Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Technology and Destruction

"And in one of the film’s most pointed gestures toward the unintentionally harmful effects of technology, the police psychiatrist fails to see the Terminator entering the station when his beeper goes off and distracts him just as their paths cross. Lacking any warning, scores of policemen are killed and the station destroyed."

Penley makes the point that the machines in the 1984 setting of 'The Terminator' are an extremely destructive force: " Today’s machines are not, however, shown to be agents of destruction because they are themselves evil, but because they can break down, or because they can be used (often innocently) in ways they were not intended to be used." Further, he points out that however innocuous they are now (1984), they are the origins of the super computer that started the nuclear war. This seems to suggest that technology has some sort of inherent evil, a danger that existed even before the super computer became capable of independent thought and decided to annihilate the human race. However, I'm not sure I entirely agree with this assessment of what the film is suggesting about technology. My doubt originates from a few curious moments in the film that use technology. First, the Terminator, who, according to Kyle is, "fully armored," goes to buy human guns at the gun shop, and he uses them to cause most of the destruction in the film. It just seemed curious to me the Terminator, an advanced Cyborg warrior from the future, would need to use human weapons, cars, and motorcycles to be a fully effective killing machine. Meanwhile, Kyle, who is also from the future, is arguably using more innovative and technologically advanced weapons--he makes those cylindrical bombs to fight the Terminator.
The next moment that makes me question this interpretation of the film's thoughts on technology is how the Terminator is finally defeated. Ultimately, it is a machine that is able to finish him, when Sarah starts the machine and crushes the Cyborg. While there are absolutely many moments in the film when technology allows the Terminator to manipulate the humans and many more moments when technology causes an accidental disaster, I do not think the film entirely condemns it. I don't think it is as simple as a fussy middle aged woman who never made the switch from a land line to a cell phone ranting about how 'technology is making the youths forget how to talk to each's just criminal.' It seems to me that the film is more awed by the potential of technology than terrified by it.

Another aspect of this film that I would like to touch on is how it played on the Cold War anxieties of its then current audience. I think the film makes excellent, albeit not so subtle use of what was the biggest fear for many Americans at the time. Cameron could have invented a completely fictive weapons system for the Super Computer to use; presenting the audience with something unknown or invisible is an extremely effective cinematic fear producing technique. However, Cameron chose to have the super computer using nuclear weapons, starting a nuclear war. With limitless creative license to draw an entirely new method of combat for the future, Cameron used Nuclear weapons. It seems that he understood that this was an extremely real fear for everyone in the audience, and that using it would draw people into the story of the film and might make them more invested in the outcome.


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