Of Nuclear Annihilation & Robot Friends
I’m not big on stories about the end of the world. It’s a genre—or maybe sub-genre, whatever—that has never appealed to me. I think it’s because it’s hard for a writer to make such a massive event personal and emotionally relevant; having characters shouting, “WE’RE DOOMED. DOOOOOMED!” while running away from fire and brimstone, or whatever disaster is occurring, without having anything else to connect me to the story? Meh. So when I sat down to think about what the hell I was going to write for the “End of the World” theme week, I struggled. And then I remembered “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” (Which, OK, isn’t directly about the world ending, but is about trying to save humanity from annihilating itself with nuclear weapons at the hands of the artificial intelligence we created.)
“Judgement Day” is one of those movies, at least for me, that has aged fairly well. (I still swoon over the multiple ass kickings Linda Hamilton doles out as Sarah Connor.) While the story is a rehash of the first—a protector sent back through time to ensure the future human resistance gets their leader—it resonated with me more than the movie that inspired it. I like the original “Terminator,” don’t get me wrong, but the emotional connection wasn’t there for me. I never bought into the whole Kyle Reese/Sarah Connor star-crossed romance, which seemed to be the emotional center of the movie. “Judgment Day” was different; I think it was because the heart of that film was the unlikely friendship between a boy and his robot.
Yes, yes, there’s the whole mother and son thing too—which was good. I liked it. But as an awkward kid who has grown into an equally awkward adult, the story of an isolated kid finding friendship—real friendship—with an entity that wasn’t supposed to be capable of it was very powerful. Obviously, there were some father figure overtones for John Connor’s relationship with the T-800; but however one interprets it, the connection between the two characters is strong. It grounds the film and stands out amidst the explosions, the techno-babble, and the looming threat of a future of nuclear annihilation. That relationship makes the film feel personal, at least for me. I care what happens to John because his relationship with the machine makes him relatable and vice versa for the T-800; I sobbed when the killer robot sacrificed himself at the end to save humanity.
But, Nat, you ask, what about Sarah Connor? She’s the lead and a badass lady? Yes, yes, she is, and I adore her. But on an emotional level, Sarah is a bit aloof, unreachable, unattainable. She’s got big picture issues on her mind (as she should). Her knowledge of what is coming has radically altered her since the first film, and it has become her sole obsession in life. It is, understandably, hard for her to connect with others; this makes it harder, in my opinion, for the audience to connect with her. Without having some relatable emotional arcs, the whole film would have still been good but lacked the same impact.
In this day and age of bigger, badder, and faster movies with more explosions and more CGI, a lot of the entertainment industry—including TV and comics—have fallen into the trap of producing large, impersonal spectacles with big events, and those end up just feeling hollow for me. While I, too, enjoy a good bit of mindless action from time to time, those aren’t the stories I remember for years to come. I can see a good explosion anytime I want now, but getting a good story with personal stakes? That seems to become rarer by the day. “Judgment Day” was one of those gems that made me actually care about the fight to save the world from impending doom—and all because a kid made friends with a robot.