The Alamo Drafthouse Omaha is celebrating "Colossal Women Month" by asking women to program films that are important to them. Guest Programmer Molly Welsh chose The Terminator. Live near Omaha? You can get your tickets HERE.
Charles Mee, arguably the greatest living American playwright, wrote the following passage in his play First Love (you can read the whole play here). The first time I read it, I was stunned and then exalted that someone I have never met and respected immensely could articulate my own view on love so perfectly. Love is not something easily definable, yet it is relatable and sought out by us all. The absolute truth of this passage points to one film as the most romantic love story of all time.
That film is The Terminator.
Sometimes in life
you just get one chance.
Romeo and Juliet
They meet, they fall in love, they die.
That's the truth of life
you have one great love
You're born, you die
in between, if you're lucky
you have one great love
not two, not three,
It can last for years or for a moment
it can be years later or a moment later
and that's how it is to be human
that's what the great poets and dramatists have known
you see Romeo and Juliet
you think: how young they were
they didn't know
there's more than one pebble on the beach
There's only one pebble on the beach.
Sometimes not even one.
Love stories typically have a pretty predictable formula: ordinary characters in difficult situations doing extraordinary things, feeling feelings they haven’t felt ever before while struggling and eventually overcoming external (or internal) forces, finally transforming into a smarter version of themselves. All the while fate is looking on and interjecting where necessary. Funnily, this is also the foundation for heroic origin stories (with some denial of the present situation thrown in). That said, I love hero stories. I hate rom-coms. Que sera, sera.
My expectations for love changed forever when I saw The Terminator. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is an ordinary gal, a waitress, a friend, a lizard-mom to Pugsly. I was Sarah Connor. She is a feminist without having to talk about it, happy to go to a movie or grab a bite on her own, always scooting around town. She is every hero before they become heroes. But at the same time she’s a legend. She is already a hero to Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a soldier sent from the future to protect Sarah and her unborn son, John Connor, leader of the future Resistance (and the man who sent Kyle back). A Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is also sent from the future to destroy Sarah Connor, in the hopes of preventing the birth of her son and wiping out the resistance altogether.
Sarah, like any hero, is presented with life-altering information. She has a hard time dealing with the magnitude of it all, but after a few moments of denial, she accepts this as truth and begins to believe, completely, that she could be this hero of legend. She falls in love with Reese after he tells her he came back voluntarily - because here was his chance to meet the legend and tell her he’s in love with her. He describes a picture of the woman she was before she became the legendary Mother of the Resistance. Kyle’s not intimidated by Sarah’s impressive status. He’s attracted to her story and her power as a woman. Future guys are the best. (Also, "Come with me if you want to live" is the best pickup line ever.)
Sarah accepts her fate and defeats The Terminator with Reese's help, but loses her love in the process. She is pregnant with Reese's son at the end of the film and thinking about how powerful their love was when some kid snaps a photo of her. This photo is the image Reese will fall in love with. He even told her he wondered what she was thinking about in that moment. There’s that pesky pebble on the beach.
I’ve had a thing for Michael Biehn for years. He was in three of my favorite movies, Aliens, The Abyss and The Terminator. In all three movies, he has interactions with three powerful women. He never questions their strength and doesn’t see them as weak. For Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, this man’s support is a contributing factor to their growing strength. He lifts them up and, in turn, they lift him up.
The Terminator almost wasn't the epic love story it turned out to be. James Cameron couldn't get anyone, not even his agent, to take on the script. His agent didn't like the story and refused to help, so Cameron fired his agent - not the smartest move when you are living out of your car and were fired from directing Piranha II: The Spawning. But then, in came the epic woman behind The Walking Dead, The Abyss and Aliens: Gale Anne Hurd. She bought the rights for one dollar, made some edits to the script, and Pacific Western Productions was born.
Initially, Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to play Kyle Reese and Lance Henriksen, who helped fund the project, was going to play the machine, but after Cameron met with Arnold, he changed his mind. O.J. Simpson was also considered for the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101, but they didn't think anyone would believe O.J. as a killer. (Ha!)
Michael Biehn almost didn't get the role of Reese. He came into the audition with a southern accent he couldn't shake from an earlier audition, Tennessee Williams' Cat On A Hit Tin Roof, and then had to come in to audition again after explaining his situation. Sting, among other heartthrobs, was also considered to play Reese. But Biehn turned out to be the perfect partner to Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor.
Cameron has a reputation for featuring empowering female characters in his films. Most have fine-tuned maternal instincts. The change in Sarah Connor from T1 to T2 is astounding. She is no longer naïve, soft or timid. She is a warrior, living up to the expectation of her legend. Linda Hamilton made T2's Sarah "crazy" after carrying the weight of this information for so long. The change in Ellen Ripley from Alien to Aliens left her more guarded, quiet and wary. I love the only female character in The Abyss, Dr. Lindsey Brigman, played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. She is fiery and smart and doesn't take anyone's shit. She displays a softness for the creatures they find and has more confidence than I was used to seeing on screen when I saw the film at the ripe old age of ten. Cameron wrote the character based on the wife he was in the process of divorcing, Gale Anne Hurd.
I became a mother when I was 19 years old. My view of Sarah Connor changed after that. She transferred the love she experienced with Kyle to her son John. Her love is ever protective, like a mama bear. Kyle also shared a love with John that he was able to transfer to Sarah. It was filled with hope.
I’ve been obsessing over feminist love stories: the criteria, the discovery, the allowances. Those damn pebbles and where we find them, how to know which pebble is even worth picking up out of the millions... How can strong, powerful women use love to build themselves up and become better feminists and human beings, mothers, daughters, friends?
Love is no joke. This is serious love business. The love story inside this science fiction slasher movie blew my tiny mind when I was a pre-teen. No boy stood a chance after that. I have just been waiting for a man to appear before me and tell me that the fate of mankind rests with me. We will fall in love the moment our eyes meet. I will make a decision right then and there to leave everything I know behind. We will run and we will fight. Never stopping to have a normal life, always in survival mode. He will die fighting and I will go on.
Again, Charles Mee sums it up: “I believe that in life you get one chance. You're born, you die and in between, if you're lucky you have one great love - not two, not three. It can last for years or for a moment and then it can be years later or a moment later and you die. And that's how it is to be human. There's only one pebble on the beach. Sometimes not even one.”
Get your tickets to The Terminator here.