Second Union

Second Union

VINTAGE SATELLITE: The Terminator (1984)

“Listen, and understand! That Terminator is out there! It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop… ever, until you are dead!”

The Terminator, 1984 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Hemdale

Annihilation. The Robot Holocaust. Machines crush a sea of skulls untold years into the future. The machines control the machines. It is a devastating image. We have to wonder how we’ve reached this point. Is this some form of artificial intelligence? Sentience? Is sentience even possible with manufactured beings? I was asking those questions for weeks while watching the Picard show. It was a charming notion to understand Data’s predicament, but at our core, we knew it was impossible. We knew that Data would never truly become human, nor were we certain of his sentience. Nor were we settled on the idea that he would possess self-determination. But it was a charming notion. Could that self-determination extend to self-preservation?

We have the cybernetic holocaust happening sometime in the future, and a rag-tag group of human freedom fighters at the tail-end of a lost war gets their hands on time-traveling technology that was recently used to deposit a “terminator” (Arnold Schwarzenegger) into the past to kill Sarah Connor before she can give birth to the leader of the human resistance, John Connor. Once there, our Terminator goes about his mission the old fashioned way. He checks the White Pages and kills everybody listed with the name, “Sarah Connor.” This includes nice old ladies and pre-teens. I don’t know. You’d think there would be more than six Sarah Connors in the greater Los Angeles area. It’s a fairly common-sounding name. What about all the Sarah Connors who chose not to be listed in the White Pages? Hot on his tail, dreamy Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn, kind-of a sexy Mark Hamill) emerges from the future to stop this Terminator and protect Sarah Connor so that humanity can have a shot at surviving.

Cops (Paul Winfield and Lance Henriksen) are puzzled at what appears to be a rash of phone book killings. They’re almost completely clueless even as the real Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) calls them in a panic because she senses there’s a bullet out there with her name on it. When the Terminator traces her to a nightclub and shoots up the place, Reese appears and tries to rescue her, but he sounds like a crazy person ranting about the future. The cops arrest Reese and put Sarah in protective custody. One of the more frightening elements of The Terminator is the titular cyborg’s lack of fear. This is a quite literal killing machine. He’s like a cybernetic Jason Voorhees, but he has no self-determination. He has unique problem-solving skills. He is a mimic. He knows no pain. Like an insect, you could hack off his limbs all day and still not find his vulnerability. He charges through the police station like a steamroller, destroying everything in his path.

Reese grabs Sarah and they shack up in a motel where he gives her the low-down on the future. This is where my Paradox-Meter buries the needle. There was never any indication (nor did it make, you know, any sense at all) that Reese would be the pre-destined father of his colleague (and peer) John Connor, so we get into some strange mushy territory. It’s kind of like me telling my friend to go back in time and knock up my mom so that I can be born, and then my friend becomes my father. It’s a complicated relationship, to say the least. Nevertheless, Reese gets nasty-in-the-pasty and Sarah terminates the Terminator, but at a cost. Reese dies, which again I don’t understand. How can he die in the past but still exist in the future so he can be sent to the past, die in the past, but still exist in the future …* My brain hurts! The Terminator is a fantastic if schlocky future-horror opus that put Jim Cameron on the map. The far superior sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released in 1991.

* My frustrated wife tries to make sense of this for me every time I bring it up. She even made me a time-line! I think she put more thought into the sequence of events than Cameron.

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