Some movies, no matter how old they are, never age a day. Their situations and themes remain as relevant now as when they were first released. Watching them today, they reflect and comment on our present in ways they couldn’t possibly have anticipated. Every month we’re going to pick a movie from the past that does just that, and explore what it has to say about the here and now.
August 29th, 1997, aka Judgement Day, is the day according to Terminator 2 when SkyNet becomes self-aware and nukes the world into a man vs. machine post-apocalypse. That day has long come and gone. The 1991 film’s vision for the future, however, has not. Much of what Terminator 2 anticipates hasn’t fully come true in the 23 years since its release, but emphasis on the word “fully.” There’s a lot in James Cameron’s action classic that rings remarkably familiar in the year 2014.
1. America: The War Zone
It’s a throwaway line in the movie. As Dyson’s hyperventilating death rattle comes to an end and the offices of CyberDyne go “BOOM,” a pilot hovering in a helicopter yells, “We got a war zone down here!” The line is played to underscore how unexpected and implausible a war zone on US territory would be. Yet, watching Terminator 2 now that line can’t help but ping with recognition after the militarized Ferguson PD’s handling of protests in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown. It marked a moment where many of us became aware of how much United States police forces have been preparing themselves with tanks, assault weapons, and battle gear, as if the nation’s streets – small and big – are war zones. That Terminator 2 pilot’s line was echoed many, many, many times when discussing Ferguson.
2. Survivalists Are Preparing For Judgment Day More Than Ever
The dessert-dwelling, armory stocking friends Sarah Connor visits in Terminator 2 have all the tell-tale signs of survivalists: people stocking up to ensure their survival when the world descends into chaos (the way Connor insists it will). Survivalists have only become more prominent since the release of T2. They have magazines. They have TV shows. They have Facebook groups. They have companies creating increasingly better equipment for them to purchase. All to prepare themselves for whatever disaster may befall us. Whether it’s Ebola or Obamacare.
3. The Machines and Their Algorithms
“The more contact I have with humans, the more I learn,” says John Connor’s surrogate Robot Papa, the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and you’d be hard pressed to find a more apt description of the multitude of algorithms that now hover expectantly like eager hungry puppies, waiting for us to do something they can study and adapt too. Facebook’s algorithms determine what we see in our feeds. Amazon assesses our taste based on what we spend our money on. Google’s algorithms give us search results based on what we (and others) like most. Even thermostats are learning and adapting to us now. Time will tell if all these devices, with their human studying algorithms, will learn to understanding crying and how to give a thumbs up. Here’s hoping.
4. Robotic Dexterity
The rise of machines, especially humanoid ones, is obviously a prevalent and much-discussed reality now that syncs with Terminator 2. We discussed recently in this column the possibilities of full bodies human robots in relation to Blade Runner’s Replicants. What Terminator 2 anticipates more specifically is the dexterous mechanical arm the T-800 shows off (after grossly skinning himself) to Miles Dyson and his family. We’re now seeing a lot of highly-dexterous robot hands and arms just like the T-800s. Innovation is being driven especially by the desire to supply amputees with prosthetics. One company received FDA-approval for what they call the Luke Arm (yes, after Luke Skywalker’s bionic arm). Another company called Shadow Robot created a robot hand with 24 joints driven by 20 motors. In action, it looks actually even smoother than the one we see T-800 show-off. Take that Skynet.
5. Dreams of Cataclysm Are Still Common
“Dreams of cataclysm, the end of the world, are pretty common,” says Sarah Connor’s doctor when she’s locked up at the beginning of Terminator 2. Now, while it’s hard to monitor people’s anxious apocalyptic dreams, we hardly need to. We know the doctor’s words are still true. Why? Because those “dreams of cataclysm” have become waking dreams with news-starved and fear-mongering media nightmaring the world’s end for us. The possibility of our planet’s inevitable demise is perpetually being shoved in our face. Even if it weren’t, with all the global warming, natural disasters, food shortages, and Kim Kardashian bums, it’s hard not to get a little paranoid that we may be a little bit screwed.