us a future of eternal blessedness.

Pax Vobiscum
5thSunday in Lent

Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at

Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at and can be reached at