Plot points for “The Terminator,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and “Terminator Genisys” are discussed below. Note: I am not addressing “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” or “Terminator Salvation” because “Terminator Genisys” acts as if they do not exist.
Allow me to suggest that the first two “Terminator” films are, arguably, classic pro-life tracts.
Not buying it? I don’t blame you! But let’s just consider the possibility for a moment. After all, how is the T-800’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) mission to go back in time and kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) described? “A sort of retroactive abortion.” “The Terminator” culminates with an impoverished single mother being impregnated following a one-night stand with a man who perishes shortly after. Despite the obvious advantages to terminating the pregnancy, she chooses to keep the baby because, well, her boy JC is the savior of the human race.
The attachment to human life is more pronounced in the second film. John Connor (Edward Furlong) spends much of his time educating the Terminator (Schwarzenegger) about the importance of not ending human life. Indeed, by the close of the picture he’s not even wounding them any longer! Quite an improvement. Philosophically, Skynet’s apocalyptic fervor is presented by JC as karmic payback for man’s propensity to do violence to each other. More strikingly, though, is Sarah’s speech to the would-be creator of Skynet, Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), about the wonder of human creation.
“F—ing men like you built the hydrogen bomb. Men like you thought it up. You think you’re so creative,” Sarah declaims. “You don’t know what it’s like to really create something, to create a life, to feel it growing inside you. All you know how to create is death and destruction!”
The scene is played for laughs — director James Cameron shoots it with John in the background, slowly face-palming as his mom starts going on about the wonders of bearing him, and you can’t blame him for being a bit embarrassed — but there’s a serious point here. It’s a speech that transcends petty political arguments, straddling the arguments of the religious right and the earth goddess left. Life is precious and must be protected and nurtured so that it can flower and the world can benefit from it.
“Terminator” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” are both films about how the world is only as strong as its weakest, most vulnerable creatures. These films are centered on the bond between mother and son, born or no.
“Terminator Genisys,” out today, takes this script and flips it. In the new film, Sarah Connor (now played by Emilia Clarke) considers her fate to bear the savior of the world as an obligation, and one she doesn’t particularly want at that. Her role is treated in terms we usually spare for animals: An older Terminator affectionately referred to as “Pop,” who was sent back to Sarah’s childhood to protect her from Skynet, repeatedly says that she must “mate” with Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney). One can’t help but think of a broodmare or other farm animal in these moments.
The repeated use of the word is humorous but dissonant: This is not the Sarah Connor who celebrated the idea of life growing inside her. Rather, it’s a Sarah Connor who dreads the prospect of birth and love, fearing that the mere act of falling for Reese will lead to his death. She rues the burden of motherhood placed upon her, lashing out angrily that her fate is not her own. And “Genisys” actively scorns the idea of the mother-son bond, pitting Sarah against John by having him become a Terminator and travel back through time in an effort to stop Sarah, John and Pop from putting a stop to Skynet before it can spread into the world’s computers.
Truly, Sarah is not allowed a moment of happiness until she finishes killing the son she spent the first two films protecting. After his death, she feels free and clear, smiling widely for the first time as she considers the untraveled roads now open to her and Reese and Pop. As John Connor says, there is no fate but what we make for ourselves. I imagine he didn’t imagine the end result of that ethos would result in his negation.