The Terminator Theory of History

Friends, Moviegoers, Spambots, lend me your browsers. I come not to review Terminator: Salvation, but to analyze it. In the movie, John Connor is the one person to lead the resistance, bring balance to the Force, and be the boy who lived. But the question is why? It’s no spoiler that most of the series has been spent trying to allow Connor to live up until the point at which he fulfills his destiny. So much so that it has started to bother me.

In the first movie, the computer network, Skynet, sent an Ah-nuld shaped robot 40 years back in time to murder John Connor’s mother to prevent him from being born. Without the glorious leader of the resistance, the computer was sure to win the genocidal war it was waging against all humans. From a conceptual standpoint, it sounds like the perfect assassination plot. The only problem is that it only works under certain assumptions of history. Take for instance, the problem of Adolf Hitler. If the Allies could go back in time and assassinate his mother, Klara Pölzl (or at least keep him away from Alois Hitler through a series of Back to the Future style hijinks), they’d be nuts not to do it, right? Wrong. If they went through with the operation, they’d be rid of Adolf himself and perhaps reduce the severity of the holocaust, but they still couldn’t get rid of the Versailles Treaty, the Great Depression, the centuries of anti-semitism or any of the other thousands of factors created by the actions of millions of people that led to World War II. The Command & Conquer: Red Alert series took this idea to its logical conclusion when a fictionalized Einstein erased Hitler from history, which brought to bear a more powerful and aggressive Soviet Union as a result from the absence of Nazi Germany.

So even if Skynet succeeded offing John Connor, who’s to say that there wouldn’t be someone else to get the ball of human survival rolling? That’s good news for the human race, but does it make for good film-making? A lot of these grand celluloid adventures like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and even the new Star Trek carry themselves on the idea that there is one man, one mission, one movie that will blow your Summer away! Do we need films to be so wrapped up in one character to have effective conflict? I don’t think we’re that selfish. These movies draw on our need to feel special, but no one wants to be so special that it cancels out the need for any other member of the human race. We go to the movies to meet interesting characters, not just look at our own faces pasted on Christian Bale’s body! Besides, so many great deeds of history have been committed by people who weren’t the ones mentioned in the prophecy. In fact, I would say that better movies will emerge when we realize that true greatness doesn’t come from lineage or tea leaves, but from the simple choice to do the right thing when no one else will.