ON THE MARIAN IMAGERY IN _THE TERMINATOR_

by Br. Dennis Kriz, OSM

(c) 1997 Dennis Kriz, OSM

Friar Servants of Mary

This paper may not be reprinted for profit without my permission

-- Br. Dennis Kriz, OSM

 

INTRODUCTION

This Thursday night (Sept 17) CINEMAX will be broadcasting once

again the Terminator. Since the film has been around for over

twelve years now, that it is being broadcast then is, in itself

unimportant (One can also rent it at any given time). At the same

time, I would like to call attention to this film in a manner which

I think would be fascinating to many, but which, I think most,

including most critics, up until this time have missed.

 

For the movie THE TERMINATOR turns out to be an interesting and

remarkably faithful adaptation of the Bible's Apocalypse/Revelation

12 expressed in the contemporary idiom.

 

So get out your Bibles, read Chpt 12 from Revelation (or in

Catholic lingo, the Apocalypse) and let me explain...

 

THE "DRAGON"

The Terminator monster played by Arnold Schwarzenegger serves a

terrifying updated expression of Apoc/Rev 12's "dragon." Indeed,

the Terminator is portrayed as having been born of human arrogance

(that is, Sin) with a single-minded task -- to simply destroy

everything it its path until its programmed objective, whatever it

may be, is obliterated. In otherwords, the Terminator's mission is

simply to kill, kill, kill. The Terminator thus serves as a

horrific "image of man", a product indeed, of humanity's thrust to

mold and dominate all the world in its image.

 

Indeed, in the Terminator's time, humanity has succeeded all too

well. The machines they have created (the great computers), gain

a "consciousness." Then, no doubt, still operating out of their

human _programming_ the computers decide in their Macchiavelian /

Nitzschean "beyond good and evil" and then monstrously efficient /

"singleminded" / machinelike sort of way - after a nanosecond's

deliberation (more that enough time in the cyber-realm...) - decide

that it is in "their interest" to simply destroy humanity (their

maker) before humanity knows what hit it.

 

Most of humanity is destroyed in the nuclear war set-off by the

machines themselves, and the movie is then set, in part, during the

machines' subesequent "mop-up operations" - The Terminator

monster/machine is sent back into the past by the machines, to kill

the mother of the humanity's resistance leader so that he would

never be born (Cf. Apoc/Rev 12:4-5).

 

The Terminator, played by eminently Aryan, Arnold Schwarzennegger,

is thus both the Nietzschean Superman and "Dragon" of his time.

 

THE "SAVIOR"

The future "warrior savior" (Cf. Apoc/Rev 12:5) in the movie has

even a name, John Conner, whose initials are "J.C." Despite his

future messianic stature, his name is also a _common one_ to a

contemporary American audience. He is thus portrayed as being both

"super" and as having come out of "one of us."

 

THE "ANGEL"

Kevin Reese is the messanger/protector sent back in time by the

adult John Conner to his mother, announcing to her both her

importance/mission and protecting her from the Terminator, who was

sent back in time by "the machines" in order to kill her. Reese

serves thus a conflated Gabriel (Cf. Lk 1:26-38) and Michael (Cf.

Apoc/Rev 12) character in the story.

 

THE "VIRGIN"

Sarah Conner was John Conner's mother in the movie. Sarah is a

Biblical name. Further the Biblical Sarah shared something in

common with the Biblical Mary: both had the birth of their sons

announced to them in advance by God (cf. Genesis 18:1-15) or by a

messanger from God (cf. Luke 1:26-38).

 

Sarah Conner's physical virginity at the beginning of the film is

ambiguous. One indeed gets the impression that she probably was

not still a virgin at the beginning of the film, and is definitely

not a virgin at the film's end (as John Conner is conceived as a

result of Sarah inviting Reese - who was in fact, up until that

time a virgin - to have sex with her at a point in the film).

 

Perhaps it would be too much to expect of a Hollywood film flirting

with so much more-or-less obvious christ-referring imagery to

portray Sarah as being explicitely a Virgin in a traditional

physical sense. However, Sarah retains many very interesting

"Virgin-like" characteristics: She's a nobody. In fact, she's a

waitress -- a modern-day "servant/handmaid." She's somewhat

awkward. A little wise-guy kid plays a joke on her in the

"Denny's-like" restaurant in which she works causing her to spill

something on herself (water?) in the openning scene of the movie.

She is definitely not part of the "social elite." Indeed, her

"one-of-us" "innocence" is further reinforced by her being "stood-

up" by her boy-friend the night she meets Reese and the Terminator

out to kill her.

 

Sarah's "Virgin-likeness" is thus expressed in this movie through

her awkwardness/innocence. In this "nothing-special" innocence,

Sarah Conner, like the Biblical Mary reflects _us_.

 

In fact, the Sarah Conner character finds countless reexpression

in the readily identifiable "Virgin" character in 1970s-early 1980s

"Mad slasher" films -- "Halloween," "Friday the 13th," "Prom

Night," etc, even, if more distantly, in Steven King's "Carrie."

In each case, while the monster, who systematically liquidates "the

elite", often to the cheers of the audience, is finally overcome by

who one critic calls "The Final Girl" but who we as uncoothed

teenagers used to simply call "The Virgin." (In the case of

"Carrie", Steven King has noted, Carrie herself, in "Solomonlike

fashion" liquidates the elite who oppressed her). What has

interested some feminist critics has been that IN ALL THESE MOVIES,

the audience has been predominantly or even OVERWHELMINGLY male,

and yet, the audience at the end of the picture _identified with_

"the Final Girl" cheering her on, until she defeated the monster

who tormented her.

 

THE CLIMAX

This brings us to the climax of THE TERMINATOR. Events bring

Reese, Sarah and the Terminator monster to a robotics plant (where

the still mindless precursors of the Terminator work). Reese, in

a dieing gasp of traditional but INSUFFICIENT male chivalry/bravado

is able to damage but not destroy the Terminator monster, whose

humanlike skin had by now been seared-off and was now exposed to

all for the mechanical horror that it always was. The Terminator

monster, now simply a metalic, but still functioning skeleton, no

longer with legs (which were blown-off of it by Reese in his

parting suicidal attack) is reduced to dragging itself along the

floor (like the ancient serpent of the Garden of Eden [Cf. Genesis

3:14]). But, programmed as it was to destroy Sarah Conner, it

continues to do so, dragging itself along the floor with one arm

and GRABBING AT SARAH'S FEET with the other. Sarah destroys the

Terminator monster once-and-for-all BY CRUSHING ITS HEAD IN A

_GIANT_ MECHANICAL PRESS: "I will put emnity between you (the

serpant) and the woman, and between your offspring and hers: He/She

(*) will strike at your head while you strike at his/her heel" (Gen

3:15).

 

(*) Pronoun unclear: He, refering generically (he/she) to the

woman's offspring, she if refering to the woman herself.

 

To any traditional Catholic, the Mariological imagery should be

clear: The iconography of Mary as the Immaculate Conception has

been of Mary standing over the Serpant having crushed his head

against the Earth with her heel.

 

THE FINAL SCENE

If however, one were to still miss Mariological imagery of the

Terminator, the movie ends, with the now obviously pregnant Sarah

Conner driving off "into the desert" to safety until the proper

time (Cf. Apoc/Rev 12:14), indeed, to the neighboring country of

Mexico (as Mary/Joseph did by fleeing with the infant Jesus to

Egypt, [Matthew 2:13-15]).

(End of Part 1 of 2)

 

 

ON THE MARIAN IMAGERY IN _THE TERMINATOR_ [Continued...]

by Br. Dennis Kriz, OSM

(c) 1997 Dennis Kriz, OSM

Friar Servants of Mary

This paper may not be reprinted for profit without my permission

-- Br. Dennis Kriz, OSM

 

SOME POINTS FOR CONSIDERATION: ON THE VALUE (?) OF A MOVIE LIKE THE

TERMINATOR

 

In this presentation I have shown the by-now more-or-less obvious

parallels between the film THE TERMINATOR and the imagery portrayed

in the 12th Chapter of the Apocalypse/Revelation along with the

traditional Catholic interpretation of this text (which has linked

this text with the passage in Gen. 3:15 giving a lively and

glorious image of Mary as the "Woman Clothed in the Sun" and the

"New Eve" who helped crush the head of the serpant with her "yes"

to the will of God).

 

There are questions to be asked as to the value to such "updated"

adaptations of the Scriptures.

 

On the positive side, there is little doubt that the detailing of

the parallels between this movie and these highly esoteric Biblical

texts can give today's generation of Americans/Westerners a

PROFOUNDLY MORE COMPREHENSIBLE PERSPECTIVE on the meaning of the

symbols used in these texts, as well as the theology behind them.

I found the employment of the Terminator cyborg/android monster as

a contemporary expression of the "dragon" of Apoc/Rev 12

particularly compelling, this in particular because the _humanly_

created Terminator mechanical monster explicitely points to the

source of the Evil expressed in this monstrocity in human

arrogance, that is, sin.

 

Further, while in part amusing (that Hollywood can't seem to bring

itself to put on the screen a true, even physical Virgin), I found

the film's exploration of what characteristics in Virginity are

indeed the most important in making symbol of "the Virgin" a symbol

of "one of us" _very interesting_. And I do think that this movie

can help give the contemporary person a greater appreciation of

what exactly Mary symbolized in the Annunciation scene of Luke's

Gospel (Lk 1:26-38): She symbolized "the Daughter of Zion", a

member of the people of God and indeed a member the whole of

Creation. Her "Yes", prefigured in fact, or made possible the

whole of Creation's eventual saying of "Yes" to God (Cf. Lk 1:38,

Rom 8:18-25).

 

There are those who would question the violence of the movie (as if

Apoc/Rev. 12 or indeed the just about all of Apoc/Rev was not

violent). There are also those who would find the unmarried sex

scene between Sarah and Reese (which in the movie was heavily

implied to have been the cause of the conception of John, who would

become the future savior of the world - in the universe of this

particular movie) as bordering on blasphamous. On the flip-side

some could perhaps see this particular scene as somehow a "proof"

that Jesus whom we Christians hold as the Christ would "have to

have been" conceived in a similar (non-virginal) way. A "proof" it

clearly is not... and it certainly would not take the production of

a Hollywood movie to say the obvious: that true virginal conception

would be something truly outside the natural order of things. And

that is of course exactly what the Gospels Matthew/Luke claim. To

take away Jesus' divinity to reduce him to one of many other "great

human leaders," and it goes without saying that many "human

leaders" would probably be more "relavent" today that a purely

human Jesus would be (One thinks of Martin Luther King, Mohatma

Gandhi, even Mother Teresa - on her own). But none of these purely

human leaders can save...

 

One can perhaps question the employment of violence in the

Terminator in another way: that it seems to propose violence

(against machines) as the way to go, while at least many would

argue that Christianity is or should be inherently non-violent.

Again, we would fall back to the reality that the book of the

Apocalypse/Revelation is graphically violent. Yet here many

Christians, and correctly I believe, would argue that the book of

the Apocalyse/Revelation is really to be understood as a "spiritual

conflict" not to be taken _literally_ but whose drama simply

requires the wide-open glorious canvas _portraying_ the whole of

creation "blowing up" -- afterall, we are talking about the great

"fireworks" consumation of all Creation.

 

Yet, this could, and I would argue _should_ be said of the

Terminator as well. And I say this because I think most people

intrinsically recognise these graphically violent movies like the

Terminator as _fictional_ (not real and yet very emotional ...

requireing again a very large canvas and fireworks) and watch them

in a very different way from the way they would watch a movie like

Schindler's List which is also graphically violent and yet

obviously more real. Indeed, I have _met_ people who have had

little or no trouble watching, popcorn in hand, the standard

Schwarzennegger/Van Damme/Segal movies in bliss, and yet become

very disturbed by the violence of the far more closer to home, far

more real accounting presented in Schindler's List.

 

Perhaps an even better comparison would be between the all-but

unwatchable realism of "The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre" and the

subsequent "teenie bopper" mad-slasher films which imported from

the "Texas Chain-Saw Massacre" its principle icon -- the hockey-

masked madman with a buzzing-chain saw -- but placed him in such a

stylized (and safe) environment of the high school crowd from the

American suburb of the 1970s-80s, that there was no question that

the subsequent slew of spin-offs - Halloween, Friday the 13th, etc

- were basically "morality tales" (the arrogant and the oppressors

all get killed, and the virgin representing all the "humble folks"

triumphs in the end).

 

As such, a very interesting, and in our contemporary

American/Western culture, a very important study could be made of

how the cueing of audiences as to what is meant to document a

literal/physical reality (ie the horror of War (as, in for example,

the movie "Memphis Belle" a 'new generation' WW II movie), the

horror of the Holocaust (as in "Schindler's List"), or the result

of the progressive desensitization resulting from ongoing

dehumanizing work (which I believe was the primary or certainly

most viable motivation behind the making of the "Texas Chain Saw

Massacre") and what is meant to be above all a flamboyant stylized,

symbolic expression of emotion or reality (think of Kafka or "The

Far Side") _beyond_ the literal, physical plane. (If one were to

for instance consider the sheer number of potentially debilitating

'horrors' awaiting the average high school kid who approaches 'Prom

Night' -- where one is going to be mercilessly scrutinized by

his/her peers on basis of one's appearance, wealth, wit, one's date

and often enough even one's sexual performance -- it should

surprize no one that a great many teenagers would really wish that

_someone_ would just come out and "cut down" the elite of one's

class who would be oppressing him/her).

 

So in this light, even the violence of the Terminator needs to be

discussed in the future in more thoughtful light.

 

CONCLUSION

All in all, I hope that you will have found this exposition on the

Terminator as interesting as I have. In recent years, there has

been a great deal of interest, both among Protestant and Catholic

thinkers to better seek to understand the emerging post-modern

culture, which is proving to be a "new world" for secularist and

believer alike. And I do hope that even the avowed secularist will

be able through this reflection on the Terminator and its borrowed

motiffs and themes from Apoc/Rev 12 to see the Christian concepts

as Sin and even the role of the Virgin Mary in Catholic thought in

a new and more comprehensible light. For the Scriptures became the

Scriptures precisely because they were meaningful. If time and

changing location and circumstances causes us lose our

comprehension of the manners of expression used by the Scriptural

writers, then it is the challenge of the believers of today to re-

express this same message in imagery and language understandable

today. The screen-writer of the Terminator may or may not have

this intention at all in creating the Terminator, but this screen-

writer has given us a vivid example of what in fact is possible.

 

In peace,

Br. Dennis Kriz, OSM