May 27, 2014

Movie Review: The Terminator (1984)

“Listen. And understand. That terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.” – Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn)

Director: James Cameron

Writers: James Cameron and Gale Ann Hurd, William Wisher (additional dialogue), Harlan Ellison (The Outer Limits teleplays "Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand")

Producers: John Daly, Derek Gibson and Gale Ann Hurd

Studio: Orion Pictures (later bought by MGM in 1998)

Major Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen

This (along with Aliens) is the movie that forgives Cameron all his subsequent hubris. Filmed on a shoestring budget of just $6.4 million, The Terminator became a sleeper hit and then exploded into the insane mega-franchise we know today. Oh, and it helped that Schwarzenegger fellow really launch his career.

No one saw this film coming. In 1984 the big buzz was about movies like Ghostbusters, Star Trek III and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Then in late October this movie about an unstoppable robot killer from the future hit the screens. And would my parents (i.e. mom) let me see it? No. Apparently killer robots are too intense for a 12-year-old. So I would have to wait until it came out on VHS in 1985 and I could cajole my dad into renting it.

It blew me the Hell away. And the more I watched it in years to come, it still blew me away. It’s this perfect little story but with the action and tension of a much larger film. You’re dealing with the salvation of the human race, but remain focused on just three characters.

It’s hard to picture now, what with two (increasingly larger) sequels, then Terminator: Salvation and now Terminator: Genesis will happen in 2015. But at the time, The Terminator was unlike anything else anyone had seen on a movie screen. Unless you count the Harlan Ellison Outer Limits stories which Cameron unwisely mentioned as inspiring him. Ellison jumped all over him and got a retroactive credit.

For me the iconic scene of The Terminator character isn’t the massacre at the police station, his impromptu eye surgery or even the final scene in the factory. It’s when that child’s toy gets crushed and you see the cyborg begin his methodical killing of everyone named Sarah Connor. It drives home that this relentless machine cares about only one thing and would torch the world if that is what it took for him to complete his assignment.

Why Accuracy Matters When Talking About Cultural Problems

How many students watch outsized frat-boy fantasies like “Neighbors” and feel, as Rodger did, unjustly shut out of college life that should be full of “sex and fun and pleasure”? How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, “It’s not fair”?

- Ann Hornaday, Washington Post Film Critic: In a final videotaped message, a sad reflection of the sexist stories we so often see on screen

In the wake of the mass killing committed by Elliot Rodger at UC - Santa Barbara, there has been a focus on three things.
  1. The availability of firearms to anyone and the death that results
  2. Mental illness and this country's seeming unwillingness to properly deal with it
  3. A cultural reinforcement of misogynistic thought that dehumanizes women

The face of what happens when mental illness, misogyny and easy access to firearms intersect

I am not going to argue any of those points, because I think they are all accurate. Nor am I going to argue with Ms. Hornaday's overall point:

If our cinematic grammar is one of violence, sexual conquest and macho swagger — thanks to male studio executives who green-light projects according to their own pathetic predilections — no one should be surprised when those impulses take luridly literal form in the culture at large.

The cold truth is that our culture does dehumanize women into objects that are "rewards" for the "nice guy". Look at a classic movie like "Say Anything". Lloyd Dobler is a borderline stalker in real-life. But in a movie he shows that persistence and never taking "no" for an answer will get you a girlfriend. Over and over the message that "nice guys get the girl" is pounded into our heads.

So what happens in real life when the girl says "no" to the "nice guy"?

A lot of times...nothing. A majority of men are not predatory misogynists who see women as objects or rewards. They are human beings with good points and bad points, ups and downs... and they know something important. Something Elliot Rodger never quite understood.

Life owes you nothing. Women owe you nothing. No one owes you anything. And a majority of men get that.

But there is a sizable minority of men who don't understand that. Who see women as rewards. Who desire women, are scared that women have that power (in their minds) over them and then hate them for making them scared. This is where rape finds it's genesis, where the burqa was born, where mentally ill animals like Elliot Rodger find their justification for violence. It's why the most dangerous thing on this planet to women ... is men.

And this has to be confronted and addressed. This isn't blaming media for violence or saying that video games/movies cause mass killings. It's saying that the messages we communicate in our culture, regardless of the medium, can create ideas and beliefs that are dangerous and that can find root in a sizable minority of the population.

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