A package of action, science fiction and thriller, the three Terminator series films develop a story whose central idea is now well known to all movie lovers. Two killing machines (they call them ‘cyborg’) are sent back in time, one to kill and the other to save the leader of a war that erupts several decades later between humans and self-aware software controlled machines.

The first Terminator had the feel of a ‘B’ grade film, mindless violence with poor synthesized background music that sounded disconnected from the visuals. It was Terminator 2,. the same  plot reworked, with its special effects winning Oscars, that made the series, and the name of Arnold Schwarzenneger, famous around the world. The third version, sans James Cameron, the writer of the original story, runs the same plot around quite unsuccessfully. This time the chasing terminator is a female, although it beats us how and why a machine could or should be so!

The common underlying theme of Terminator series

Though the main plot is easily understood, all three movies contain a strong underlying common theme that is hard to miss for a thinking viewer. All of them revolve around protecting a woman and a child – traditionally seen as weak and deserving more of protection rather than freedom.

The first version has an independent and working female, Sarah Connors, being chased by the terminator machine and saved by the father of her child (the future leader of the human resistance team), both sent back from the future. The second version revolves around protecting her and the grown up boy. The third film, and this reveals the common theme, is not about the boy who is now a grown up man, but another independent female who is newly introduced as his future partner in the war.

Seen in this light, the entire story could be read as introducing a pretext – an impending doom, a nuclear war unleashed by machines to annihilate all of mankind – in order to show how women and children, especially when they live of their own, deserve more of protection than anything else, a protection that falls short of taking away their freedom.

There is another sub plot in the series – of human targets being either sent to an asylum (which looks more like a prison) or examined by a psychiatrist (played by the same actor in all the three films) who refuses to believe the terminator story despite coming face to face with them. This plot is very prominent in the second film, as a lot of action takes place in the asylum. Here again, freedom of the characters is a casualty of the story.

Other aspects of the films

In the first part, the human sent back in time is actually the one who fathers the leader of the future. That is hard to understand. If the machines had not been sent, the leader would not have been born. It is like the future creating itself. So how did it happen in the first place?

The third version begins with strong statements on how there is no fate, but only what we make of it. It ends with contradictory statements on how the future or destiny is already written, and how we can only try and survive it.

The self-aware skynet is supposed to reside on a network. With widespread destruction using nuclear weapons, how could its components and the network remain intact?

These questions arise only when we think through the films, something hard to do with this package whose main attraction lies in its story idea, action filled sequences and special effects.


Jan 14, 2007