In the 15 years after her encounter with a futuristic killing machine named “Terminator” and its human opponent Kyle Reese, Sarah Connor has found herself preparing her son John for the eventual nuclear holocaust. Unfortunately, she has been considered to be mentally unbalanced by the authorities because the details she had given the police are considered outlandish and far-fetched, despite the fact that they are “true.” She has been interred in a mental facility and keeps her “sanity” by working out.
Back in Los Angeles, time portals have opened up, revealing naked men. One is a man who resembles the Terminator that appeared in 1984, while the other is that of a man of smaller build. The smaller man procures a police uniform and begins his mission of tracking down John Connor. The Terminator does the same using more stealth and data mining techniques.
John Connor, however, has grown to being a juvenile delinquent. It is clear that he brushes off his mother’s warnings, but uses some of her teachings, like using a computer to get the PIN number of an ATM card he acquired to get cash. The police officer (from the future) and the Terminator find John Connor at roughly the same time and they clash. The roles, however, are reversed; The smaller man turns out to be a more advanced Terminator model named “T-1000,” a robot made of liquid metal, making it almost impossible to destroy using most conventional weapons. The Terminator, however, was reprogrammed by the John Connor of the future and sent back in time to protect the John Connor of the present. John and the Terminator escape, but the T-1000, equipped with information on the present day, kill John Connor’s foster parents.
Finally believing what his mother told him, John makes a beeline for the mental facility. Sarah, on the other hand, having been told that the man who massacred the officers at the police station 14 years ago (from “The Terminator” movie) has returned, prepares to escape. Sarah has a PTSD flashback when she sees the Terminator come off of the elevator, but future John Connor programs Kyle Reese’s phrase into the Terminator as a way to calm Sarah down. They all escape from the T-1000.
When they manage to slow down and rest, the Terminator fills John in on Skynet and the war. It is here that Sarah decides to “stop” Judgment Day before it begins. She has the Terminator give her the name and address of the lead programmer at Cyberdyne, a man by the name of Miles Dyson. She attempts to assassinate him, but is eventually stopped. When the Terminator tells Miles of the future that is to come, he decides to destroy everything.
Miles and the Connors make it to Cyberdyne, but the infiltration does not go quite as planned. The police eventually surround and storm the build, wounding Miles in the process. Miles dies from his wounds and sets off the explosives that destroy the cybernetics lab. The Terminator shows up with a minigun and destroys the police cars. The T-1000 eventually appears and commandeers a helicopter. This leads to a chase against the Connors which eventually takes them to a steel mill.
Although the T-1000 is defeated by being frozen by exposure to Liquid Nitrogen, it eventually melts and reforms. It then heavily damages and deactivates the Terminator. Afterwards, it attacks Sarah Connor. It then attempts to fool John Connor, but Sarah Connor had found a shotgun and began blasting the T-1000. Although not causing any real damage, the force of the shells were pushing the T-1000 back towards a vat of molten metal. Unfortunately, Sarah had run out of shells before the T-1000 could be pushed into the vat. The Terminator, having activated a reserve battery, uses a 40mm grenade launcher to blast the T-1000 into the vat. Having performed its primary mission parameter (Terminate T-1000 and protect John Connor), the Terminator is lowered into the same vat by John and Sarah Connor.
The Connors leave the steel mill, now facing an uncertain future for mankind.
Review and Analysis:
[Reviewer’s Notes: I am going to give some warnings.
First, this is a VERY long autopsy.
Also, if you really like this movie, or (especially) the symbolism of the Sarah Connor character…
…Turn Back, Now.] You have been duly warned.
Once upon a time, I liked this movie. Admittedly, I liked it more for Robert Patric’s portrayal of a creepy Terminator, Joe Morgan as an intelligent scientist (who happens to be Black), and most of Brad Fidel’s updated “tech” soundtrack. However, there were elements of this film that bothered me then. They have since all grown to Wave Motion Gun levels of loathing over the film.
A cursory examination of this film’s theme finds, per usual, reflections of both bigotry and a full-on fantasy of White Loathing on full display. What it demonstrates is a strict adherence to both the Fallacy of the Chosen One; where only certain people are destined to rule over others, OR certain people who are allowed to redeem themselves by living through their actions until the very end. The other revealing item is that because both Skynet and Sarah Connor believe in the idea of “The Chosen One,” both seem to have very little understanding of how random the passage of time really is.
James Cameron’s films fulfill all of the precepts of the Action Heroine Handwave, while Schwarzenegger’s films have a tendency to kill off Men of Color in short order for no reason at all.
The Endpoint of Temporal Actions:
Skynet has been operating its temporal assassination protocol under the following perception:
- John Connor is the leader of the Human resistance; and
- That resistance is about to wipe out Skynet; therefore
- Killing John Connor before he is able to organize said resistance would mean that Skynet wins.
Right? Wrong. The problem with this kind of thinking is the assumption of binary action: No specific Chosen One, the outcome automatically swings in your favor. This also conveniently ignores the actions of those who chose to follow the “Chosen One.” This is very similar to those episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits” where some well-intentioned people travel back in time to kill Adolf Hitler to prevent World War 2 (and “The Holocaust”). As per usual with the ironic twist that these shows love, the Adolf Hitler killed as a child was not the Adolf Hitler that starts the Great War; an infant child was adopted as Adolf after (the real) Adolf was drowned along with the assassin.
In the case of The Terminator series, the Chosen One theology assumes that no one else would take up the mantle of Leader of the Human Resistance AND lead the humans to victory over Skynet. The problem with this thinking is that it never addresses the mechanisms which bring about either Skynet nor John Connor’s “ascension.” Skynet’s plan would only assure that “another” resistance leader would come about, who could either act in the same manner or even more cunning and devious than John. It does not follow that only John Connor would be capable of leading a human resistance against those who are looking to destroy you.
At the same time, killing Miles Dyson would not stop Skynet. In fact, looking at the movie itself, Miles might have the only one with enough influence at the time to stop Cyberdyne from building
WOPR Skynet for the US Military. But the movie deemed his life as nothing more than a receptacle of the sins of humanity, even when he himself is not guilty of them.
Image Rehabilitation and Massaging:
Although Arnold Schwarzenegger had turned out to be a popular action hero for Hollywood during a period in which said heroism was wrapped up in hyper-masculinity, his most popular character was as a villain in “The Terminator.” Since his endorsement of George H.W. Bush in 1988 – during that time he called Michael Dukakis, “The Real Terminator” during his own stump speeches, the GOP began recruiting him as a potential presidential candidate. To that end, he proceeded to turn his most villainous character, “The Terminator,” into an heroic one. The reason why this is significant is because while most “Action Heroes” will often go on to play many varied roles, including as villains and antagonists, Schwarzenegger does not.
T-1000 – Idiot:
We spend an entire movie watching T-1000 kill humans with impunity. Even T-101 notes that the T-1000 would most likely kill Sarah and impersonate her when young John Connor suggests that they break his mother out of the mental institution.
So the movie unfolds.
T-1000 corners Sarah Connor.
And he tells her to “Call to John?” And ‘tortures’ her to do so?
Why not just kill Sarah there and impersonate her to lure John into a weaker and sympathetic position?
He apparently does impersonates her, but he leaves a Secondary Target in Sarah Connor alive.
I won’t go into why he never impersonates T-101, especially at this juncture, given that everyone has been separated from each other and T-1000 had “deactivated” T-101 earlier.
Oh, and one last thing:
This scene doesn’t make sense, according to the movie’s own use of physics.
The T-1000 was already shrugging off small arms at this point, not even halfway through the movie. This was in start contrast to the 6 shotgun blasts T-101 throws in their first encounter, although why “Liquid Metal” would not allow for the shells to pass through is a mystery only a sad script would show.
Remember this Image:
The people who heap the most praise on watching a Sarah Connor-like character grace the movie screens never seem to talk about this scene here, except in terms of her wanting to terminate Miles Dyson. They certainly never talk about what exactly her actions would have done to change “The Future.” Instead, we go from here:
Where Sarah believes that she is going to stop Skynet by killing its programmer who had his name on the programming notes, to:
Sarah conveniently getting cold feet at committing cold-blooded murder of a man in front of his wife and child. It would seem that she did not have any plan whatsoever concerning what she was going to do if she encountered witnesses or resistance. So she breaks down and cries.
Thus, any internal criticism ignores or handwaves this scene.
However, it is very telling that Sarah Connor’s thinking is limited to her immediate vision, and that:
She does not blame:
The US Military, who wanted to use Miles’ research to create a War Supercomputer to calculate how to win an unwinnable Nuclear War;
The politicians who authorized the funding for what would become Skynet, on the basis of wanting to look “Strong on Defense” by building a War Supercomputer which Cyberdyne promised would find the calculation capable of winning the unwinnable;
The CEO or the Executive Board of Cyberdyne Industries, who accepted the funding on the grounds of building the WOPR 2.5 Service Pack 7 for the military;
Any of the other technicians, scientists, supervisors, and bosses who trickled down the authorization to initiate and construct the actual Skynet Project.
Instead, Sarah saves all of her enmity, hatred, and loathing for:
The computer programmer, who is as far down the decision-making chain as you can get. On top of this, Sarah (and Cameron, by extension) suffer yet another moment of irrationality dressed as binary thinking: That Miles Dyson was evil because his work would eventually go on to bring about Skynet because he ventured into the field of Artificial Intelligence.
The thing to remember is that Skynet isn’t even really on Cyberdyne’s radar as much as it may be on the US Military’s, given that Generals have been trying for decades to take the human fallibility element out of the loop (as once discussed in the movie “Wargames“). Right now, it’s just Cyberdyne’s research on future tech.
When you consider that one of the themes Cameron wanted to employ in this film (The Future is Not Set), Sarah Connor’s condemnation of Miles strikes as being not only short-sighted, but racist in the end. The analytical theme that Cameron swings at (and misses) is the one that Nicholas Meyer and Harve Bennett employed back in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan: Science has always been a pawn of the military, where their genius is often perverted into the most dreadful of weapons. The proof of this is where Miles is talking with his wife about the possibilities that he envisioned with his research.
Sarah’s blaming of Miles Dyson is like holding Albert Einstein accountable because his theories and his intellect brought about the creation of thermonuclear weapons. Sad irony given that Skynet uses those to kill humanity. Even taking Sarah’s ill-advised diatribe at face value, Men like Miles may “think” of building the Hydrogen Bomb, but it’s not Men like Miles that look to use it. In fact, it’s men like (the adult) John Connor that do. And it would be women, like Sarah, that would. The people who take arms “when necessary” always do so under some self-righteous cloak. Sarah’s talk of men like Dyson doing nothing but “creating death” falls flat if you deign to remember that Sarah was looking to do the same just minutes before.
Even with that on the radar, Miles wasn’t looking for a Skynet; his vision of the future was more akin to building computers more in line with Glen Larson’s Knight Industries Two Thousand (from the TV show Knight Rider). Artificial Intelligence on the order of KITT and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Data are built with Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics in mind, and it sounds like Miles was looking at the same. Read the quote Asimov makes as to the how and why his 3 Laws came to be, because Cameron’s Terminator series is a prime example of what Asimov refers to.
Lastly, even though Sarah Connor gets cold feet about actually killing Miles, she still wants him dead. Watch her interactions with Dyson from the moment she first attempts to kill him to right before he “dies.” Remember the classes of people listed above while doing so. You’re supposed to feel sympathy for Sarah because “regains” her humanity just before firing a killing bullet, but you aren’t supposed to question any of the other factors that lead up to this.
This is not a character I can stand behind.
Adoptive Parents Not Respected…Again:
As I note in a number of reviews, the adoptive/foster parents of Chosen Ones don’t fare too well. Outside of the ‘modern’ mythos of Superman, the adoptive parents of those who have a “higher destiny” all tend to die in short order. Since James Cameron’s Terminator series borrows much from John Badham’s Wargames, he also borrows the Lightman parents: Clueless, World-weary, Suburbanite disciplinarians who are not supposed to have any idea whatsoever as to who they really have living in their house, besides the fact that John is supposed to be portrayed here as nothing more than a typical Rebellious (White Male) Teenager who just wants to have fun.
The other component of Foster/Adoptive Parents in the Cinderella/Star Wars mold is that they are never shown as loving, caring, or understanding of the hero. Indeed, Connor’s foster parents are shown to be cut from the same cloth as Beru and Owen Lars from “A New Hope,” only Jenelle is less sympathetic to John Connor than Beru is to Luke. This is all necessary so that you as a viewer does get attached at all to them when T-1000 kills Jenelle and impersonates her in an attempt to lure John Connor back home.
The Perfect Parent:
This scene is troublesome. As John Connor “plays” with the T-101, Sarah Connor comes to the conclusion that since T-101 is a machine, he would not be burdened with human failings when it comes to staying by John’s side. She goes on to list the things that T-101 would not do – Get drunk, hit him, or say that “He’s too busy” to spend time with him – and calls that praiseworthy. This diatribe is supposed to be against the backdrop of having seen John’s foster parents, who are shown to have not cared for John’s well-being in the slightest. Also, with John’s conversation with T-101 a few minutes before this scene, it would seem that Sarah Connor makes some very poor choices in the men that she chooses to share her life with, especially in the face of her actions in the first movie.
Also, one other cursory glance in this movie shows that other than the T-101, the men in this movie are not shown to have positive interactions with their children as a matter of recourse. Miles’ own interaction with his is children was more of a need to show him as being slightly sympathetic when Sarah shows up with a gun and starts firing indiscriminately.
In the United States, (White) Female Parentage is taken for granted and assumed to be the default for raising children. When looking at the images of Women of adult age, particularly in advertising, it is assumed that adult Women are going to be Parents involved in domesticating activities, such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children. Conversely, (White) Male Parentage is seen differently, if downright confusing. The images of adult Men of the same demographic range overwhelming skews towards Bachelor-ism, where these Men do not have the same domestic responsibility that Women are steered towards. Thus, images of adult Men in the same “domestic” activities are seen as outliers. And since a number of these images are for products and services aimed towards the “domestically-involved” Female, many of these adult men are mocked as being clueless; unable to do the domestic task at hand. (White) Male Parentage is undervalued in general, which is why (White) Female Parentage is taken for granted, itself undervalued in different ways.
The Parentage of Men and Women of Color towards their own children is not covered here, because the movie shows little value in either. Miles’ Absent-Minded Professor routine aside, the Dyson family is just add-on for Sarah’s pause moment.
I mention all of this because while Sarah’s perfect father won’t have any of the foibles she mentions, this father will also not be able to teach love, compassion, justice, bravery, temperament, honor, integrity, or any of the other emotions that supposedly separate humans from “soulless” machines. Indeed, all that the Terminator could reasonably teach John is death. John spends more time teaching T-101 how to “act American” than T-101 teaching John anything he didn’t seem to already know.
The Meaning is Lost?
Throughout the movie, Sarah spends far too much blaming the state of the world, as well as bringing about its “eventual” end, on Men. She blames men for not understanding the creation of life, even as she tries to kill people herself. She blames men for creating soulless machines that do not understand life and bring destruction, even as she has nothing but praise for a soulless machine that causes nothing but death, for being soulless. She teaches her son nothing but how to kill and how to destroy. She chastises him for his compassion. She ignores the love he shows her. She rejects his sense of honor and duty.
But she wants to make it a point of railing about these failings in others, particularly men. James Cameron’s film extends that railing by including younger boys with scenes like this:
It is this dichotomy that can be perplexing at times, particularly with a movie like this: On the one side, showing violence perpetuated by men and boys is something to frightened of, derided, or shamed, but showing the same type of violence perpetuated by a single woman is to be celebrated or cheered. This is particularly odd given that the movie spends as much time as possible trying to shame the potential violence of the Human species throughout the film.
There would be many who would be quick to cast the blame on this dichotomy on exaggerated (and many times, false) interpretations of Feminism. Many accomplishments that those who call themselves Feminists or Feminist Allies usually point to Women (mostly White here again) doing tasks once seen as the exclusive domain of (mostly White) men, as well as a positive promotion of Women doing these tasks in a few media circles. However, much like Cameron’s themes miss their intended marks in this film, Gender-Dominion based criticism of this patch of Feminism misses the same mark. The problem of the promotion of activities categorically branded as being male (such as using destructive weapons, participating in wars, showing violent and aggressive traits) is that, often times, the promotion of said violence is only seen to be OK if the perpetrator of said violence is of one gender versus the other.
More on Sarah Connor vs. Miles Dyson:
Emotionally, the themes that James Cameron were looking to get with Sarah Connor are the same ones that he looked to extract from Ellen Ripley in Aliens, where the instinct to protect a child, which is often considered a “motherly” one, culminates with the use firearms by said woman to protect her “charge,” which is considered manly/masculine.
Because of this emotive reaction, one is supposed to see her turning Miles Dyson into the second coming of (Pick Your Favorite Mass-Murderer) as being valid and just. But, you have to keep the following in mind when you listen to Sarah rant about Miles:
- Miles has never fired a shot in anger at anyone else;
- Miles doesn’t use his genius to promote the death of human beings;
- Miles has never ordered another man to kill, maim, or injure another person;
- Miles has never called for the killing of another race or species or country;
- Miles has never called for design of weapons of any kind;
- Miles does not teach his children such lessons;
In fact, when Sarah points the gun at him and his son attempts to show the kind of bravery and self-sacrifice that Cameron script insisted was missing in Humanity, Miles moves his son out of the way as best he could to save him from Sarah’s own irrationality. Thus, the confusion of this film continues to swirl around, almost aimlessly.
The important thing to remember is that this was supposed to be the stated theme and reason as to why Sarah Connor acts the way that she does. It was also the scene where the movie attempts to position itself as “Being Against the Idea of War.” Even as it uses all of the tools of warfare in doing so. We are to believe that there is validity in such, but Sarah’s reasoning is simply a rehash of both Thought Crime and Future Crime; both miss because neither thought nor action she complains to him about is really his own.
Bring Forth the Apocalypse:
Against the climate of the American Political Loathing of the threat of the Soviet Union and its massive military and nuclear arsenal, one of the possible scares that often loomed was that Soviet sleeper agents, who would be activated to sabotage American military assets to prevent US Military dominance in any particular field of warfare.
So, suppose a private company gets a hold of never-before-seen technology of unknown origin and design. Now, one must remember that technological development on this scale by corporations is already under observation by the US military, so a project like this (Future Computer Technology) would have been on the Intelligence radar for some time. Now, a woman who claims to believe that such technology is from the near future attempts to destroy the company not once, but twice. Within the Intelligence Community (CIA, FBI, NSA, etc.) such a person would probably be deemed a possible Russian sleeper agent.
This is important for what happens next: This woman breaks out of a state mental health institution with the help of her son, who does not have any traceable biological father, and a man who mysteriously appeared many years ago and killed an entire precinct of police officers. They make a beeline to Cyberdyne, where they blackmailed a programmer (Dyson) and gained forcible entry into complex, stealing the computer chip and the arm, killing said programmer, destroying his home computer notes, and finally destroying all of the research into the unknown tech at the facility. The arm and the chip are still missing, as are the three perpetrators.
The only conclusion that the US Government and the US Intelligence Agencies would draw from that is such technology is so scary to the Soviets that they would risk all of what they did by “activating” the Connors to destroy Cyberdyne in a terrorist assault. Thus, all of their own copies of Dyson’s work could now be placed under full black budget status and the Military takes full control of the work.
Thus, Sarah’s attempts to destroy Skynet only bring about its existence eventually. By her actions, the project is cast as necessary, and shuts down any debate on why it would be. Thus, anyone who speaks analogous to Dr. McCoy’s objections of the Genesis Project (from The Wrath of Khan), WOPR’s reaction to its 100% Winner None conclusions from its own Nuclear Simulations (from Wargames), or even General Berringer’s objections to having computers run the nuclear weapons (also Wargames) will have been effectively silenced because of this attack. In the process, she also falsely martyrs Dyson, because while his genius is what jump-starts the AI which brings about Skynet, he himself does not.
I have often argued that Sarah is the whole key to Judgment Day. If the idea of Temporal Mechanics is to be believed, Humanity must die at the hands of Skynet for the resistance to be formed, for John Connor to lead it, and for Skynet to send a Terminator back in time. John himself must respond by sending Kyle Reese in order to be born. All of these things must happen for John Connor to survive.
I don’t think, however, that is what Cameron intended.
This is a movie that, examined from the inside, meets all of the requirements of a Movie That Hates You: When removed of its attempts to make the viewer feel good emotionally, the analysis will reveal a perpetuation of the same gender stereotypes, promote the same racial bigotry of Hollywood since its inception, and the movie itself does not make the point it seems to want to make. Once again, the Chosen One is White and Male. The sins of Mankind are wrongly foisted onto a Man of Color, who is then called upon to pay for them with his own life. John’s foster parents are simple add-ons to the story before they are poked to death. Sarah Connor’s actions don’t hold up under scrutiny, even though she is praised for shooting a gun. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political career is boosted from this film, and has used his image to shield himself from criticism of his own personal foibles. James Cameron, with his Oscars for Best Editing and Sound, has wrestled the Special Effects Master crown from George Lucas and has never looked back. Unfortunately, Cameron just continues his fear and loathing of Men and Women of Color. The T-1000 becomes Snidely Whiplash at the end of the film, apparently having his KillTarget.exe file crash when he reformed from being frozen.
Just give a giant robot a blazing sword and toss Terminator 2: Judgment Day to the lions. You have to shut off your logic circuits completely to “enjoy” this film.