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Cinema in Focus: ‘Terminator Salvation’

The fourth of the 'Terminator' films takes a new turn in both style and villains

3 Stars — Thought-Provoking

The salvation symbols in this episode of the Terminator series are intentional. The questions of human purpose, the offer of a sacrificial death and the power of fate are only a few of the threads woven throughout the story. But the science fiction shapes the plot, with its fear of time travel, the warring of humans and machines, and the creation of a human-machine cyborg.

Directing his first Terminator film, McG (Charlie’s Angels, We Are Marshall) presents Terminator Salvation without the coherence that is needed for either those who are fans of the series or for those who are viewing this as the first film.

The first three films featured Arnold Schwarzenegger, beginning as The Terminator. In this film, his cameo appearance lacks context and his catch phrase, “I’ll be back,” is given to another. Perhaps this is because the first two films were directed and co-written by James Cameron, and the third film was directed by Jonathan Mostow.

It is not only that Schwarzenegger is not central in this film, but also that there is no terminator in this ensemble cast. The result of omitting any terminator on either side of the war is that evil has no face on it.

That is not to say that there is not a machine in the ensemble cast. But this machine is of a whole different nature and is the next evolution of the series. Beginning years earlier, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) had donated his body to a company that was going to freeze him and offer him a second chance at life. He awakens years later after Judgment Day as a cyborg who plays a central role in this film.

The other members of the ensemble are John Conner (Christian Bale), who has risen to the level of prophet within the resistance movement. His wife, Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard), is a symbol of hope for the future because of her pregnancy. Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) is a teenager whose courage and instinct play a central role in the entire series. His cohort is a mute mystic child named Star (Jadagrace). Rounding out the ensemble is a fighter-pilot beauty named Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood).

Salvation is a human longing. This desire for redemption is understandable even in a world where the machines are not warring against us. But as in all discussions on this topic, the question this film raises is: From where does our help come? What or who is capable of saving us, and by what mechanism or sacrifice will this become possible? The ultimate sacrifice of giving our very hearts and lives so that salvation can be achieved for others is universally true, even in the world of Terminators.

Discussion:

» The decision that Marcus makes at the end of the film requires tremendous loss. Why do you believe he was willing to make it?

» The cyborg evolution in the series is similar to the Borg assimilation in Star Trek. Do you believe if this ever becomes possible that we will lose our humanity or machines will lose their power over us? Why?

» Did you feel that this cyborg fits within the Terminator series? Why or why not?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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