Terminator Salvation: A Feminist Perspective


Wow, what a big... gun, you've got there!

Some film critics and fans who saw the film agree that it was… eh, which is why, at first, this review may not seem different. But, I will hypothesize that the biggest problem with Terminator Salvation is one that I haven’t seen introduced yet. Sure, we can blame it on McG‘s wild post-apocalyptic vision of the world after machines have taken over. We can blame it on the movie being so repeatedly edited that many of the characters appear poorly written (Even after you add Helena Bonham Carter and Jane Alexander to the cast). We may even blame it on Christian Bale, who plays Connor so coldly that the Connor in Salvation seems disconnected from the John Connors of the past. But, the movie forgets what both previous Terminator films and the television show strongly execute: The significance of its female characters.

From the first Terminator to the also disappointing T3: Rise of the Machines, strong protagonists and antagonists were women placed in roles that made them essential to the story. Sarah Connor’s significance remains paramount. Essentially, machines are trying to stop her from using her most incredible power: The power to reproduce. The symbolism seems so apparent: What ends the human race tries to undo its own demise by killing the one person who could save us all. Whether it’s intentional or not, Connor’s womanhood is crucial to the entire story because it relies on her vagina to rescue humanity. So, our protagonist’s character isn’t written light-heartedly, to say the least. As we shift to the sequel, we see Sarah Connor as no longer the oblivious waitress. She is hardened, cold. It’s clear to her that her fate is sealed: She had to give birth to the future leader of the resistance, and by doing so she is constantly marked for death. She remains the poignant pole upon which the premise of the movie spins. Instead of fleeing with John to Mexico, she decides to take the life of humanity into her hands by destroying Skynet directly. In T3, Sarah Connor dies, but we see the significance carry onto the character of Kate Brewster, John Connor’s future wife. She becomes the main target as she leads alongside John in the resistance. Following his dead mother’s prophecies, John Connor remains off the grid until the T-X (Seductively named the Terminatrix) stumbles upon him. Although Sarah Connor died, and her energy and vigilance along with it, we see a similar strength in Kate Brewster and in the T-X herself, although she, nor any of the other Terminators, weren’t important to the story itself.


Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor (Terminator 2)

It’s true. What the original Terminator and Terminator 2 created was a far greater conflict than man (like John Connor) versus the machine (For ex:,T-800, T-1000, and T-X) ; the bigger conflict is of two mothers: Sarah Connor and Skynet. You can’t replace Sarah Connor with a man; her femininity is essential to the entire story. She has to give birth to our Savior (Jesus Christ-like). Skynet acts as its own entity, reproducing thousands of terminators to annihilate another species, allowing her own to live. Each mother is€ out to protect her own.

Linda Hamilton declined to appear in T3 because she described the m$ovie as “soulless” and didn’t believe her character was going in a direction that was fitting for our heroine. Could Terminator: Salvation suffered the same motherless symptom as T3… ? To most Terminator fans, the third in the series featured a compelling continuation of the previous films; but something was missing, just as something was missing from our fourth movie, on which we carried our highest expectations. This is made all the more of a bust by the fact that after only two seasons, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – the television show that continued the Terminator story where the sequel ended – was canceled.

Terminator fans not only got Sarah Connor back (still plagued by oncoming cancer), but we were also introduced to Cameron, a highly advanced terminator who has been re-programmed and sent back to protect John Connor. Also, more resistance fighters and more terminators are sent back from the future to either prevent or control Skynet’s conquer over humans. Here, we also see the story evolve as complications (due to time travel) delay the inevitable Judgment Day.  In the television series, Sarah Connor’s character is crippled by her own death sentence, but she still remains a strong figure throughout, not once bending at the foot of fate. We see Sarah struggle with her identity – Mother of John Connor versus Protector of the human race – and how this ultimately affects the choices she makes and the destiny they carve out for themselves and the rest of the world. Cameron, too, serves a strong purpose, probably more so than any other Terminator since the movie’s sequel.

Awnuld was successful in his role because of his buff physique, his accent, and the fact that he played a realistic robot with irony and appeal. In T2, the Terminator (Arnold) is far more significant because he learns and begins to understand human emotion, an experience that could not be programmed on a chip. Also, we see terminators capable of mimicking humans. In …The Sarah Connor Chronicles, we see the conflict that these advancements bring to Cameron, who is re-programmed to protect John Connor, not to kill him. We see her use emotions and sex appeal to persuade and, sometimes, manipulate him. Other females and their roles were important  in the show as well. An evolutionary Terminator, the T-1001 (with liquid metal capabilities) impersonates the head of ZeiraCorp, Catherine Weaver, and uses reverse engineering to make her own version of Skynet in order to defeat it.

In the face of its predecessors, Terminator Salvation was a good action film (and that’s a mild compliment) mostly because of Christian Bale as John Connor and the impressive terminators and the shapes they take. However, the female characters (as they have mostly been in recent action movies) are merely seductive, pretty-faced stand-ins for the real movers and shakers of the movie, namely Connor and Marcus Reilly, a semi-terminator of sorts. He is the first robot (or partial robot) to interact with John. But, unlike those before him, he doesn’t spend enough time building a relationship with Connor and is hardly impressive compared to his evil counterparts (the teriminators themselves). The character of Kate Brewster (played by Bryce Dallas Howard)  is a pregnant nurse (which no one in the movie seems to bat an eyelash at) with plenty of screen time for her but hardly enough dialogue to fit a five-minute scene. Newcomer Moon BloodGood plays resistance fighter Blair as best as she could, but her character is forgettable. Sure, she’s tough… but not tough enough to fend off three rapists in a desert. Luckily, Marcus Wright is there to rescue her. After that, we hardly see any of the women break a fingernail let alone skin during the rambunctious, ear-piercing action sequences. Linda Hamilton manages to provide a narrative through Sarah Connor’s recorded diaries, messages that John listens to. But, such voices from beyond are much too brief to bear any thematic foundation to the story. McG impends his brooding vision into Terminator Salvation, leaving it very little charisma, heart, or juice.  This film needs Sarah Connor’s essence, her femininity, Cameron’s seductions, her youth and apathy. We need what John Connor comes face-to-face with in the movie… a human heart beating vivaciously through the cold gleam of metallic bone.

  1. great piece. can I cross post it at Women & Hollywood? I tried to email you but it bounced back.


      • chriscicchelli
      • May 23rd, 2009

      Hey Melissa,

      Thanks so much for the compliment! I’m so glad you like the piece. I’ll check into my whole email bouncing back but yes you can definitely use it in your blog. I’ll also list you in my links – I read over your blog and I really enjoy your postings. How long have you been blogging? Do you have other blogs around?

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