Journal Article – “No Fate”: The Unmaking of John Connor

But if there are gifts of prophesy, the time will come when they must fail.

  • Corinthians 13:8

A vast body of existing scholarship suggests that, since the dawn of cinema and in motion pictures of every genre, one does not have to look too far in order to find a reimagining of either Messianic figures or other key characters from Biblical prophecy.[1] Some scholars argue that these representations make a story more subconsciously identifiable and thus, easier for audiences to follow.[2] However, others suggest that it is the mythological nature of the Bible as a text, and the depth to which it is ingrained within social, rather than individual, identity that makes the reimaging of biblical figures or the retelling of biblical tales such a popular theme among filmmakers.[3] Where most films give a standalone version or interpretation of a biblical theme, a clear parallel to a biblical story or a biblical subtext that posits their protagonist as a messianic figure; The Terminator franchise is unique in its depiction of these themes, both because of the extended time over which audiences have engaged with the numerous films and in the way that the larger messianic narrative has been employed. Of specific interest is the narrative structure of the films, which is constantly reforming, in order to reflect ongoing shifts in the social interests of the present day society, as it was at the time of each instalments release.

Speaking about science-fiction films which illustrate the relationship between man and machine or man and his image of himself, J. P. Telotte describes Terminator and Terminator II: Judgement Day as the most important ever made; not only for the way in which they explore the interactions between humanity and technology, but for the way they illustrate the complex dynamics of these relationships.[4] While this observation is certainly true within the context of Telotte’s own research and his interpretations of the films, his observations also highlight a third focal point, which is the films’ depiction, through the messianic and biblical frameworks which they engage, of the relationship between mankind and the redemptive figure. This figure is commonly understood, among the Christian West, to be Jesus Christ and for the purpose of this analysis it is Jesus Christ that is the figure against which messianic parallels will be drawn. Comprising now of not two, but five films, which span over thirty years, the Terminator franchise, via the person on John Connor, reflects larger social changes in attitude towards Jesus Christ and his role in the social identity. As social attitudes about religion, its value, authenticity and structure have shifted across the decades in which Terminator films have been made, the role of John Connor too, has shifted, giving an almost exact reflection of these attitudinal trends. The role of the Terminator, that is the T101 model played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, begins the franchise as the antagonist and as a symbol of the early 80s rejection of technological dependencies. The cyborg is the opposition figure to Connor’s Christ.[5] Through the second and third instalments in the series however the T101 begins to usurp John as a hero, becoming the object audiences look to not only for hope, but redemption. So, in the films is reflected the slow but complete embrace of technology and a resulting social shift away from religion. A similar theme has been touched upon by J. M. van der Laan, who suggests that the films act as a modern day form of propaganda, which promotes the necessity of living a tech-driven life.[6] Drawing on the work of Van der Laan and other academics who have expressed similar views on the franchise, and through the analysis of  the last two films as a further representation of the idea that technological dependence and religious belief appear to be mutually exclusive; it will be suggested that, rather than looking in hope towards the messianic figure of John, who is established in films T1, T2 and T3, modern audiences have succumbed to the lure of the very technologies which these first instalments have prophesied will be their doom.

Multiple parallels between the life of Jesus Christ and that of John Connor, have become an ongoing motif within the larger Terminator franchise mythology, extend not only through the five films, but also to the short lived television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (TSCC) (2008 – 2009).[7] This televised imagining utilised many of the more identifiable beliefs and practices of a number of religions, particularly Eastern religions, in order to cement the messianic overtones of the series and, in doing so, contributed to the image of John Connor as the modern day messianic archetype. While it must be pointed out that the TSCC forms an important part of terminator mythology, due to the fact that the television series is not acknowledged or accepted in all of the established film lore, it is more of a gnostic gospel of John Connor than a canonical text, and as such will not be discussed in this work, but addressed under different criteria, by the author, at a later time.

[1] William L. Blizek (ed.). The Continuum Companion to Religion and Film, London, 2009; John Lyden (ed.). The
Routledge Companion to Religion and Film
, New York, 2011; Geoff Rickman (ed.) The Science Fiction Film
Reader
, New York, 2004.

[2] Clive Marsh. Audience Reception in The Routledge Companion to Religion and Film, pp. 255 – 270.

[3] William L. Blizek and Julien R. Fielding. Movies: The Retelling of Religious Stories in The Continuum
Companion to Religion and Film
, pp. 70 – 79.

[4] J. P. Telotte. Replications: A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film, Chicago, 1995, p. 170.

[5] Ellexis Boyle. ‘The Intertextual Terminator: The Role of Film in Branding ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger,’ Journal of
Communication Inquiry
, vol. 34, no. 1, 2010, p. 47.

[6] J.M. Van der Laan. ‘Machines and Human Beings in the Movies,’ Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, vol.
26, no. 1, 2006, pp. 31 – 32.

[7] Ziauddin Sardar. ‘Terminator 2: Modernity, Postmodernism and the ‘Other,’ Futures, June 1992, p. 493.

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