Study Guide

The Terminator Death and Birth

Death and Birth

The flick is called The Terminator. Surprise, surprise: a lot of lives get terminated.

In fact, the Terminator racks up a kill score of about 30 people, and his murderous methods include a gun, a gut punch, a car hood, a bigger gun, a neck snap, more guns, a bedroom door, and still more guns. This thing is deadly.

The Terminator basically dresses like a punk rock version of the Grim Reaper, and when its skin burns in the final act, its endoskeleton comes complete with skull-like death grin. News flash: the Terminator is kind of a symbol for death itself. Specifically violent death. Death you can't escape.

In the end, by the way, the Terminator itself is destroyed by an industrial hydraulic press, resulting in a kill-death ratio any gamer would be proud to call their own.

To counter-balance this depressing spectacle, though, the film features several references to birth. If death represents finality and despair, then birth symbolizes life, survival, and hope for the future.

The figure of John Connor is the one most associated with birth and hope. In fact, the film's plot revolves around his birth: Reese wants to save Sarah so that John can be born, whereas the Terminator wants to kill her to prevent that. Only through birth will John serve as a beacon of hope for humanity and its future:

REESE: We were close to going out forever. But there was one man who taught us to fight. To storm the wire of the camps. To smash those metal motherf*cukers into junk. He turned it around. He brought us back from the brink. His name was Connor. John Connor. Your son, Sarah. Your unborn son.

Notice that Reese's explanation ends with a direct reference to the importance of John's birth—or, in this case, to the fact that he has not yet been born. The implication is that while the situation is dire, there is hope to come.

By direct relation, Sarah becomes a similar symbol of hope and life, thanks to her ability to give birth. Unless you are an immortal jellyfish, you need mothers to have babies, so this one's kind of a no-brainer.

Now You're Playing With Portals

Although Reese can't give birth, he's still associated with life and hope. When we first meet the future soldier, he's time-traveling from the future. Lightning crackles through a dark, dirty L.A. alley; a blinding hole of white light opens in the sky; and Reese tumbles out of it, naked and disoriented.

This imagery suggests a different kind of birth. If you think we're stretching here, remember that Reese makes this connection himself: when Sarah asks him what traveling through time is like, he says, "White light. Pain. It's like being born maybe." It's a new life for Reese back here in the past.

This connection with birth—and therefore life and hope—is seen in Reese's character throughout the film. Only through his intervention does Sarah survive her first meetings with the Terminator.

Additionally, he proves to be the father of John Connor, and as we all know, it takes two to do the deed.

Snake Eyes

The Terminator is also associated with a type of birth, but as a bringer of death, his birth is a dark opposite to that of the human characters. As a machine, his reproduction is asexual, requiring neither a mother nor a father, but simply another machine to put him together.

Also, the Terminator's birth into the world is distinctly different from Reese's. There's the same lightning, and there's the same white hole, but the Terminator comes out neither dazed nor confused. Like a rattlesnake, it's born dangerous, with fully formed predatory instincts.

Interestingly, many of the Terminator's victims can be associated with life and birth, and we can see the film as a struggle between the two forces. The first Sarah Connor it murders is a mother of two. It also kills our Sarah Connor's mother. And it kills Ginger and Matt after they do the deed that brings about babies…okay, maybe not that last one. That's probably just poor timing on the Terminator's part.

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