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The Terminator Trilogy: The Humanization of the Machines

Updated on October 2, 2011

In the Terminator film trilogy directed by James Cameron, Cameron shows how modern society has grown dependent on technology to the point of addiction. His film catalogues both mankind’s greatest achievements and fears in the representation of the terminators in his films. A character that embodies and defines mankind’s creation is the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) Terminator model, which represents both hope and chaos, while also depicting man and machine.

In the first Terminator film, Cameron shows the T-800’s amazing capability as both a mechanized monster, but also as a representation of humanity. In the beginning sequence of the film a terminator is shown crushing a human skull in a desolate wasteland, it is wielding a gun and scouting for more humans to kill. The Terminator that is shown is mechanized, but its anatomy is in the form of a human. According to J.P. Telotte in the article The Terminator, Terminator 2, & the exposed body “In fact, a key emphasis here is on how easy it is to "pass" in this world. While the earlier Terminators, as Reese explains, had crude rubber skin and were easily distinguished from the human, the latest model has become, at least superficially, almost undetectable”. The look of the T-800 then becomes important because it symbolizes two ideologies. The first ideology is that because the T-800 is a machine it can become a weapon of mass destruction since it is able to look like a man, but is programmed to be a ruthless hunter. “The Terminator assembles an arsenal of technological destruction. When his weapons empty or are discarded, the Terminator becomes simply an embodiment of implacable movement…the image of technological power itself.” An example of this in the film is when the T-800 is in the past hunting down the various Sarah Connors. This idea that a machine kills without thinking or without remorse is useful in setting up how humans can be drastically different then machines, since humans have emotions associated with actions that take place. Therefore the first film is used to establish the differences that separate man and machine by placing the Terminator against Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), which shows the distinction of order and chaos that takes place in the relationship between man and machine.

The second Terminator film continues the story of the first Terminator, but introduces a second ideology associated with the T-800. The second ideology then becomes that because the T-800 takes on the form of a man, it therefore has the capabilities to become a “person” which is not made up of parts and programs, but has emotions. The idea of giving the Terminator a human aspect and responsibilities then becomes clear in the film, when the Terminator becomes the guardian and father figure of young John Connor (Edward Furlong). In an article called Sarah’s dream/”No Fate”: doubling in Terminator II author Christopher Brooks says, “Schwarzenegger's character has been "re-programed" to be a protector instead of a destroyer. When young John Connor instructs him that "you can't go around killing people," the protector-Terminator shoots policemen only in their knees and does not kill another human being for the rest of the picture.” This demonstrates the T-800s complexity as both a machine and human and distinguishes the T-800 model from the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), which has no true form or true ability to understand human emotion, but just replicate it. An example of this is when he takes the form of John’s hurt mother and tries to convince John it is safe to come out of hiding. In another scene where John Connor and the Terminator are talking at a gas station, the Terminator asks John why he cries. John then goes into detail of what makes humans unique and the reasons behind human emotion. Although the Terminator fails to see it at the time, the T-800 then sacrifices himself later on in the film, so that John may live to be in a world where there are not machines that are trying to kill him. This self-sacrifice that the T-800 makes for John and Sarah demonstrate the complexities that make up the T-800. Cameron points out then that if man can create machine, is it possible that the machine can have human aspects that are programmed in it because man makes it? The answer to the question in Cameron’s film suggests that machines do have something in common with their human counterparts.

The third film reinforces the constant struggle between chaos and order in the T-800 by showing the machine as a character that has to make complicated choices. An example of this is when he kidnaps John Connors wife, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) and holds her against her will. Even though Kate Brewster sends him back in the future to follow her orders, he goes against them until she accepts him for protection. Another example of T-800s humanity/machine complex comes towards the end of the film, when he has to decide between killing John Connor and saving him. Although he has been reprogrammed by the T-X terminator (Kristanna Loken), the T-800 has to make a choice between life and death, and in the end his “free will” allows him to choose the option that he wants, which is to save John Connor (Nick Stahl). All these examples then point to the Terminators capacity to become humanized, which is demonstrated by his ability to control himself instead of skynet controlling his actions.

While the three Terminator films represent a contrast of the dynamics between man and machine, James Cameron’s creation of showing the symbiotic relationship that the two entities share is powerful and profound. Through the use James Cameron’s T-800, Cameron demonstrates how humanity is unique in how humans act through emotion and with our own free will. That the T-800 is a representation of the human condition and the internal struggles that is associated with it, such as internal strife/pain, pleasure and freedom.

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    • The Jet profile image

      The Jet 

      7 years ago from The Bay

      Cool hub. Terminator 2 is awesome as hell. But it's not really trilogy anymore as that Salvation was released as T4.

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