Study Guide

The Terminator Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton)

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Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton)

She may not look it—what with the '80s hair and the lack of Force ability—but Sarah Connor is a total Jedi. Wait, don't go. Hear us out.

Okay, so Sarah doesn't come equipped with a lightsaber, but like Anakin and Luke Skywalker, Sarah is equipped with an important destiny: she's the chosen one who will help destroy an evil empire. And like her Jedi brethren, hers is a coming-of-age story: she comes from humble origins, acquires the skills necessary to succeed, and ultimately overcomes the evil forces out to destroy the world.

That makes Sarah's story the classic hero's journey. Neo? Frodo Baggins? John McClane? Ellen Ripley? That kid from Gremlins? they all embark on journeys just like Sarah's.

Humble Origins

When we first meet Sarah, she's an average college student. She works a dead-end, thankless job at a restaurant, and her main worries in life consist of what she'll do Friday night and how good she'll look doing it.

Yeah, well, she's not succeeding at either of those things. As we watch her serve entrees, it's evident that Sarah isn't getting her name on the employee-of-the-month plaque anytime soon:

RESTAURANT PATRON: Miss, we're ready to order now.

SARAH: Yes, ma'am.

Sarah sets a plate down on the table and spills water on her customer.

SARAH: Oh, I'm so sorry. This isn't real leather, is it?

A boy puts ice cream inside Sarah's apron.

GUY WITH JACKET: Nice going, kid. I ought to give you the tip.

Now, anyone who has worked in the food industry knows it isn't easy. Even so, Sarah's performance is hardly becoming of someone who will one day train the savior of the human race. She can't get an order right; how will she teach John Connor to defeat the unstoppable force of the Hunter-Killers?

As we follow Sarah throughout her day, we see more evidence that she's pretty average. She spends her evenings prepping and primping for her Friday-night date. Her greatest responsibility appears to be a pet iguana she can't keep tabs on. And her Friday night is derailed when her date cancels on her:

ANSWERING MACHINE: Hi, Sarah, Stan Morsky. Something's come up. Looks like I won't be able to make it tonight. Just can't get out of it. Look, I'm really sorry. I'll make it up to you. Call you in a day or so, okay? Sorry. Bye.

GINGER: That bum. So what if he has a Porsche? He can't treat you like this. It's Friday night, for Christ's sake.

SARAH: I'll live.

GINGER: I'll break his kneecaps.

To be fair, Ginger takes it way harder than Sarah does, but her bestie's reaction further illustrates the world she inhabits. This world isn't one where survival is of the utmost importance, where your thoughts must always be on how to secure food or on your enemy's location. It's a pretty frivolous world, one in which a canceled date is a tragedy, and one in which your decisions have no lasting consequences.

Rather than be devastated, Sarah decides to go out on her own and get some pizza. Whereas Ginger is totally ticked at the thought of a date canceling, Sarah takes it in stride and chooses to not let it ruin her evening. It may not seem like much, because, well, it isn't, but this decision gives us a hint of the strong, self-sufficient woman within, one who will become more evident as Sarah's ordinary world is invaded by some rather unordinary folk.

That's Some Weird Science

Once Sarah goes for that slice, things start to get weird for her. Real weird. She hears a news broadcast about the second Sarah Connor killed in that day, and she realizes someone is bumping off people with her name. She calls the police and hides out in a nightclub called Tech Noir, but the Terminator finds her, anyway.

Reese rescues Sarah from the Terminator and dumps a whole bunch of exposition on her really quick. To summarize (deep breath): in the future, an artificial intelligence defense network will gain consciousness and decide that all humans are pretty much horrible. It will initiate a nuclear war and then proceed to systematically take out the survivors. When humanity's existence is on the brink, Sarah's son to-be, John Connor, will arrive and show humanity how to rage against the machines. The Terminator has been sent back in time to kill her and prevent her son from ever being born. Reese has been sent back to protect her.

We imagine Sarah probably had Oingo Boingo looping through her head during that whole spiel. Understandably, she isn't willing to buy this level of crazy right away:

SARAH: Then you're from the future, too. Is that right?

REESE: Right.

SARAH: Right.

Sarah tries to escape from the car. Reese pulls her back in, and she bites his hand.

REESE: Cyborgs don't feel pain. I do. Don't do that again.

SARAH: Just let me go.

That seems like a suitable response to us. Here, we see Sarah's reluctance to leave her ordinary world and accept her destiny. Destiny is calling, but it seems too difficult, too challenging, or too weird to be possible. Better to return to a life of waitressing and Friday-night dates, right? That stuff seems so much safer and saner.

One dramatic car chase later, Sarah and Reese are picked up by the police. At the police station, Sarah continues to struggle with the choice between accepting her future or returning to the world as she knows it.

On the one hand, she remembers seeing the Terminator take several shotgun blasts to the chest and get up like it was nothing. That was odd. She also remembers Reese's apparent honesty when telling his story.

On the other hand, the officials seem to have explanations for everything. Traxler explains that the Terminator was probably wearing a bullet-proof vest, while Vukovich theorizes he might have been on PCP. Silberman brushes aside Reese's earnest description of a dystopic future by saying, "In technical terminology, he's a loon."

Despite reassurance from the officials, it isn't long before Sarah's ordinary world is shattered and she is forced to accept her destiny. The Terminator arrives at the police station and goes first-person shooter on everyone in the building, including Traxler and Vukovich. Bullets have no effect on him, and the mere fact that a single individual can kill that many armed and trained individuals lends credence to Reese's story that the thing is a machine disguised as a man.

Sarah and Reese manage to escape, but now it's just the two of them against the Terminator. To survive, Sarah will need to accept her role as a warrior.

I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar

For the rest of the film, we start to see Sarah slowly develop into—to borrow Reese's words—"the legend," the one who "taught her son to fight, organize, prepare from when he was a kid."

We first see this when the two hide out under the highway. While escaping the police station, Reese took a bullet, and Sarah uses their first-aid kit to bandage him up. While she's treating him, Reese says that the reason he volunteered was to meet her. But Sarah says, "Come on. Do I look like the mother of the future? I mean, am I tough? Organized? I can't even balance my checkbook!"

But even as she says this, Sarah is performing her first field dressing, a job that even the battle-hardened Reese thinks is well done. Unbeknown to her, she's started to become the Sarah who will teach her son to fight the machines; she's started to become the tough and organized Sarah.

Further evidence comes when Reese teaches her how to make homemade explosives, and also when the Terminator finds them at the Tiki Motel. Evading their mechanical pursuer once again, Sarah takes a more active role. Whereas before, Reese did the shooting and the driving, this time, Sarah drives the truck, and when Reese is injured, she pulls him from harm's way—harm, here, being an 18-wheeler trying to run them down.

For the Honor of Greyskull

It may not be as sparkly or overt as She-Ra's, but Sarah's complete transformation is nonetheless impressive, coming after she and Reese blow up the semi-truck.

Despite having its skin burned off, the Terminator keeps on coming, looking like a mechanical skeleton risen from a fiery grave. Sarah and Reese run into a factory, but Reese is too hurt to move on. In this moment, Sarah finds her inner strength:

SARAH: Come on! Come on. No, Kyle. Come on! 

REESE: Leave me here.

SARAH: Move it, Reese! On your feet, soldier! On your feet!

Before this scene, things just happened to Sarah, while other people—Reese, the Terminator, the police, and even that bum who brushed their date night off—made the decisions that propelled her future. Here, Sarah takes command, and the roles are reversed as she pushes Reese onward. Together, they manage to defeat the Terminator and ride off together into the sunset.

Just kidding.

Reese totally dies when he puts the last explosive in the Terminator's endoskeleton. The ensuing explosion kills Reese, hits Sarah with shrapnel, and destroys the Terminator. Well, it destroys the Terminator's lower half. The upper half relentlessly crawls after Sarah as she shimmies through the assembly line of the factory.

It may be the slowest chase in movie history, but here, we find the final development in Sarah's character. With Reese dead, Sarah is alone, yet her opponent remains. It is up to her to fend for herself, to take the lessons and strength she learned from Reese and put them to use.

And put them to use she does. Crawling through the assembly line, she lures the Terminator under a hydraulic press and traps it. Just as the machine is about to reach her throat and strangle the life from her, she turns the machine on, saying, "You're terminated, f*cker!" And then she watches as the press crushes her nemesis into an expensive paper weight.

In this scene, Sarah Connor has taken the first steps to accepting her role as the mother of humanity's future. Not only will she train her son to defeat the machines, but she has also become the first person in history, technically, to defeat a Terminator. And that, we've got to say, is pretty awesome for someone who started the film as a subpar waitress.

Mommy's Got a Gun

As the story wraps up, we see Sarah traveling across the desert toward destination unknown. She has taken Reese's lessons to heart. She has a dog to spot Terminators, and she's got a real big gun with her. These are visual cues telling us that Sarah has transformed—or, at least, is transitioning—into the legend Reese told her about.

We also learn that she is pregnant. As it turns out, Reese impregnated Sarah during their one-night tryst. This leads to some time-traveling shenanigans that, for our own sanity, we won't get into. Let's just say we're here to discuss Sarah's character and not Grandfather paradoxes.

Through Sarah's pregnancy, as we see her finally accepting her role in the coming war:

SARAH [recording]: Tape seven. November 10. Where was I? What's most difficult is trying to decide what to tell you and what not to. But I guess I have a while yet before you're old enough to even understand these tapes. They're more for me at this point just so that I can get it straight.

Although John remains in utero, Sarah has already accepted the role of mentor, just as Reese was a mentor to her. Her tapes and lessons will provide John with the knowledge he needs to stand up to the machines and help humanity survive the trials ahead.

After a stop at the gas station, a young Mexican boy warns her that a storm is coming. Sarah says she knows and drives onto the road, heading directly for the storm. The symbolism here, although a bit on the nose, is nonetheless important. Sarah knows what the future holds; she knows the difficulty ahead. Yet she chooses to head toward it and confront it all the same. This is a stark contrast to the character who bit Reese's hand in an attempt to run from her problems at the film's beginning.

Like a true Jedi, Sarah has accepted her destiny and is ready to fight the evil that is coming. Now, if someone could just get this girl a lightsaber, she'd be set.

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