Starring: Christian Bale, SamWorthington, Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter, Common
UK Release date: 3 June 2009
Certificate: 12A (115 mins)
By my calculations it’s an absolute shock that in 2009 the human race has yet to wipe itself out, be invaded by warmongering aliens, or invent a decent flying car that will take me to my weekly holiday in my virtual reality machine. By the end of this year we should at least have uploaded our consciousnesses onto computers, perfected time travel and beaten off a giant monster trying to destroy New York. To the creators of 2000 A.D. in 1977, the remaining 23 years of the millennium were an expanse across which the future was striding, that year with all those zeros in it emblematic of the mystery of what science and unfettered imaginations might create. The Terminator franchisebrought with it its own short-range predictions, the worst of which we’ve mercifully passed. Terminator Salvation is the latest instalment – without the freshness of the first two films, but still a successful action film in its own right and with enough fidelity to disciples of John Connor and the war with the machines.
Christian Bale is our human hero this time out, battling CGI villains and a brief recreation of a youthful Governor of California. I’ve always felt that the cross section of humanity that survive alien invasions and the like are generally a humourless and anodyne lot. I remember my first exposure to The War of the Worlds (through Jeff Wayne’s baroque space opera) – how fantastic that one of the survivors was the artilleryman who hoped to save the holy game of cricket by drinking champagne and shovelling himself into a tiny hole in the ground! The humans in Terminator Salvation are all products of the action man conveyer belt: no jokes, limited facial expressions and the whole thing shot in the full spectrum from rust through to steel grey. ‘What makes us human?’ was the question driving the progenitors of this genre – here the answer of ’the strength of the human heart’ is devalued by the robotic characterisation of the survivors.
It isn’t just this question that links this type of film to Christianity. As in the Matrix trilogy, religious language and symbols are bolted onto the film’s surface: it is pervaded with talk of second chances, reincarnation, forgiveness; it involves a scientific ‘crucifixion’; needless to point out that the machines’ home is a hellish objectification of human beings. The morals of the story are big and bright enough to correspond with some of the basics of Christian teaching, but the simplicity with which they are applied and the dumbed-down company they keep may frustrate as many Christians eager to see Gospel values in the world as it pleases.
It’s an interesting conundrum. Anything that brings God to people clearly has a value to it. Terminator Salvation ‘teaches’ that the human possesses a unique value. To its huge audience the film therefore communicates a message that is basically decent. And yet does it devalue the weight of the Christian message – the symbol of Christ’s death being used for dramatic effect to create a killer cyborg, for example? To talk in such serious terms about such an unserious film is, I suggest, an important thing to do: during its first few weekends the film will be seen by about as many people who attend Mass during that time, and in terms of its message it sits with the homogeneity of almost all other mainstream films. How do stories influence the hearts of those who experience them? No one is going to ask ‘what would John Connor do?’ when faced with a decision – yet for those without a clear system of morality, their patchwork of values will also involve the shades of the stories and art they have experienced. Do films like Terminator Salvation add to the good or obfuscate it?
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