“Come on. Do I look like the mother of the future? I mean, am I tough, organized? I CAN’T EVEN BALANCE MY CHECKBOOK.”
– Sarah Conner, The Terminator
I have a love/hate relationship with the Sarah Conner of the first Terminator movie. Part of me wants her to be the same tough, kick ass heroine you see in the 2nd one, and so I’m always slightly annoyed when I start re-watching the first one again. Blah blah yeah, she’s the holy womb of antioch, whatever. Seriously, is her only worth in the world as the womb that carried John Conner?
Then I sit down and really think about it, and I remember that even though she’s the “mother of the future” she’s no passive fucking vessel. What I love about the first movie is knowing who she becomes by the second one. Because how many of us are terrified waitresses who can’t balance their checkbook and whose biggest heartbreak on a Friday night is getting blown off by some random date? Living that kind of life, how would you really react when you found out you were the one who taught the leader of the human resistance how to fight? That you taught him honor, how to make bombs, shoot straight, and bind a wound? Would you change your life, after that? Would you have the strength to do that? Or run away from it?
What I like seeing in this first movie is a timid nobody finding her strength, and knowing she’s got the guts to get there.
The utter tragedy of T3 (I don’t even consider it canon, especially after watching the new Sarah Conner Chronicles) was dumping Sarah Conner. These movies are far more about Sarah Conner than they are Arnold Swartzenegger (hence the success of the Chronicles).
It’s a much gutsier, gritter version of Titanic (also a James Cameron movie, for those keeping track; he made tough female heroines awesome long before Joss came along). Wallflower with the heart of a fighter tells the world to go fuck itself and finds her voice and her strength and her self-esteem. She finds out what she’s really made of.
It’s a woman’s coming of age story that doesn’t involve marriage or being “saved” from her life by a man who does all the work for her followed by a pan-to-the-lamp happily ever after. It’s a coming of age that takes work, courage, brute strength. Sure, this realization is kicked off by a hot guy who doesn’t generally stick around for the end (just as in The Wanted and other boy coming of age stories have their bland boy’s superpowers awakened by the arrival of a mysterious hot chick – who also doesn’t generally stick around for the end). He holds out his hand, but she has to take it. And when he steps away, she needs to be able to stand on her own.
I’m always looking at why these particular movies work so well for me (Titanic, the Terminator movies, the first two Alien movies), and you know, it’s because they’re traditionally masculine coming of age stories. A formerly obscure nobody woman finds out she’s the chosen one. She gets to battle evil in its many forms; she gets to slay the monsters. She picks herself up and builds her own life.
At the end of the day, she realizes that nobody is going to save her but herself.
And she becomes the hero of her own life.
That’s good shit right there.