Thursday, May 21, 2009

Terminator Salvation -- friends and enemies, and saviors

Terminator Salvation Publicity Still

Director: McG, 2009.

"I'll be back." Arnold Schwarzenegger immortalized this in the original Terminator movie. In this "final" film it is repeated, this time by hero John Connor (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight). Ironically, the conclusion leaves the franchise open to be back again.

This particular installment is the archetypical summer blockbuster: full of action but lacking in character and plot. It's a fun ride, but not memorable.

It might be argued that character development is unnecessary in such a film because the action drives the story. But characters carry a story and they need to be more than two-dimensional to make the audience like them and want them to succeed. It might further be argued that the characters have been introduced in earlier installments. For Connor, that is true. But the others are ciphers, apart from Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), Connor's teen-aged father thanks to the paradoxes of time-travel. The story itself is full of holes that we quickly forget thanks to the pacing of the action. And this is an action film, first and foremost.

The movie opens before "Judgment Day." Earth is not yet devastated by the Skynet-initiated nuclear armageddon. Convicted killer Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) is about to executed. He is a bad man. Just before this happens he signs his body over to Dr. Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter) of Cybernetics. We can imagine what will come of this.

Cut ahead to 2018. The apocalypse has occurred. Earth lies ruined, a barren wasteland of destruction caused by the machines. Man is on the run. John Connor is one of the leaders of the resistance; to many he is the prophetic voice of human salvation as he "preaches" his gospel over the radio waves.

Terminator Salvation Publicity StillWhen Marcus mysteriously appears on the wasteland scene, he is a man unsure of who he is or what he is doing. Through sheer luck, or fate, he meets Reese in what is left of Los Angeles, and immediately and inadvertently draws the machines, Terminators and more, to their hideaway. Searching for a purpose, he hears Connor and his mission is set. Reese, Marcus and a mute child set out in a jeep on a "Mad Max"-like journey.

One of the best action sequences is a chase by two cyborg-motorcycles, culminating in a harrowing crash on a ravine-topping bridge. Reminscent of the crane-truck's block-demolishing chase by the Terminatrix in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, it leads to their separation and ultimately brings Marcus to meet one of Connor's lieutenants, Blair (Blood Moongood).

When Marcus saves Blair from some would-be rapists, she sees him as her immediate savior, one of the good guys. But he tells her,"I'm not a good guy." Instead, she tells him he just doesn't know he is good and that we all deserve a second chance.

Is Blair right? Are we all good, even if we don't feel it or know it? Are we just ignorant to our innate goodness? Clearly not all are good. She would not have said that of her assailants. Knowledge is not what we, or Marcus, need. Biblically, we are all tainted by sin (Rom. 3:23). Marcus is right: we are not the good guys we, or others, might think. But God created us with an original intention to be good guys (Gen. 1:31). We need the intervention of a Savior to make us good. Jesus is that Savior. With his help, indeed through his blood, we can be made right with God and re-created as good (2 Cor. 5:21). Through Jesus we can get that second chance.

Terminator Salvation Publicity StillWhen Marcus and Blair make it to Connor's base-camp, Marcus' secret emerges. He is a new form of cyborg -- part man, part machine. For Connor, Marcus is the enemy. He is trained to trust humans, fight machines. He is faced with the dilemma: is Marcus his enemy or his ally? Sometimes we face a similar question. Who is our enemy? Who is our friend? Jesus himself surrounded himself with 12 close friends, his disciples (Lk. 6:13). Yet one of these close friends was his betrayer (Lk. 22:47-48). Judas was no true friend; he became his enemy.

At the heart of the dilemma is a heart. Marcus has a human heart and a human brain. He actually thinks he is human. So is Marcus man or machine? Connor comments that it is the heart that distinguishes a man from a machine. The organ that beats rhythmically and punps life-giving blood through the body makes the being a man.

Terminator Salvation Publicity StillConnor's philosophically-charged statement raises the question of what constitutes humanity. It is more than simply a heart, although the Old Testament places great emphasis on the blood as representing life (Lev. 17:11). This life, however, can be animal or human, not cyborg. Humanity comprises more than just a heart, more too than a brain. There is soul and spirit (Heb. 4:12). We are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). This evokes memories of the sci-fi classic, Blade Runner, that offered a commentatry on the constitution of man. The similarity ro Blade Runner is apparent in this film. Its dark, moody cinematography, the bleakness of the landscape, the frequent stormy rain pay homage to that masterpiece of modern cinema.

Ultimately Terminator Salvation points to salvation and a savior. Marcus is part Judas, part Jesus. Raised from the dead, he comes to an earth he does not know with a mission, a purpose he slowly discovers. Like Jesus, he grows in knowledge and wisdom (Lk. 2:40) until in the heart of Skynet he becomes all-knowing.

Terminator Salvation Publicity StillBut whereas Connor faced a war with the machines, we face a different war. Our battle is with a darker more insidious enemy -- sin. We have seen the enemy and it is us, within us. As Connor could not conquer the Terminators on his own, we cannot conquer sin without external help. We need a savior. And we have that savior in Jesus. He has faced sin and death and defeated both (1 Cor. 15:54-57). In him we can obtain forgiveness and life. He is our terminator salvation!

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

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