30 Nov 2022
The Terminator (1984)
Featuring Dr Michelle Fletcher
We kick off our "Chosen One" season in the last years of the Cold War to talk about James Cameron's second-best film in the Terminator franchise, The Terminator (1984). Is it a sci-fi nativity play, ushering in hope for a new future? Or are we witnessing a Revelation-style final battle? Come join us as we learn about the nuclear-anxiety film genre, why apocalyptic stories are all about looking backwards, and which character Arnold Schwarzenegger originally was intended to play.
Many thanks to Dr Michelle Fletcher for her time and expertise.
Dr Fletcher is a Research Associate on the Visual Commentary on Scripture, an editor of Bloomsbury’s Scriptural Traces series, and Secretary of the British New Testament Society. Make sure to check out her book, Reading Revelation as Pastiche. You can find her on Twitter @NTRight.
Michelle Fletcher, "'Behold, I'll be Back': Terminator, the Book of Revelation, and the Power of the Past" in Now Showing: Film Theory in Biblical Studies, eds. Vander Stichele and Copier (Atlanta: SBL Brill, 2016).
Kim Newman, Millenium Movies (Titan Books, 1999).
Gaye Ortiz and Maggie Roux, "The Terminator Movies: Hi-Tech Holiness and the Human Condition" in Explorations in Theology and Film: An Introduction, eds. Marsh and Ortiz (Wiley, 1998).
Roland Boer, "Christological Slippage and Ideological Structures in Schwarzenegger's 'Terminator'." Intertextuality and the Bible: Semeia, 69/70 (1995), 165-193.
Sean French, The Terminator (Bloomsbury / BFI Film Classics, 2001).
[Katie]: Hello and welcome to Gods & Moviemakers, otherwise known as GodMovPod, the show about how religion and the Bible shape the stories we tell on screen.
[Joe]: I'm Joe Scales
[Katie]: and I'm Katie Turner. On this season: the chosen one. Why were they chosen, do they want to be chosen and why are we so attracted to these sorts of stories? We're joined today by Dr Michelle Fletcher to talk about The Terminator. Michelle is a New Testament scholar specializing in the book of Revelation, textual imitation, reception criticism and visual art. She's a research associate on the visual commentary on scripture, an editor of Bloomsbury's scriptural traces series and secretary of the British New Testament Society. Her 2017 book, "Reading Revelation as Pastiche" uses film theory to examine the use of the Hebrew Bible in Revelation. In addition to that she has published widely on Bible in popular culture, including the Frankenstein films, the 2018 Mary Magdalene, and lucky for us, the Terminator franchise, welcome Michelle.
[Michelle]: Hello thank you so much for having me today, pretty excited to geek out with you both.
[Joe]: We're very excited to have you.
[Katie]: So Michelle, you've published a paper on The Terminator called, “Behold, I'll be Back”, which is a great title.
[Michelle]: Thank you very much, gotta love a good pun.
[Katie]: and that paper covers the first four Terminator films, so it's fairly safe to say that you are familiar with the franchise.
[Michelle]: I am.
[Katie]: Okay so we have a scenario for you. Are you ready?
[Michelle]: Hit me.
[Katie]: You are standing in front of the Paramount Pictures executive, and you have been tasked with pitching the next film in The Terminator franchise. You can do absolutely anything you want; you can reset something or reboot something from the previous films. You can even remake Terminator II if you wanted to, although I don't know why you would want to do that but, whatever, it's up to you. What film do you pitch?
[Michelle]: Can I give a facetious answer, which is that I'd probably go for a Derek Jarman style Blue, but I'd call it post-apocalyptic Black. And I'd probably just film two hours of a blackout with some sort of wind floating, and do the next one which is the reality of the post-apocalyptic wasteland, because I feel it needs an injection of some level of the brutality of what is actually depicting, to get us back to that sort of nineteen eighties, coming out of a really dark period of the Cold War. People see [The Terminator] as fun and that Arnie injected fun into it and he very much did. And when you read the idea of what happened with him being bought on board, it changed the shape of Terminator, that he became the Terminator. He was actually meant to be Kyle Reese originally, but everybody decided that that wasn't a great casting. There's lots of sort of myths around what happened during this lunch with him and Cameron and who else was there, but when you read Arnold's account in his autobiographies, and when you read Cameron's account, it's clear that there was a shift. So, there's this idea that fun was being bought in because this larger than life figure took on the role of the Terminator. He was originally meant to be played by Lance Hendrickson who plays one of the two police officers. There is something about that dark grittiness of the 1980s that has got lost, particularly when he dons the spangly specs in Terminator Three [Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines - 2003] in the gay bar and I think it's also become cleaner looking, the machines are much cleaner. There's meant to be something dirty, the original terminator rots, he's got that flesh, “have you got a dead cat in there buddy?” It's meant to be dark and dirty, so I'd just have my post-apocalyptic wind.
[Katie]: So would there be no cast then?
[Michelle]: No, I'd just have a post-apocalyptic wind for two hours. Like Derek Jarman's Blue, where you just sort of imagine what it would be like the sort of the end the actual end of Terminator when the sky goes blank, when the bombs drop and when it actually…you could just have judgement day for two hours. Bleak bleakness.
[Joe]: I can't really see Paramount buying this script treatment off you.
[Michelle]: That's why I have to do niche New Testament things rather than my filmic career, it's such a shame. [Laughs] It could get into Tate Modern though you know, it would be a different location from its normal.
[Katie]: I think Tate Modern would definitely sign up for that, but if you're stuck with niche New Testament things that's fine with us because we get your commentary.
[Michelle]: Maybe I’m just not very imaginative.
[Katie]: No, I think that that's very imaginative
[Joe]: We should probably actually start to talk about The Terminator.
[Katie]: Yes, you're right we should definitely do that but just to make sure that we are all on the same page and all remembering the same things at this point we are going to do a brief film summary, refresh our memories and we’ll carry on with our chat from there.
[Film clip, Kyle Reese]: Come with me if you want to live.
[Joe]: The Terminator is a 1984 film directed by James Cameron. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Terminator, a cyborg assassin from a post-apocalyptic future who’s been sent back in time to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton. Lucky for Sarah though, Kyle Reese, played by Michael Biehn, a soldier from that same post-apocalyptic future has also been sent back in time. His role is different, he's there to protect her from the Terminator. Unbeknownst to Sarah, her unborn, and as yet, unconceived son will one day save humanity from extinction by Skynet, a hostile artificial intelligence set on the total annihilation of humankind.
[Katie]: So before we get into the really, I would say obvious biblical imagery, I'd like to take our listeners back to the early nineteen eighties, when terminator was being conceived and then being filmed, and to sort of pick back up on something you've already mentioned Michelle which is that it's very much a Cold War nuclear anxiety film, like Dr Strangelove or Wargames; Wargames also has the computer technology phobia that we see a bit in Terminator, so can you talk a little bit about Cold War or nuclear anxiety films in general, put The Terminator back into its historical context?
[Michelle]: It's coming quite late in the day and at this point a lot of the Cold War anxiety that's being played out, and that actually Cameron was more influenced by, was coming on television so you’ve got some BBC dramatizations at this point, and it is starting to get quite gritty. So, you've got that sort of metaphor floating around in sixties films and sixties sci-fi. You start to have the idea of nuclear war as something out that people might be damaged by, trying to avert it, what might happen if it actually does occur. There were reviews at this point of some of the films coming out where people were saying that this is inevitable, it's just gonna happen. So there was almost this acceptance of it as “a thing”. The dramas that were coming out on television were showing actually the reality of what would happen if nuclear fallout did occur, what would happen to reproduction, the kind of children people would actually be producing. This was always actually a fault of Terminator that all the kids look fine, they're not going to look fine. So it’s got really quite dirty at this point, the book if you want to read about this in more detail is called Millennium Movies by Kim Newman and traces the history of “end of the world cinema” – it’s called – but it’s actually on Hollywood, the rise of the bomb, the way that it's dealt with, how it works through alien films verses ones which are actually dealing with human-to-human destruction. Japanese cinema, you have The Last War (1961) where you have full-out nuclear destruction of the world, but these are all in the 60’s. So by the time we are getting to the 80’s as I said, it’s got this sense that it’s moved to TV a bit more, and it’s a bit darker and a bit edgier, so BBC documentaries where you just see people on the empty streets of London. It’s the kind of thing we’d imagine with zombie movies now. So 1983 is an enormous year in the Cold War, you've got the Pershing II missiles being located in Europe at this point, and Russia really worrying, and you have the Able Archer Exercise in 1983 as well, which is seen by historians to be the time we came closest to nuclear war after the Cuban Missile Crisis. So although Terminator was first conceived in 1982, James Cameron has this strange dream in the March of this year in Rome, and has this idea. He’s a sci-fi geek and comic-book geek and he has this idea of this machine. By the time Terminator is put into production there’s a delay because Arnold Schwarzenegger has to go back and do another film with the company he signed up with, so they have this delay of nine months where they work things through again and re-storyboard. So, it has actually had all that process of all of the anxieties of 1983 almost imbued into the film by the time that they start shooting. So it is a really tense period and it had calmed down obviously through the period of Détente, Reagan's come back in, we’ve had the comment about the “the empire of evil,” it's getting problematic, so it’s really speaking into a new time of heightened hostility with Russia and obviously by the time it gets to Terminator II, which again isn't our focus, that's really a post-Cold War film with what it’s dealing with, with a version, that’s, the Berlin Wall has fallen at that point in that film, it’s got that sense of positivity, whereas this one is where things are tense and it’s started really started to flare up again. So that’s a brief history.
[Katie]: That’s so good. I feel like a round of applause is necessary.
[Joe]: Insert a round of applause in the track.
[Recording of applause plays]
[Katie]: Thank you for that Michelle. I'd like to start with The Terminator as Nativity film which has been pretty conclusively put forward by a number of biblical scholars who look at The Terminator like Roland Boer and Peter Chattaway, who all just identify it as a sci-fi nativity. What are the main parallels that we are seeing between the New Testament nativity and the Terminator?
[Michelle]: Biblical scholars would see this wouldn’t they? I mean we are seeing a parallel in relation to it, but in honesty it's an age old story that definitely goes back beyond the nativity which is the idea that somebody in the future is going to do something great and rise up and save a load of people. It could also be a Spartacus film in that sense: John Connor is gonna raise people up to save them, raise the slaves of the machines up. But the way that it works in the film in a way that biblical scholars have wanted to see this as a nativity film is the fact that Kyle Reese announces to Sarah Connor, who is at this point a single waitress working in LA, that she is going to be the mother of this future warrior who is going to save the whole world, the whole of humanity, although Kyle speaks far more attractively than that, I’m going to be honest. He kind of whispers it in the dark. So he says, that your unborn son Sarah, John Connor, is going to be this person. And Sarah, as the film goes on, starts to believe what he says because she realizes the Terminator is going to keep coming and trying to kill her and she realizes he's got a point, but she's still saying “Do I look like the mother of the future to you, I can't even balance my chequebook.”
[Film clip, Sarah Connor]: Come on, do I look like the mother of the future?! I mean, am I tough, organized? I can’t even balance my chequebook! Look Reese, I didn't ask for this honour and I don't want it, any of it!
[Michelle]: So there’s this sense of a woman is not ready for a calling. The film presents this idea of an annunciation that she's going to have this child that she's not expecting, that's not planned and that it's going to do these great things in the future but there's a slight twist which obviously takes the, as Boer points out, conclusion of the nativity scene to its ultimate end which is that the messenger also is the impregnator, because they have an intimate scene, which was actually part inserted by the production company who wanted to increase the romance in the film, to make it more marketable. And Reese becomes the father of Sarah's unborn child as we find out at the end as she goes off into some storm clouds clutching a gun on her pregnant belly, showing that she has become a “Warrior Mother”. So that is the nativity but with some added guns.
[Katie, laughs]: I love a nativity with some added guns.
[Joe]: Guns and robots.
[Katie]: So I actually saw a lot of biblical Sarah in Sarah rather than Mary. So in the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis we get the narrative where they're quite at the later years of their life. They’re elderly and an angel comes and tells Abraham that Sarah is going to be pregnant and to have a baby and Sarah is listening to the conversation from just outside the tent and she has this kind of incredulous response, she can't believe it, and she laughs out loud, and that reminded me a lot of in The Terminator when Sarah is told that she's going to have a child she also has an incredulous response and it's in that line where she says and “but I can't even balance my chequebook” and there's a bit of humour in that as well, it's a funny thing to go to what she says and so it also reminded me of the fact that Sarah in the Bible responds with humour. So yeah I see that parallel there.
[Michelle]: That’s interesting. Gaye Ortiz, she draws attention to this in her article as well, the idea of the typical Sarah and commonality of the matriarchs. This idea of the strong women who have children, the mothers who shape the future and shape the future for their sons, right. We know that Sarah really does, the pushing out of Ishmael, the attempt to have the first son and then to get rid of him, so that Isaac can be the only son. So, we have that idea of mothers making way for the future for their children which Sarah has to learn to do and in that final scene we see her doing that, that is there. The idea of it being comical I find it quite interesting because I feel like Sarah Connor, rather than Sarah-Abraham, is “I don't want it,” there is a real rejection of her with the role and she does say “I don't want any of it.” It's not a welcome pregnancy, it’s not a woman who is seeing a child as this great gift, it's not somebody who set up in a culture where having a child is the thing that gives you an identity, and some of the ways that the film has been read, and that Terminator II has been read, as feminist films, of this idea of a woman becoming empowered, taking on a role, can in some ways be undone by this fact, that actually Sarah is earning her money, and working, and making her own choices, having sex outside of marriage, at the beginning, and that she ends up taking on this role of being mother, and it's from the point almost of inception with Reese that she becomes more powerful, becomes this person who is more able to find her own identity and so in that sense I suppose, they undo an independent woman and turned her into someone who motherhood gives her identity. So not a culture that accepts it but motherhood that makes her which is quite an interesting reading of it and brings the two together, the world's collide of ancient biblical narrative of wanting to have a child, verses 1980’s where this is not what you'd want but both giving you identity and changing you.
[Joe]: I really found we, as in Sarah, doesn't really have a great understanding initially of what's going to happen or why this is happening to her, and it kind of is drip fed to her by Kyle Reese in between the times when he's yelling at her, he was alternating a lot between yelling and whispering at Sarah, but there's this really great section where he just talks about why he comes back to the past and you know it’s a one way trip, he's not going back, why has he abandoned his life, and he says “to meet the legend Sarah Connor” and he talks about her. That was the moment for me that really just had this, this something more given to Sarah in the script to be, rather than just the mother of a saviour let’s say, so it is quite an active role The Terminator sees for Sarah in her future and she kind of has to wrestle with that, so I wonder whether this is a good opportunity to kind of slide into our thematic discussion for the series and talk about what makes a Chosen One. We've brought Sarah Connor as an example of potentially a chosen one character. If I put that to you, what makes a chosen one?
[Michelle]: In the context of The Terminator?
[Katie]: We’re sort of looking just in general and I would say that for me one of the things that sort of separates a chosen one from a saviour, if we are going to split those two, is that with the chosen one you tend to have a character who's living a totally normal existence, and then something happens and they are chosen, and it's only after the being chosen that they find that something about themselves is really important, is able to make a big difference, and that shift happens post being chosen, whereas the saviour figure tends to be special right from the very beginning, born special.
[Michelle]: Whereas The Terminator, its retrospectively saying the difference will be made in the future, so they become chosen by the future speaking to them in the past, in some sense. Would John ever become great had Sarah not known that John was going to become great, and this is the brilliance of time travel that the film brings in and it's where it complicates it, that you have the paradox of, is it because Sarah knows the John's going to become great and be a great warrior that actually John becomes a great warrior. Where does the time loop happen, so this is where the enunciation bit comes in, that there is this discussion all his specialness which will invariably change who he is in the future and changes who she is at the same time. What's quite interesting and I will answer within The Terminator world as that’s what we're talking on this, is that what they wanted to show within the filmic universe of this, and one of the things that got picked up on to the point that on one website it got picked as the most, one of the top ten most hopeful films ever made, do you want to know why?
[Katie]: Go on then.
[Michelle]: It's because it shows any one individual can shape and change the future. That's why they felt it was one of the most hopeful films ever made, and so it’s interesting the idea of a chosen one because what Terminator wanted to sell itself on was the premise, which is quite an American individualistic idea, that every single one of us through our own actions can be the chosen one, any of us can change the future within our own self and who we are, so while Sarah is seen to be the chosen one because Reese tells her she will be, the vibe from the film which has been picked up by audiences and one of the reasons it’s moved into this sort of cinematic classic, is that it speaks to each of us to say that all of us are chosen one if we realized the power of one.
[Katie]: So that's so fascinating that you've gone to that point because I was doing a little bit of reading about chosen one tropes and one of the things that I read, not talking about Terminator at all, is that because chosen one figures tend to be this common, normal person who are then selected and then something about them that's already there becomes special, that it allows individuals to imagine themselves in their normal ordinary lives also becoming chosen and something becoming special or that they can make their own destiny, that maybe something about themselves as a normal everyday person actually is special and has some kind of power or resonance, whereas a saviour figure, we can't really map ourselves on to it, you can't imagine yourself being Jesus, you know?
[Michelle]: It's interesting with Sarah Connor as well because obviously Linda Hamilton, she’d done a couple of pictures, but she wasn't well known at this point, and she is this figure that could have things projected onto her, she doesn't have that star-studded persona which is so important when we’re watching films and deciding is someone a chosen one. Arnold Schwarzenegger cannot be a chosen one because he's already special, he's already shinning and if anybody ever tries to describe any of Arnold’s roles to you as an everyman, it’s not right, because he is him, even at this point after Conan (the Barbarian - 1982) he's not so famous, but if you have that man stood there like that, looking like that, that is not your average person in the street that is Arnold Schwarzenegger.
[Joe]: He’s Mr Universe, right?
[Michelle]: He’s Mr Universe, Mr Olympia. I think he’s six times Mr Universe, seven times Mr Olympia. So it’s not even a one off. He is something, and she is this unknown who allows people to project things onto her. Interestingly her career moved into TV with, I think it's Beauty and the Beast the series, that’s Linda’s big role in TV, it never really went beyond Sarah Connor by being the every person who became Sarah she was typed as Sarah in some ways which is quite an interesting thing to have had happen to someone as a result of playing a character.
[Katie]: Probably very similar to Mark Hamill and Luke Skywalker.
[Michelle]: And Michael Biehn, who never really did anything either. With Cameron he did, he was in the Abyss (1989) and he was in Aliens (1986), so he had a good career with Cameron, but actually in and of himself outside of the Cameron world, he kept going but never really flew. Mark Hamill is exactly the same: he’s the young guy right, he's chosen. It is interesting when we see on screen who are our chosen ones, can you have a chosen one who is a known star because of the star persona that they bring on board and this is always when discussing Jesus films, isn’t it? How on Earth do you have somebody be Jesus? Do you have an unknown, do you have somebody that brings past star performances with them.
[Katie]: That’s such a good point about the person who’s cast: Can you effectively be a chosen one character if you already have a lot of star power?
[Joe]: Yeah it would be interesting to have almost a resume of each of our chosen “chosen ones” and see where were they at in their career at that point, and maybe that will help us also distinguish between of the list of chosen ones we've brought together, how many and are actually kind of really saviours and Joe’s just not quite understood the distinction fully.
[Michelle]: Have you got Tom Cruise, he’s definitely a saviour, just to fill that gap in?
[Joe and Katie]: No, no Tom Cruise.
[Michelle]: It’s a shame, you’ll have to do that on the next series. I’ll come back for Tom.
[Joe]: We'll take that as a promise. So if there’s one scene in Terminator that demonstrates Sarah Connor as this chosen one, this every-person figure, what would that be? Is that when it comes to mind that would be really exemplary in this way?
[Michelle]: So, Sarah, you first see her as a waitress working in the same chain of restaurants as one of Cameron’s ex-wives was working in before Terminator, and she isn't having a great day. Her boyfriend stands her up later on, so she goes out to see a movie. And she’s really scared, there’s this creepy man following her down the road and he is creepy you know. You find out later he had a picture of her and he’s been looking at it for ages and fantasizing about her and then travelled through time. I think that's pretty creepy, but anyway she then goes into a club, hides. Arnold Schwarzenegger reveals himself as the one that’s trying to kill her rather than creepy Kyle Reese, and she runs off with him. The character change moments are when she finds out with Reese that the Terminator is actually real, not some sort of delusion of Reese’s, and she does her first field dressing on him because he's bleeding, and he says this is a good field dressing. She says, “You like it, it's my first.” So there's that but then the time when she really really changes and you realize that she is something is the end scene obviously of the film where she is the one that has to protect Reese. He gets blown up trying to throw plastique towards the Terminator. He's injured and it's her screaming, “on your feet soldier, on your feet”, and she drags him along, to the point that he ends up being killed. She's left on her own crawling away from it and eventually squashes it in the press and says “you're terminated, fucker.” She hasn't been that person, there’s a change in her language even, she is quite mild mannered. She's clearly a girl that likes to have fun, but she's not one for using a foul word.
[Joe]: Her friend has to unbutton her top button as well, right?
[Katie]: Yeah, when they were supposed to be heading out for a joint date night.
[Michelle]: Yes, Ginger.
[Katie]: Yeah, and Ginger reaches over and unbuttons Sarah’s top button to loosen her up a bit.
[Michelle]: Bless Sarah, she gets stood up though, by Dan with the Porsche. So it's when she's squashed him in the press at the end, that you realize that this is a woman with real guts, when the rest of us may well actually have given up, and I think that's the bit where it's like, can all of us be a chosen one? Sarah embraces this role, that she needs to keep living and that there’s something to fight for and to go on for. And that actually is quite a show of human strength and to choose to keep running, that she chooses life and she chooses to run and she chooses to save Reese and she chooses to keep fighting.
[Katie]: Yeah I think we're so used to Sarah as presented in Terminator II, where she is stripped down and muscly and she is a fighter and perhaps actually, she is the redemptive figure in Terminator II, that we kind of forget that in this, for most of The Terminator she's not that figure. So yeah, I think you're spot on in noting that switch and when she starts to emerge. Your comments about Kyle Reese carrying the picture of her being creepy, I actually thought that this was one of the things that was Virgin-Mary-esque, because it reminded me of the way that people will have personal individual icons of the Virgin Mary that they carry around with them for whatever purpose and so when we see Kyle in the future and he pulls that picture out from his pocket and he looks at it, then his extreme desire to meet her, I would imagine you could probably encounter very many Christians who have personal icons of the Virgin Mary who would love very much to meet her.
[Michelle]: Who wouldn't?
[Katie]: I just think there's something religious going on there.
[Michelle]: I think it's a really interesting point raising the idea of icons and that somebody could have projected so much on to a single photograph. It makes us ask interesting questions of ourselves and what it means to gaze on another, to create an image of another, to consider the face of another person. So that is quite a profound idea that you have: the setup that leads someone to change their life so much in relation to the picture. Obviously we have at the end the resolution which is he's always wondering what she's thinking and she's thinking about him, and whilst it sounds really cheesy when I'm saying it, actually within the film after they've been through so much hardship, to have that resolution actually brought a level of poignancy to a film which would have been seen - they had expected to be a B-movie in the exploitation genre where it was just really violent and to have that tenderness and that sense of something of him was captured in that photograph, so if you're taking part of the person and putting it into an image, if there is something holy, something sacred, something special about an image, how much is captured in it. The way the film comes to its resolution is that both she, and he, and John, are all together as a trio at that point actually within that photograph and that's quite profound that that's held together in that. So it’s a really interesting point to raise.
[Katie]: Thank you, I didn't even think about the fact that he's also imbued in that, in that picture, so I think that brings an extra level of reading to that. I would like to kind of shift away from nativity Terminator and start looking a bit at the apocalyptic imagery. And in the chapter that you wrote about the first four Terminator films, it’s future breaking into the present and there is a title screen that comes on right before the film starts properly and it says on it, “the final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here in our present tonight,” and I find it really perplexing, this framing of the film right from the very beginning as the final battle when everything in the film is setting up future battles. I don't know if you have thoughts about that.
[Michelle]: It was one of the things that supposedly surprised and grabbed audiences from the normal sci-fi horror genre. They were expecting it to be a sci-fi picture so the idea that it opened with the futuristic scenes, which they couldn't afford to make many of because this is we're talking seriously low budget, if also anybody's listening to this that judges it, this was made for originally $4 million dollars then it goes up somewhere between $6.4 or 6.8 million dollars. This was, the $4 million dollars was the same as Ghostbusters (1984) used on its special effects budget alone, so this is a low budget movie. So, part of it they wanted to set more in the future, but they simply couldn't afford [to]. So they simply brought it into the present. There are some limitations with the future, how do we imagine the future, the future’s a costly place to be, clearly. It’s much cheaper and easier to be in the present, today. But audiences didn’t expect this from a sci-fi picture, and it actually broke through to people and made them sit up in their seats and really pay attention. And it is that idea of what does apocalypse mean? We know it means unveiling, this idea of something being revealed. The Apocalypse of John has been spoken about as a time capsule for the future, we have plenty of broadcasters on the internet who are happy to decode it for today, for now, for the present. But the idea of it as being a text which speaks and criticizes the world as it was in that point in time it was written, but also not as a time capsule sealed but something that an unveiling, the present now, something that will happen, you can imagine a future place but the way it speaks, its imagery that's familiar to you right now, where you are, and as I argue in the article, it’s also speaking in the language of the past in the later films, so it's constantly re-invoking imagery that you're used to within Terminator. As you move into the future, in Terminator Salvation (2009) the use of the past is really, really intense and so it’s a future created from what you've already seen before. And the Apocalypse of John is very much like that, it’s using the Hebrew Bible, it’s using images that were familiar to Jews to speak about an imagined future, to think about what is to pass, what is coming soon, what will happen, and so that tension between the future and the present and also that imbuing with the past really helps to bring things to life, and that was what Terminator was doing in many ways. Cameron is a very self-conscious director, he was very aware of past films, there’s a lot of homage in Terminator. There’s Un Chien Andalou (1929), the surrealist film. Luis Buñuel, the idea of the eyeball being cut when the Terminator takes out his own eyeball. That's playing with that idea from early cinema. There’s lots of nods to The Outer Limits (1963–65) to the point that [Harlan] Ellison actually sued him for stealing stories that he had written. Terminator is awash with ideas of the past, and he was in love with Mad Max Road Warrior (1981) as well, the scenes in the future were meant to look like Mad Max Road Warrior. He was in love with the, I’ve spoken already, of the gritty dirty future that he first saw in Star Wars. That was a seminal moment for Cameron watching Star Wars (1977). That and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and to see that the future could be grimy, that it wasn't the spanking technology of Star Trek. He wanted to put that to one side and bring about this future, grimy, and so that infusing of something that's meant to be new, but is already covered in the dirt of the past. Revelation in many ways can be read like that, it's not a shiny new everything, even when you get to the end with the new Jerusalem, its height, its depths, its width is spoken about, how big it is, but it's calling of the height and the fact that it's called Babylon can’t help but resonate with the Tower of Babel, and we are going back to that primordial ideas there, what is going on? It's not just shifting your gaze to the future but making you consider where you are now, what you’d want to change because it is a bit dirty and grimy, and what's come from the past is still living with you.
[Joe]: Is The Terminator anti-technology in some ways, because at certain points in the film Sarah seems to be undone by other machines so her answering machine at one point is the reason why the Terminator knows she's still alive. So is that an element of the film, that the future of this technology isn’t all it promises and it's got some of these Michael-Crichton-esque techno fear, let's say it?
[Michelle]: It certainly can be read that way. In his book, Sean French, his seminal BFI guide on The Terminator, definitely draws this potential but it is picked up in a number of articles on Terminator. Cameron wants to play with it as he gets interviewed as time goes on as well, it's interesting mapping Cameron's interviews as he becomes more and more of a famous film director. This is his breakthrough film, it's really important to be aware of that. Before this he’d only directed Piranha II (the Spawning, 1981), and even those scenes were taken and turned into something else so this is a fresh new director, new on the block being given his first proper chance. And so he brings in this idea of technology which he himself is obsessed with. Cameron was everywhere all over the set, he wanted to know what the models are going to be like, he used technology to make the best of the film, but at the same time he talks about the idea that technology is dehumanizing and as he gets to the end of speaking about Terminator II, particularly once he's made those two and he has a discussion point of both films coming together, his concern is the dehumanizing that we can have as we continue to turn our lives over to technology. So the threat is that we choose to give our defence over to technology. Of course, this has been a problem for rather a long time, and people have been rather worried about whatever new technology comes along. It's not as if the 1980s wrote this as an anxiety but we do see it. Its interesting Dune 2010 [Correction, this is probably referring to 2010: The Year We Make Contact – 1984, sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey] came out in the same year with the computer that goes bad then gets good again, this idea of technology becoming good and being humanized within Terminator II slightly disrupts what's going on in the original film. As you said there’s the answerphone. Sean French also draws attention to the fact that Sarah can’t get through to the police officers because the phone's broken. There’s the phone book, which is another piece of technology, where they managed to find her name and her address and track her down. So all of the things that we give ourselves over to in society in some ways are against us. But there’s another underlying way you can read this which is that we also go down the sort of American survivalist rhetoric with this film, because it can be seen as embodying quite a lot of liberal politics, but at the same time there’s this idea that the police are there, they're weak, they're unable to protect people properly, that really because Reese can get good enough weapons that he actually is able to stop the Terminator, that the machines that people have created to manufacture things can pulverise the Terminator, and in all reality the more guns that you pile up, the more chance you have to save yourself from this technological threat. So, it can also be read as going down a, “we need to move ourselves out of systems”, rather than “technology out of organised systems”. If you choose to opt out of the phone book, you're not gonna get found by a phonebook killer.
[Katie]: So, Sarah Connor’s a doomsday prepper?
[Michelle]: Sarah Connor in the second film can most certainly be read as a doomsday prepper and has been read by, again, Sean French in his book as a potential. So it’s an ambiguous film, technology’s always ambiguous and that something else that always comes out whenever you're reading about Terminator and whenever you read anything about the threat of technology within films. Technology in some sense is inert, it's the people that use it: it’s the classic gun control argument, who's behind it? Good guys with guns are good, bad guys with guns are bad. The Terminator does push to ask some more interesting questions with it, I think, because it takes it to the extreme, and the idea is that this is meant to be technology as the embodiment of pure evil which is interesting for me as a Revelation scholar, because Revelation often gets criticized for the violence, but what it can be seen to be doing is dealing with absolute evil, pure evil, and how do you deal with something which cannot be reasoned with, bargained with, that doesn't feel pain, just like the Terminator. How do you deal with that?
[Katie]: So would you see the Terminator then as representing evil because a few articles related the Terminator to Herod, and the Massacre of the Innocents, and one related the Terminator to the devil because the devil also doesn't have emotions, and I sort of thought to myself, since when? Since when does the devil not have any emotions?
[Michelle]: It's interesting, isn’t it? I certainly think if you're going to match it with a biblical text, it's better to set it with Marion readings of Revelation 12 rather than the gospel texts. So the idea of the women clothed like the sun who goes to the desert - interestingly, like Sarah does in the end of the film - she's given a pair of wings and goes to the desert; you’ve got the dragons looking to consume her son. It's not just Herod then, this is a dragon. The dragon isn’t given emotions, it knows it's time is short after it’s thrown down from Heaven, but its turned into something which isn't a character. So I think there is something of playing with, “what do you do with evil in its absolute extreme?” And it's one of the things that The Terminator, not Terminator II, but The Terminator does really, really well.
[Joe]: Michelle, it’s been really great having you with us today, but before we let you go, we’d love for you to pitch us a pairing. This can be anything, anything at all, that you would pair with The Terminator. Maybe a drink, a food, another movie, a book, a piece of music or even a scholarly article, but Skynet is the limit.
[Michelle]: Ok so I'm gonna pitch something which is actually far more technological because it’s The Terminator and I think what I’ve got to pitch with Terminator because of its age, and in some ways it is very dated today, you do need to read it in its context. To pitch it with a late-night grimy movie theatre. Have you ever watched Terminator on a midnight viewing? You should do. That's when you need to watch it when those is little snarly teeth, all yellow, come at you on a big screen at two in the morning, that is what The Terminator should be paired with. So, a grimy little cinema screen that you can find somewhere where there’s maybe two other people watching it, is the dream Terminator pairing, to take us back to that 80s grainy, anxiety-filled world that created this film.
[Katie]: This is entirely possible. I noticed, there's a chain of indie cinemas across London that were playing Terminator yesterday at 8 PM and 10 PM so for our listeners who are thinking, “How can I pair this with a grimy cinema?” It's possible friends, you can do it, go for it.
[Michelle]: Go for it.
[Joe]: Michelle, it’s been so great having you come talk to us about your research on The Terminator. Thank you so much for your time, I've learned absolutely tonnes. We hope that you'll be back to talk more about apocalypse, or films, or anything else, sometime in the near future.
[Michelle]: Thank you very much for having me, it's been a real pleasure.
[Katie]: This was a really a good chat. All of the wonderful articles and books and authors who have been mentioned will be available on our website.
[Joe]: If listeners would like to hear a bit more of the secrets of Revelation, they can become subscribers and access our pedagogy chat, soon to follow with Michelle.
[Joe]: That's our show today. Gods & Moviemakers is researched and produced by us, Joe Scales and Katie Turner, and supported by listeners like you. Our music is by Style Da Kid. As always you can follow us @GodMovPod on Twitter and Instagram. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard today, head on over to our website godsandmoviemakers.com, where you can donate to us, or subscribe for additional content. Thanks very much for listening.