When I wrote this romantic movie list for a friend a couple of years ago, I’d included The Terminator as an afterthought. It’d been many years since I’d seen the movie (numerous times, I might add) and my feelings for it had faded, although I’ll never forget how gutted I was by the love story that was central to the movie. Even as a 12 year old who’d stayed up after midnight to watch her first Arnold Schwarzenegger flick, and even with endless commercials and cuts for sex and foul language in the way, I was profoundly moved on my first viewing, and I hid under a black mood for days because Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn, pronounced “bean”) were robbed of their happily ever after.
Last week, there were all these “think about death and dying” posts going around because of the double loss of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, and I felt the stirrings of a midlife crisis–questions without answers about what I want to achieve, along with how and where to live my life in a fulfilling way, coupled with the realisation that there are so many things about being young that I miss, like a neverending supply of hair (on my head), the 24/7 aura of invincibility, and the idea that with time on my side, life (love or otherwise) could go in any amazing direction. To distract myself, I hung out with Google, rode the wave of nostalgia, and found an article about Kyle Reese being the most interesting action hero ever, which made me watch The Terminator again.
The Terminator is the perfect movie. How did I not know this before?
First, the story is perfect. This must be one of the shorter movies director James Cameron has ever made! Every scene is essential, nothing more. The pacing is superb–no slow talky bits to weigh down the movie, and everything, even falling in love, is done on the run. I watched the scenes that hadn’t made it to the theatrical cut thinking I’d relish the additional interaction between my once-again favourite screen couple (sorry Kate and Leo!), but nah. Kyle came off as being a bit wimpy in the additional scenes; they would’ve messed with the steely-yet-vulnerable persona that’s still making me swoon 30 years later. Kyle also appears on a deleted dream sequence in Terminator 2, which I found corny. Their story was beautiful in part because it was short-lived; give them more time together to share a life and they’d probably turn into Kate and Leo in Revolutionary Road, so it’s for the best.
Second, the hero is perfect. Movies like The Terminator are dangerous to watch, romantically speaking, because real life will always pale in comparison. I mean, show me a guy in real life who’ll travel across time to save a girl he’s never met from something that’s virtually indestructible? Please. I wonder if Michael Biehn’s tried living up to the myth of the hero that he created and felt defeated in the process. It’s interesting to me that he’s started directing movies recently which have characters named Kyle and Reese. I feel like I’d be miserable if I were an actor, and constantly stuck in limbo between worlds and characters because I can’t shake them off quickly enough.
Third, I love how the female lead is the real hero by the end of the movie–she calls the shots, pulls her man up when he’s down, and makes the final kill. This was the 80s and they intentionally set out to make a movie where Sarah Connor grows into her “mother of the future” role, not one where she sits around screaming and waiting to be rescued. I like this about many of James Cameron’s movies (Aliens, Titanic), where the men fall by the wayside and the heroines discover and tap into their own source of strength eventually.
Also, I’m so glad the Internet and Google are fairly recent inventions–I would’ve never gotten any studying done back in school if they’d been around! January’s a slow work month and I’ve been spending nights reviving my Kyle Reese/Michael Biehn obsession by digging up trivia and old videos, beginning with this lengthy recap of his career. I found it funny that right after The Terminator, which came out in 1984, Michael Biehn went on to make this TV movie, about a girl and her “nice” doctor husband who secretly wants her dead. I’ve seen this movie with my mom! I can almost visualise us together in our old home watching this, with her explaining the plot to me–I’m not sure we made it through the whole movie because it’s a 4-hour two parter. How do you go from being the perfect man to this? I suppose that’s an actor’s life…
Back to The Terminator: Time travel stories make my brain spin, but in a fun way. If you don’t know the story of The Terminator and don’t mind spoilers, it works like this–Kyle Reese gets sent back in time to save Sarah Connor from a killer cyborg (also sent back in time), so that she can go ahead to give birth to her son, John Connor, who will one day become the leader of a resistance movement against self-aware machines, which are hell-bent on wiping out humanity. Kyle and Sarah spend a night together; he dies and she lives, and she’s pregnant at the end of the movie. So there’s all kinds of weirdness here, chiefly that Kyle will be born again, but he’ll be younger than his son. Here’s the puzzler: Kyle Reese couldn’t have been the original father of John Connor, so he belongs in an alternate timeline where future events have been altered because of tampering with the past? Terminator fans have been thinking about this for the last 30 years, and I enjoyed reading some of their theories here.
Photo via The Terminator’s official FB page.