James Cameron’s ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (1991)

30Dec08

In Terminator 2: Judgement Day, made in 1991, Linda Hamilton plays the heroine, Sara Conner, a woman just as capable as Aliens Ripley, who finds herself in a similar situation. Surrounded by doubting men and women, Sara has been labeled insane and placed in a mental hospital. Again, the audience, having presumably seen the first film, recognizes the doctors’ stupidity in not believing Sara, who tries to warn them of the rise of the machines. The scenes in the hospital create sympathy for Sara as she struggles against the male-dominated power structure of the institution, lead by the mocking Dr. Silverman. Her time at the mental ward has changed her into an animal of sorts, exemplified well in the scene that introduces Sara. Linda Hamilton in 'Terminator 2'The camera pans over her sweaty arms and shoulders as she does chin-ups before capturing her face in a shot in which her wild hair frames her face, nearly obstructing her eyes. As the doctors and visitors peer into her cell to observe her, she shifts, fidgets, and snorts like an animal at the zoo. Trapped in the hospital, Sara’s plight could suggest the presence of medicalization in society. Society uses “medical language to [mystify] human problems, and thus removes them from public debate” (Riessman 46). Sara’s doctors would rather not accept the possibility of Sara’s warnings of intelligent machines overthrowing the human race, so she has been labeled as sick, which discredits her claims. While most people would understandably doubt her assertions of future knowledge, placing her in a mental institution and discrediting her as insane prevents people from considering the implications of her claims, namely the possible ramifications of research into artificial intelligence.

While not as androgynous as Vasquez, Cameron pays similar attention to Sara as he did to Jenette Goldstein’s character in Aliens. The clothes Sara wears throughout the movie accentuate the more masculine shape—broad shoulders tapering down to slim hips—of Hamilton’s body and Cameron tends to compose his frames to feature her rather impressive biceps. But unlike Vasquez, Sara eventually accepts her role as mother, which Cameron demonstrates as crucial to the survival of both Sara and her son.

Knowing that her son John will become the leader of the resistance against the machines, Sara has raised him constantly in military training, concerned with preparing her son for battle rather than nurturing him. When John rescues her from the mental ward in a flurry of bullets, Sara throws her arms around him, which John interprets as a hug, to check him for wounds rather than to express pleasure at seeing him. Sara does not seem to become aware of her lack of maternal bond with her son until she observes the Terminator (Arnold Swarzenegger) interacting with John. In the first film, Swarzenegger plays an evil machine sent back from the future to kill Sara before she conceives her son. In the sequel, he reprises the same role, but this time Swarzenegger’s Terminator has been sent back to protect Sara and John from another Terminator, the T-1000. With his mother absent, John soon bonds with the Terminator as the father he never knew, teaching him how to talk more like a human and less like a machine and how to exchange high fives. Sara notes that “The Terminator would never stop, it would never leave [John]…And it would never hurt him…or say it couldn’t spend time with him because it was too busy.”

Linda Hamilton in 'Terminator 2'When Sara decides to take the future into her own hands and kill the man who would invent the technology that would make the highly intelligent machines of the future possible, she reaches a crisis point in her relationship with her son. As the man’s son tries to shield his father from Sara, she crumbles and lowers her gun, teary-eyed, confronted by the strength of the bond between parent and child. In this moment, she finally confesses to John that she loves him. Cameron expresses Sara’s blindness to see her son as her son rather than a future political leader through visual cues. In the beginning of the film, before her acceptance of motherhood, Linda Hamilton’s eyes always seem covered in some way: her bangs, which extend below her brow, or sunglasses or a hat obscure her vision. Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong in 'Terminator 2'During the scene in which Sara tearfully expresses her love to John, her hair is completely pushed back from her face and John removes her hat as she embraces her mother role to her son. For the rest of the film, her eyes remain un-obscured; even though her bangs still hang past her brow, they are parted in a way that leaves her eyes visible. As with Ripley in Aliens, musculinity and motherhood combine to form a “warrior mom” figure; however, unlike Ripley Sara cannot protect her child alone. Ultimately the Terminator must save both Sara and John from T-1000 and then destroy himself to protect the future.

Works Cited:
Riessman, Catherine Kohler. “Foucault, Femininity and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power.” The Politics of Women’s Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance and Behavior. Ed. Rose Weitz. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. pp 25-45.Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Dir. James Cameron. Perf. Arnold Swarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick. 20th Century Fox, 1991.

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