TERMINATOR/TERMINATOR 2: Bones of Violence

James Cameron’s THE TERMINATOR begins on a field of human skulls in a destroyed society. The film cuts to a guy working late in night on a garbage truck – i.e. human’s dependence on machine – and out of this, the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is born and looks out from a rooftop to see a technological-strong society. It is a revelatory shot from Cameron and a Biblical recreation with a twist, as it is a technological paradise that is found by the naked robot and, in this, men are the God. The opening is a rememberance of the rebellion that men had on earth after their primitive origins and a suggestion that in the future the same revolution will be of the machines having it on men, as a cycle of creations substituting the creators; human skulls replaced by robotic bones – a point that is underlined again in the sequel’s opening with the robot’s face replacing John Connor’s after a fire.

Of course, this is a symbolic note more than a literal commentary, as Cameron isn’t pointing the finger at the shallow machines, but instead, at the people who created them and their instabilities (with the robots looking like the humans who made them), the awe of the advances but the violent consequences of their ambitions. The first two films from Cameron focus on various emotions that make the characters seem like “good people” with hope, but they also emphasize the unsteadiness that these same people withhold through their adventures in the cities, underlined by the continuous treat of a nuclear catastrophe, the extreme fanaticism with technophilia – demonstrated with the passions of guns (i.e. Mexican hideout), vehicles (i.e. opening images in T2) and computers (i.e. Skynet creator) – and further highlighted by Sarah Connor’s (Linda Hamilton) psychotic turn. It all shows that the dangerousness is inside the people and how their internal demons feed off a violent, destructive society.

While perhaps not the most subtle of moments (the narration from Sarah is just plain exposition for the most part), the image of happiness between the Terminator and John (Edward Furlong) playing together and the mother in the distance epitomizes beautifully the two films: The happiness and naïveté from the child and the ignorance from the robot feeding from each of their inexperience, the latter always a representation of the human and in this case never deadly because of his young master’s purity, but unfortunately a sight too ignorant for the cynical mother to co-exist with due to her actual experience with the deadlier world. Where the innocent kid uses the robot to have it as a friend, as two empty souls who know nothing, the emotional and internally angered mother uses her guns and technology to kill, too hurt by others and hurting them because of it.

To be part of the technophobia-world in these films is to be part of an infection, gradually gained through the absorption and the interaction with the modern culture – the greediness, laziness and cynicism of the people. Little by little, it corrupts the primitive and the innocent, visually exemplified by the time-travelers’ initially vulnerable and naked appearance – which is laughed at and mocked by the seemingly cynical contemporary citizens – and then despoiled once they make contact with the modern and become violent beings. John is a more direct symbol, as naïve and unwilling to kill at first – though somewhat rebelled as it is – and who will gradually become violent and fierce due to society’s destructive nature. Indeed, the appropiateness of the kid hustling from Sarah at the end of the first film is perfect, and then going into the coming storm. What is beautiful today will become dark tomorrow; the woman has become more rebel, and her innocent baby will become a soldier.

The films both critique and embody the kind of cynical symbols of today’s society, sometimes even satirizing it with Terminator’s introduction in the second film. It demonizes the sadist kind but concludes that it is a nature which will be difficult to escape. Where most human-and-robots themes run with the idea of the person teaching the machine how to feel sensations and the beauty of it (from the emotionally inert Spock in Star Trek, to the dehumanized Darth Vader in Star Wars), the Terminator films work vice-versa as well (the sequel more than the first one, since Cameron’s ideas are developed further): the robot teaching the human about the pain of feeling, and the faults of people’s sensations and ambitions. The death of the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) is not the loss of a robot, but the death of a society, changing into multiple people, not of a single identity. With it follows the death of the Terminator, always connected and an extension of the humans, who understands his own risk, the need to end a culture and follow his predecessors to the end.

Cameron’s second film still ends on an obligatory sense of hope against impending war times, and perhaps rightfully so. Sarah sees something unexpected in the expected future of war: both films end on roads, the first prepared to a coming storm and the second one is inside that obscure storm, and once she incredibly experiences Terminator’s humanity, it is the realization that to be certain about the end of humans is as equally fallacious as those who are assured about the non-existentance of robots. But in actuality, it leaves one to wonder whether both will be right and wrong in their expectations: something will happen and humans will meet their Judgment Day, as a result of their nature, but perhaps through most of their own destruction and those of robots, that’s when humans will have their humanity again. As Sarah’s and John’s witnessing of the death of T-1000, seemingly symbolical from a dying race, and the death of a Terminator, symbolical from the machines dying, there will be no end, only a new beginning with better people.

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