The Terminator

Although it spawned a science-fiction franchise, this is just as much a slasher film inspired by John Carpenter's Halloween. It even imports some of the sexual politics of the genre, with Sarah Connor's frisky roommate and her creep of a boyfriend dispatched in the most brutal terms after a long night of humping. Sex may dull the survival instincts, but just as much of an issue is Ginger's addiction to her walkman, which distracts her from the killing machine invading her bedroom.

That reliance on technology may be what James Cameron was trying to draw out. It's no accident that the final showdown is set in a factory, where the robots have clearly replaced humanity along the manufacturing conveyor belt. The Terminators are just the next level up in this process, eradicating humans from the planet as well as the workforce, and impersonating real people to do so. Kyle Reese suggests that the machines were the ones to launch the nukes in the first place – drawing a connection between the impersonal forces reshaping capitalism and the nuclear powers facing off against each other in the 1980s. Both are out to crush the little guy or gal trying to scrape a wage waiting tables.

The gratification in the film is that the gal gets to crush the monster in return. But the message gets scrambled somewhat by the iconography of the film – which dresses up Arnold Schwarzenegger as a counter-cultural punk in leather jackets and boots, and has an almost fascistic fascination with guns, bikes and slaughter. Cameron didn't want Schwarzenegger in the role at first – a giant Austrian bodybuilder is hardly believable as a cyborg designed for infiltration. But he was won around, and Schwarzenegger's presence on the set changed the movie, making it more flamboyant and stylised. No wonder they made him the hero in the sequel.

The rebels of the future are a raggedy bunch, fighting a guerrilla war against the evil empire in scenes that may be inspired by the Vietnam War. Kyle Reese is a product of that post-apocalyptic environment – where the broken TV used as a fireplace provides sufficient commentary on the decadent and dangerously soporific dependence on technology in the modern world. Inspired by Kyle's example, Sarah Connor loads up on all the guns she can get and goes off-grid at the end of the film. Defeating the military-industrial conspiracy means embracing survivalism. And the only sign of solidarity in the film is a cult-like attachment to the messianic figure of John Connor, and the intense but brief love affair between Kyle and Sarah – hardly promising portents for the future, nor a particularly attractive alternative to the machine overlords.

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