The movie Terminator 2 is a futuristic science fiction picture that consists of a woman, Sarah Connor, trying to protect her son, John, who will one day save the world. This movie is embedded with many references to nature and culture. The nature and culture relation is contained in the essay, “Oppressive dichotomies: the nature/culture debate” by Penelope Brown and Ludmilla Jordanova. The film Terminator 2 illustrates the ideas of Brown and Jordanova by showing this woman – Sarah Connor – as possessing the traits of nature (nurturing) and also possessing the traits of culture (logic, rationality, and independence). This movie, however, portrays a different set of binary oppositions than Brown and Jordanova do. Because Sarah Connor is both nature and culture, the opposition is not between these two traits. Instead, it is between this combination of nature and culture and the technology trying to destroy them. It also goes beyond these authors’ arguments in the sense that Brown and Jordanova feel that technology is vital in culture, while the film portrays the technology that is created as turning against its creators, the humans.
This movie is about technology going beyond what it is programmed to do, and finally taking over the human race. John Connor sends a robot, the terminator, back in time to protect himself as a child, and to help in stopping the production of this technology that will otherwise one day take over the world. There is another terminator, the T-1000 model, which is a terminator made out of liquid metal and is sent back in time to terminate John Connor while the other terminator is protecting him. John Connor’s mother, Sarah Connor, is in Pescadero mental hospital for her attempt to blow up a computer factory and her radical ideas about the end of the world, but she eventually escapes and meets up with the terminator and her son. They then are on a mission to eliminate everything which might pose a threat to mankind, such as the factory where future terminators will come from, and kill the T-1000 model to save the world. This movie contains a conflict between the terminator played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and the T-1000 model terminator. The movie ends with both terminators being eliminated, the T-1000 being killed(terminated) by the terminator and the terminator orders Sarah to terminate him for the good of the planet. Although this movie is meant for entertainment, it also reflects the theories of culture written by the authors Brown and Jordanova in their essay “Oppressive Dichotomies: the Nature / Culture debate.” In their essay, Brown and Jordanova feel that it is not possible for anyone – man or woman – to portray nature and not culture. They state that “for human beings to have culture, nature has to yield their manipulations”(Brown and Jordanova 514). Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 illustrates this idea of a woman possessing traits of both nature and culture. She shows definite nurturing traits and cultural traits throughout this film.
In Terminator 2 Sarah Connor shows the nurturing qualities that are usually associated with women. A relation to nature and gender can be analyzed here. Why is a woman closer to nature than a man is? This question is looked at by Sherry B. Ortner in her essay “Is female to male as nature is to culture?” Ortner attempts to answer this question in her essay.
“We can sort out for discussion three levels at which absolute physiological fact has significance: (1) woman’s body and its functions, more involved more of the time with ‘species life’ (2) woman’s body and its functions place her in social roles that in turn are considered to be at a lower order of the cultural process than a man’s; and (3) woman’spsychic nature, which, like her physiological nature and her social roles, is seen as being closer to nature”(Ortner 497).
One scene in the movie where Sarah Connor shows her a trait of “nature” is near the beginning where she is in the mental hospital in Pescadero. While she is being questioned about her dreams, she states that during the destruction of the world she sees children that look like “black paper flying apart like leaves.” This shows Sarah’s nurturing traits because she sees children in her nightmare, and dying children is possibly one of the worst fears of a nurturing person. When Sarah is being reviewed in hopes of getting out of the mental hospital, she states to the director, “you have to let me see my sonpleasehe’s naked without me.” This shows Sarah’s true yearning to see her son, and the nurturing traits that she possesses. After Sarah escapes from the mental hospital, she locates the man who is creating the machines that in the future will become more powerful than humans.She goes with the intention of killing this man named miles, who is supposedly responsible for the terminator, but when she looks into his eyes and sees him crying, she begins crying herself, and does not go through with the murder. This shows the nature that she possesses and describes her emotions and nurturing qualities.
On the other hand, Sarah Connor also has the qualities of culture that most people consider to be a trait that only men possess. She shows her “culture” by having qualities of logic, rationality, and independence. Sarah starts out the movie in the mental hospital, where she is being evaluated for move into a minimum-security prison. Her ingenuity is shown when she lies about not believing in terminators anymore. The doctor replies to this by saying, “I know how smart you are.” The doctor knows that Sarah is smart enough to manipulate her own descriptions of her thoughts, and he does not let her go away from the maximum-security prison. When Sarah gets the opportunity to escape from the hospital, she shows her ingenuity again by using a paperclip to unlock her handcuffs and all of the doors to get out of the hospital. This is a skill that would be associated with the ingenuity of a man rather than the traits of a woman. After escaping from the hospital, Sarah treats the protection of her son like a military mission. This is another way in which she possesses the traits of culture usually associated with men. One situation where she displays this militaristic quality is when an explosion is about to occur, and she screams, “fire in the hole, John!” This is a truly militaristic warning that is not too commonly heard from a woman. This, along with her knowledge of military weaponry shows that Sarah Connor does have ingenuity and knowledge that we would call “culture.”
Terminator 2 not only agrees with the theories and ideas of Brown and Jordanova, it also goes beyond these theories. Brown and Jordanova believe that the major dichotomy in history is the one between nature and culture. They say, “The distinction between nature and culture is basic to recent western thought”(Brown and Jordanova 510). They focus throughout their essay on the ways in which this nature / culture dichotomy is “pervasive in our culture”(Brown and Jordanova). Also, they feel that this dispute between nature and culture is the most “central” dichotomy in many areas.In Terminator 2, however, the major dichotomy is different. Because Sarah Connor is an example of both nature and culture, and the enemy of this is the machine that will stop at nothing to destroy her or her son, the main dichotomy in this film is between mankind (nature and culture) and the technology that tries to take over. The theme of the film is “The new nightmare: the war against the machines.” This shows us that the opposition in this film is not between humans, but instead it is against the technology that consists of machines that try to take over the world.This new dichotomy is obviously different from that of Brown and Jordanova, and this idea of technology brings about another way in which their argument can be extended.
The ideas and theories of Brown and Jordanova can also be extended based on their feeling toward technology in our society. They say, “our science-based culture depends on abstract studies, mostly in the physical sciences, and on techniques relating to engineering skills”(Brown and Jordanova 510). In other words, Brown and Jordanova feel that the development of technology is a necessity in our culture. In Terminator 2, however, the development of technology begins to reach the point where it is becoming too advanced and is starting to work against human culture. When Sarah Connor is in the home of Miles, a man who is creating the terminator technology that would eventually be the machines that destroy humans, she says to him, “a man like you thought up the H-bomb, you devilall you know how to make is death.” This vividly displays what Sarah knows about the future of technology, and how it destroys human lives. By alluding to the H-bomb, Sarah reveals that this technology has already been used to destroy many human lives, and gives a realistic example of how technology can end up working against humans. This negative view toward the development of technology opposes the view of Brown and Jordanova, who believe that the development of technology is a necessity for nature and culture to survive
The film Terminator 2 illustrates the ideas of Brown and Jordanova by portraying a woman with traits of both nature and culture. However, the movie also goes beyond their views by not placing nature and culture as a binary opposition, but rather as forces working together against technology. Also, the film does not agree with the positive view of the advancement of technology, but rather shows a negative view about it. In doing these things, the movie shows that these values of nature and culture must exist in everyone, because it’s the only thing that separates humans from machines.
Brown, Penelope and Jordanova, Ludmilla. “Oppressive dichotomies: the
nature/culture debate.” A Cultural Studies Reader: History, Theory,
Practice. Ed. Jessica Munns and Gita Rajan. London: Longman, 1995:
Ortner, Sherry B. “Is Female to Male as nature is to culture?” A Cultural Studies
Reader: History, Theory, Practice. Ed. Jessica Munns and Gita Rajan. London: Longman, 1995: 491-508.
Cameron, James, dir. Terminator 2: Judgement Day. With Arnold Schwarzenegger.