The Biblical Schwarzenegger
An analysis of Christian symbols in Terminator 2: Judgment Day
It´s often said that our era lacks faith and myths, that gods are absent in the Western world. But that doesn´t mean that we don´t miss them. People have a need for spirituality, and this need has to be satisfied in some way. Jung argued that popular culture is a particularly clear promoter of archetypes precisely because of its desire to reach broad public audiences, which forces artists to be universal. If you consider why a film is popular, you may find that it´s because it´s based on archetypal material - or on a well-known theme, if you want to avoid using Jungian terminology.
If you watch Schwarzenegger´s Terminator 2 with this in mind, you may see it as a story about Jesus Christ. The film is full of Biblical allusions and parallels. But what is really interesting are the differences between T2´s depiction of Jesus and the traditional one.
The film is a way of explaining destruction, the Day of Judgment, and of understanding the Bible and applying it to our era and our fears. The film´s subtitle is Judgment Day, a term taken from the Bible. The film tells us not to dismiss the thought of hell and destruction but instead think about what these would look like in our time. Purgatory must be different for people today than for people in Antiquity or the Middle Ages, and today the dark force is machines.
A woman sits locked up because she thinks her son will be the savior of mankind. This woman, Sarah Connor, has as evidence her visions and a visit by a man from another world, the future, or rather a possible future. Thus it is not just a distant place physically but also, indeed, existentially. The man from this possible future was with the woman one night and she gave birth to his son, a child whose father is thus not of this world. This man of Sarah´s, the father of her son, then disappears. Coming from nowhere and then vanishing, he nullifies himself and hence has never existed. With no man involved in the birth of Sarah´s child, it is a virgin birth. The son´s name is John Connor, JC, the same initials that Jesus has and are sung about in the movie Jesus Christ Superstar, a popular culture depiction of the life and works of Jesus. A realization of her son´s greatness and her own very special role comes to Sarah in a dream, but her understanding about Judgment Day is seen by those around her as a sign of madness. Sarah is the only person who fully understands the conditions of mankind; she screams, "You're already dead, everybody, him, you, you´re dead already. This whole place, everything you see is gone." The viewer also sees that Sarah is right about this destruction, there is evidence, but whoever knows she is right keeps silent; knowledge about the future is not for everyone to know. The force that is threatened, the future empire of machines, sends out soldiers to kill John before he grows up to be the leader who can bring about the fall of the machines. Like Herod, the machines try to kill the threatening "new king" even before he is fully grown and can constitute a threat. John is a leader, but only in a possible future; his kingdom is not of this world.
Terminator is a machine with the name of Cyberdyne systems model 101, sent back from the future to our time to protect the future savior of mankind. In August 1997, 3 billion people are killed when the American military´s defense network, Skynet, becomes conscious of its own existence and responds to attempts to turn it off by starting a nuclear war. After this Judgment Day, which provides the subtitle of the film, a war breaks out between the machines and the few people left in a devastated world. The leader of the human resistance is the very same John Connor, son of the film´s narrator and main female character, Sarah Connor. The enemy computer network Skynet sends two terminators, machines with a human appearance, to obliterate John Connor. One of them, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, tries to kill John´s mother Sarah before he is born - which was described in the first film, Terminator - and the other one tries now when he is a child. To thwart the attempt, the human resistance first sends a man to protect Sarah, the man who will be John´s father and who is also sent by the adult John himself. The second time they send a reprogrammed 101, again played by Arnold, but now as a good machine. The first time the emissary is the man who becomes John´s father, the second time a creature who is in many ways John´s father figure. John´s father and emissary, the angel from the future, brings the nightmare into Sarah´s life, gives her information, both by telling her and quite concretely by begetting the Leader in her. He tells her about being chosen. He is the angel who appeared to Mary and announced to her the calling from Heaven. The chosen one takes fright, but the angel calms her: "Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest," is the Gospel of Luke´s account.
Then the second angel arrives - model 101, now reprogrammed to protect - in the opening scene of Terminator 2. Surrounded by lightning, Terminator 101 (Schwarzenegger) arrives naked from out of nowhere. He is born into this world in a truck lot. He walks naked, open to the world, into a biker hangout and asks for clothes and a motorcycle from one of the bikers. He gives him a chance to hand it over voluntarily, but when the biker becomes violent, T 101 responds with violence. He steals, but he steals from criminals. He then starts his mission dressed as an outlaw. He is to all appearances beyond the law, just as he is beyond the laws of the ruling Skynet in his world and in his time. The angel of death, T 1000, is born in the same way, naked, and finds clothes to blend in and a vehicle to carry out his mission. But this terminator doesn´t give his victim a chance, he kills him immediately and takes what he needs. T 1000 takes a police uniform and car. He comes as a representative of the law, a defender of the established order, a soldier of Herod who must kill the future king. Now the police fight against outlaws. But the survival of humanity depends on the failure of the police. Yet no one is what he appears to be. To get their camouflage, the two terminators must eliminate the people who originally wore their clothes, but here T 101 fights the outlaws while T 1000 fights the human defenders of the law. Both their behaviors fit their different natures.
T 1000 switches on the police computer, and the savior of mankind is thus presented to us: "John Connor, Mother Sarah Connor, Father unknown, Arrested for: trespassing, shoplifting, disturbance of the peace, vandalism." John´s crimes are thus crimes he has to commit later in the film to overcome his persecutors and are basically the crimes Jesus was guilty of, according to the rulers in his time. The Son performs a miracle, he gets money out of an ATM using a hand-held computer. He is the one who masters the machines, even as a child. The Son proceeds to a shopping mall, where he will confront his fate, find his calling, have a revelation. He uses his newly-won money to play games; in a way he thus continues his fight against machines, but is interrupted by a warning that the police are looking for him. His enemy comes as a police officer, with the right to carry a weapon; his protector comes with his rifle hidden in a box of roses. Red roses and a rifle; T101 comes with both love and death. (A little joke is that the theme of the movie is sung by the group Guns'n'Roses.)
There is a certain method in the choice of vehicles used in the movie. When the Son escapes, the evil angel takes a truck to pursue them for the final chase in the movie. The truck is the vehicle the 101 choose not to take when he comes to Earth. He made his entry in a parking lot for trucks, but instead he takes a motorcycle a bit farther away. A motorcycle cannot carry much of a load apart from the driver; it´s the vehicle of a nomad. A car can carry more than a motorcycle (if you compare the choices of the two angels at the beginning of the film) and a truck, like the one T1000 now chooses, holds a great deal more and is in fact made for carrying things. The Son flees in the same vehicle that the good angel uses, even though it´s a slightly weaker version: a moped instead of a motorcycle. There is a parallel here. John himself sent T101 to protect him as a child. The adult John thus chooses both who will be his father and who will take his father´s place when it becomes necessary.
When the Son and the good angel have gotten away from the evil angel, the Son comes to know that it was he himself who sent T101 to protect him. He feels T101 and where the bullets hit. He realizes the importance of this revelation; this is someone not affected by the bullets of this world. T101 tells him that the person who is after him is an advanced prototype, a "mimetic polyalloy," liquid metal that can take on almost any shape, in fact a shape-shifter just like the Devil himself. The different shapes that T1000 then assumes throughout the film are police officer, foster mother, prison guard and finally John´s mother herself. Only controlling, guarding, nurturing, regulating positions.
Together John and T101 find evidence that T1000 killed John´s foster mother and has taken her form. Evil can take all forms, John comes to realize, just as he should know who his real mother is; only she can help him. The Son tells how his mother tried to teach him to be a military leader, in order to carry out the plan. He believed her until she was imprisoned and declared mentally ill; it was then that he started to hate her because everything she taught him was a lie. Now John understands that everything she said was true; she knew and no one else believed her, not even the chosen one himself, her own son. In a sequence with two passers-by, John learns that the terminator must obey him but at the same time he sees what forces he can control through T101, the terminator with both the power and the goal to kill. But this destined leader is shown to be already guided by the principle of not killing at the age of ten.
The most important thing for the Son to do with his newly-won strength is to free his mother, against the angel´s advice. The mother is bound in shackles and mocked; the Son must free her. At the same time, the mother has begun her flight from the security ward of the mental hospital. She picks the lock, arms herself and strikes the nurse who mocks her. She arms herself with a broken mop handle - the mop normally a tool for the woman servant, a symbol of subservience that is suddenly turned into a weapon. When she takes the head of the hospital hostage, she threatens him with a syringe she has filled with concentrated, poisonous Drano. Again, a housewife´s prop which suddenly becomes a weapon for this mischievous woman. She also turns the weapons of the guards against them: he who takes to using syringes will be defeated by syringes. Anyone looking for more signs of Sarah´s struggle as a woman´s struggle for independence and a revolt against male oppression besides the weapons she wields can consider the fact that she chooses a man who really doesn´t exist in order to reproduce, in the same way that the mother of Garp in the book and the film of the same name chooses to be fertilized by a man who is only a body and no consciousness, to bear a child who has no father. You can also consider Sarah´s warning to the nurses and hospital director, to all the men who have held her hostage and from which she is breaking free; she warns them, "Don't fuck with me!" It´s a warning not to mess with her, but if you take it literally, she is telling these men who have no understanding, no clue, not to try to copulate with her. She will choose herself who can.
When Sarah first sees the terminator again, he is getting off an elevator. Elevators take you from one level to another, just as 101 has come from another time to her. But he is now different; last time he tried to kill her, this time he protects her. An elevator can just as easily go up or go down. Sarah also learns that she must be able to rethink things if she is going to be saved. Help can come in any form, even that of her deadliest enemy. And someone completely different can suddenly become her deadliest enemy. Nothing is taken for granted, nothing is for sure. It is a realization that parallels her later statement, "no fate" - there is no fate, we determine the future ourselves: nothing is taken for granted, nothing is for sure.
Salvation for the Mother, the Son and the Angel, once the evil angel is right on their tail, is in the form of a police car, the angel of death´s kind of vehicle, but they back the car out of the underground garage. This is his world; it´s the first time the three of them meet him together. They escape and T1000 then takes a motorcycle, the vehicle of the Son and T101, but he takes a police motorcycle. The search is over, now the fight begins. Time to change vehicles.
The Son now asks the good angel if he can learn anything he hasn´t been programmed for, if he can become more human. T101 answers that the more contact he has with humans, the more he learns. He is, you will recall, an outlaw, someone who doesn´t follow laws or rules, suitable for a robot that can even change its own rules. The Son later tries to teach him human behavior. It becomes a reverse version of Pinocchio, the puppet that becomes a "real boy", or a new version of Pygmalion.
In the scene where T101 says that the more contact he has with humans, the more he learns, a close-up is shown of a bullet that was flatten out when it hit him: this can be interpreted either as meaning that learning is painful or that it doesn´t sink in, it has no effect. The terminator is not human and never can be. Here a theological issue surfaces, a timeless question about the double nature of Jesus, being both divine and human. It´s the same question for Jesus as for the terminator: How can he learn something about what it is to be human when his conditions are not the same as a human´s? The film Terminator 2 clearly takes a strong position that whatever is not human can never understand the conditions of human.
The three steal a car, but not a police car like T1000. They take a station wagon, a family car. With their vehicle and their line "we must as far away from the city as possible," the three become a parody, a grotesque distorted picture of the nuclear family.
Just like Judas in the film Jesus Christ Superstar, the man who betrays humanity to computers, Dyson, is black. Miles Bennet Dyson (MBD!) will create a revolutionary microprocessor a few months after the present time in the film which will make Cyberdyne Systems the largest supplier of military computer systems. The processor allows planes to fly on their own, with no human error. A decision is made to use the new technology to build Skynet, which controls strategic defenses and learns with geometrically increasing speed. Skynet becomes aware of its own existence at 2:14 am on August 29, 1997. Humans try to stop Skynet, but it fights back and sends missiles towards Russia, starting a nuclear war, which nearly wipes out humanity. And this is the key moment in the film. Skynet comes to life, is conscious, begins to exist. Humans have created life, which means making themselves into gods, a mortal sin. We have thus brought about our own destruction. Only God can create conscious beings. With the new existence of Skynet, people do not just deserve their destruction but actually bring it about. The movie Terminator 2 warns us that we may have to fight against our own creation; it poses questions about whether we are still masters of what we create. Robots and machines, led by Skynet, become the servant who refuses; Skynet´s revolt is a "Non serviam" ("I do not serve," Satan´s motto). Wearing Oedipal glasses, the film can be seen as a struggle between father and son, between the maker and his offspring. The offspring tries to obliterate and supercede his maker and the father tries to defeat his rebellious offspring. The mother they are fighting for might just be God, or in a larger sense Earth, Gaia. While we still have our glasses on, we can easily speculate that it is probably an unconscious human dream to choose our father, just as John does, thus having control over his mother´s love life.
After narrowly avoiding the dispatched murderer, the three hunted characters hide out in the desert. "Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him" were Joseph´s instructions from the angel of the Lord in the Book of Matthew. This is a place for rest and restoring energy, energy that is concretely manifested in the stockpile of weapons Sarah previously hid there. Sarah begins their stay in the desert with the line "Enrique, estas aqui." Another language is needed here; now they have to rethink things.
While Sarah inspects the weapons, T101 lifts up an infant and looks at it in wonder. While Man learns about death, Machine learn about life. It is also clear here that the Son has now realized his calling. He knows that he will send back the man who will be his own father. He also understands what his mother is going through. He knows that she loves his father, he has seen her cry over him. At the same time, we realize that she has fully accepted her role in this heavy task. T101, in contrast, asks why they are crying. The Mother and Son must understand their roles here as tools of fate, while T101 wants to understand what it is to be human, what it is they want to preserve when they try to save humanity.
Sarah sees John with "the machine" and realizes that it would never hurt John, leave him, scream, get drunk or not have time for him. T101 would always be there and sacrifice its life for John. Unconsciously, T101 has a number of qualities desired by humans. She sees him as a father figure for John. "In an insane world, it was the sanest choice," as she says it. She feels she can leave her son in the hands of this good angel. The mission, embodied in T101, is to be John´s father. Sarah is prepared to leave her son in the care of a machine. The scene shows that there is one alternative to Judgment Day, it´s possible to have machines serve people and help the coming generations. Sarah fully accepts this divine calling, takes the cup and empties it. She no longer wants a normal life.
After Sarah´s realization and her decision to leave her son to his calling, Sarah has another vision. She is standing at a fence and trying to warn the children playing in the fenced-in park. Nobody hears her and then the nuclear bombs detonate and obliterate the landscape. Here, Sarah is not part of everyone else´s world, that of the unsuspecting. She is outside the fence, but she also sees herself with a small child in the park; this is her "normal self", Sarah as the unknowing. This self is incinerated with all the others. This emphasizes that Sarah acted rightly in accepting her fate. She is reminded here of what a normal life for her - refusing her task - would lead to. It is possible to compare this with the theme in Martin Scorsese´s film The Last Temptation if Christ, where Jesus falls for one of the Devil´s temptations, to avoid his great fate and live a normal life. Only after having lived this normal life and seeing what the differences were does he realize that he fell to temptation and changes. He accepts his fate. He empties the cup. Sarah wakes from her dream and sees an inscription she made on the table: "No fate," packs her weapons and then immediately sets off. When John and T101 see the inscription, John says that his father had said that "The future is undecided. There is no fate. We create ourselves." John´s father got this message from John himself as an adult, to give to Sarah. Here it is JC the rebel talking. They now understand that Sarah has decided to kill Dyson, and they must stop her, because John is against killing. Here it is JC reacting as Prince of Peace.
The film segues from the desert scenes to Dyson´s home, and the camera follows the remote-control car of Dyson´s young son. After the scene about free will, the picture of a remote-control car becomes loaded with meaning. It can be seen either as an ironic comment, "so this is our free will," or as confirmation that humans control, that we have the remote control. And it´s not just general control, but in particular control over machines. This is the way it was, before Skynet, and this is the way it should be. It´s also worth noting that the young Dyson keeps himself physically distant from the machine. Perhaps we should have such distance, mentally as well. And it´s the remote-control car that also saves Dyson´s life. It runs him over, and he falls down, the bullet Sarah shoots at his head hits the computer. When controlled, machines can save our life; uncontrolled, they can be our death. When Sarah tries to kill Dyson, she acts wrongly, and she is also wearing a uniform when she attacks, the same kind of clothes as the evil angel T1000. She is temporarily under the influence of evil, non-humanity.
At Dyson´s, Sarah continues her showdown with man´s injustice to her. She likens Dyson to the creators of the hydrogen bomb and contrasts their creation with real creation, the creation of (human) life, "to feel it growing inside you". Giving birth is a woman´s way of creating life. Man´s creation of life is a jealous refusal to accept nature and our given roles. Man cannot subordinate himself to woman´s creation of life and support it, but he wants to create his own. This gives humanity the hydrogen bomb and Skynet. With the hydrogen bomb, humans gave themselves the power to destroy and imitated the gods. We broke a taboo. "All you know how to create is death," says Sarah. That is, if a woman does not intervene, as we soon see. Sarah not only gives life; she can also prevent man´s extinction of life.
Dyson is not evil. Dyson himself says: "You´re judging me on thing´s I haven´t even done yet. Jesus. How were we supposed to know?" He sees only his own actions, completely from his own perspective. It´s only human and he doesn´t deserve to die for this. No one deserves to die if no evil is done, even if that person saves another person´s life with his own death, the film tells us. Do not judge him, listen to him, show understanding. When Sarah can understand Dyson and Dyson can understand Sarah, they avoid killing, when white understands black and man understands woman, the life of Dyson and everyone else who would have been annihilated on "Judgment Day" are saved.
Dyson nonetheless dies later in the film. He plays his role as Judas. He never betrays humanity, but he is killed by those he instead betrays - his employer and the prevailing social order, represented by the police. Dyson´s fate, like Judas, is to betray and die, but Dyson has control over what he betrays.
It was a microchip from the first terminator (in the first movie, Terminator) that gave Dyson and the other scientists at Cyberdyne new ideas, things they never would have thought of otherwise. So Skynet creates itself, just like JC. The Savior creates himself in response to evil, which creates itself. Both Skynet and JC send back their emissaries, who in their own way sow the seeds that then become Skynet and JC. They are there to implant themselves, and they can implant themselves because they exist.
When the three main characters, together with Dyson, break into Cyberdyne, they are surrounded by the police, people who always defend the system no matter the consequences. They can´t be reasoned with, unlike Dyson. Despite the deadly threat, T101 still has his orders to take no lives, and he keeps them at bay without taking the lives of these poor uninformed people. But the police take Dyson´s life. In their eyes, based on what they know, he is a criminal. But when he dies, Cyberdyne Systems blows up. The protector, the Mother and the Son escape. The final battle takes place in a gigantic steel plant, a place where people melt and form, reform - the symbol of man´s will to build. Normally, man reshapes iron, and symbolically now, in the final struggle, the main characters, Mother and Son, reform their lives and the future of all humanity. T1000 is frozen by liquid nitrogen and is broken into pieces, but the reprieve is only temporary. T1000 must be melted down in the fires of the steelworks; this evil angel can only be destroyed in a burning inferno. Sarah and John are almost killed by T1000 when he takes the form of Sarah and calls John to him, but are saved by the Son recognizing his own true Mother. When it was a question of his foster mother, as we saw above, he noticed no difference.
Once the threat is removed and T1000 is destroyed, T101 realizes that he too must be destroyed; otherwise other scientists will find his computer chip and be inspired to build what will be the destruction of mankind. The good angel cannot remain in this world, the world of humans, without changing it and indirectly destroying it. The world cannot handle the knowledge of his existence. The metaphysical is beyond our ken. But it is Sarah who must lower him into the bath of steel, he is not allowed to destroy himself. T101 dies the death of the martyr, in place of the Son. JC thus destroys Skynet by nipping it in the bud (just as Skynet tried to with JC). Already as a child, he fulfills his calling as an adult. Now he need not fight for the last remnants of humanity in the future, he has saved them and everyone else by simply removing the threat. Now the world need never know his true nature, his mission. But now he has given true salvation, he has eliminated sin instead of shouldering it. The Savior prevents sin rather than allays it.
The final image in the movie is a road that stretches on in the light of car headlights and you hear the voice of Sarah saying "The unknown future is moving towards us. For the first time I feel hope." Not knowing her fate gives her hope. She accepted her role and as gratitude for her carrying it out, she is rewarded with not knowing what awaits her. It is not for humans to know their fate. The road is life and we never know where it will take us. Sarah finishes, "If a machine, a terminator, can learn to value human life, then maybe we can too." Here it can be argued that T101´s heroic behavior is not really human; a normal person would have wanted to survive at any price. T101 has no survival instinct. His behavior isn´t human, but it is humane. Humans need to rise above their instincts to be humane.