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May 18, 2009

How Sarah Connor made the war worse.

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I watched The Terminator (1984) from start to finish for the first time in years last night, and I was amused by the opening title card's declaration that this film would show us "the final battle" in the war between humans and machines. "The final battle"? Tell that to the sequel-makers.

But what really struck me were the deleted scenes, which I don't believe I had watched since I first got the DVD in 2001. And why did they strike me? Because they make it fairly clear that, on some level at least, Sarah Connor is responsible for the war.

That's right, Sarah Connor is responsible for the war.

How can this be, you say?

Well, in one deleted scene, Sarah looks up Cyberdyne in the phone book -- just like the Terminator looked up her in the phone book! -- and tells Kyle excitedly that they can destroy Cyberdyne and prevent the war from happening. After some arguing, and a bit of an emotional breakdown on Kyle's part, Kyle finally agrees to do this. (So you can see, in this, the seeds of Sarah's later vigilante actions in T2.)

And then, in another deleted scene set a few hours after Sarah has successfully destroyed the Terminator, we see that the Terminator's crushed remains have been noticed by a couple guys, one of whom instructs the other guy to take the Terminator's microcomputer chassis over to the company's R&D department. We then cut to the outside of the building, as Sarah is loaded into an ambulance, and the camera pans up to reveal ... the Cyberdyne logo on the front of the building. (So you can see, in this, the seeds of T2's later revelation that Skynet will grow out of the pieces of the Terminator that survived the original film.)

Is it a coincidence that Sarah, Kyle and the Terminator ended up in the Cyberdyne building? To a point, yes. The car chase that immediately preceded the chase-on-foot in the Cyberdyne factory was pretty crazy, and who could have predicted where the various wrecks and explosions would have ended up? But on the other hand, no, it wasn't all that coincidental. Why were they in the vicinity of the Cyberdyne building in the first place? Because, as we saw in the earlier deleted scene, Sarah and Kyle had agreed to try to sabotage Cyberdyne. They were already making their way over there.

So. Just as the Terminator came back in time to kill Sarah and prevent the birth of John Connor, thereby inadvertently drawing Kyle Reese back in time and guaranteeing the birth of John Connor, so too Sarah Connor tried to destroy Cyberdyne and prevent the birth of Skynet, thereby inadvertently drawing the Terminator towards the Cyberdyne factory and guaranteeing the rise of Skynet. And this point -- this similarity between the two characters' actions, and the consequences of their actions -- is underscored by visual motifs such as the phone-book scanning.

I can see why these scenes were deleted from the film. For one thing, they created an ambiguity around Sarah and her actions that could have complicated our feelings towards her. In a sense, they almost put her on the same level as the machines that sent the Terminator back in time: both she and the machines suffer from a kind of hubris, believing that they can change the past (in the machines' case) or the future (in Sarah's case), but in the end all they do is guarantee their own failure.

Of course, commercial cinema being what it is, The Terminator ended up having sequels anyway, "final battle" or no "final battle". And ironically, as the series has continued to unfold, Sarah's actions have turned out to have even more unforeseen consequences.

In Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Sarah tries once again to destroy Cyberdyne -- and this time, to cut a long story short, she succeeds! The nuclear war no longer happens on 1997 as everyone predicted ... but it does happen several years later, in 2004, as per the events of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003). (Or in 2011, as per one of the timelines in The Sarah Connor Chronicles.) Sarah did not completely prevent Judgment Day; instead, she merely delayed it. And so, as John Connor says in the trailers for Terminator Salvation, he now has to face the fact that "this is not the future my mother warned me about."

The guaranteed victory of the original movie -- the fact that the war was over and the "final battle" had already been won -- has been completely undone. John no longer has any assurance that he can win this war. And all because Sarah would not accept the prophecy that she had been given.

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Related Tags: sarah connor chronicles, terminator

Comments

Thanks for that Peter. Are you a general fan of the Terminator movies and will you be going to see Terminator Salvation?

Exactly, Peter! Assuming the possibility of time travel (and the absence of complete annihilation of the traveler when he acts), every action in the past, even just the "showing up", impacts/changes the future. I thought the gravity/"mind-bending-ness" of Terminator would've been greatly enhanced by leaving in those deleted scenes.

On the same note, I thought Star Trek did a pretty good job of making that clear and "believable" while not making it the focus of the movie.

I've concluded that time travel is impossible. If it were possible, people from the future would have enslaved us by now. Also, it presents all sorts of theological problems.

That said, I am really a fan of these movies, and I really enjoyed this post. I'm kind of sad that the TV show isn't coming back.

great post !

I too have seen all of the Terminator movies and the deleted scenes of the first one.

I think what was being said about time travel in the first one (especially if they kept the deleted scenes) is that it is cylclical, and you cannot change the past. By Kyle Reese having to go back in time to create John Connor in the first place and the terminator (if the deleted scenes where kept) having to go back in time for the company to even think of creating these things, it makes it one huge cycle.

But, we have learned in the second Terminator movie, you can change the course of history. Go figure that one out!

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