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Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Spectre of T2's Sarah Connor

First off, let me just say: there's nothing inherently wrong with liking Terminator 2: Judgement Day. There are some great set pieces, Arnie is in fine form (even if the internal logic of the piece is completely screwy: he's a good guy now? It was THAT easy? Then why did John send back Kyle in the first place FFS??) but I do recall as a child being blown away by the melting guy and *that* vision of the nuclear strike. So yeah. As action pieces go: why not.

But as regular readers of this blog know, I effing hate Sarah Connor in this version. Not because she's a *bad* character per se, but because I hear, time and time again, what a fantastic example of STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERISATION she is, especially from men. Again: nothing *wrong* with liking women kicking ass - if forced to choose, I'd choose that over the princess tied to the railway tracks by the villain with the enormous moustache.

But let's not pretend Sarah Connor in T2 (and her multiple replicants in the almost two decades to follow) are anything other than the flipside of the SAME COIN. Holding her up as an ICON, *the* way to do it, is what grieves me - especially when her spectre LOOMS over the spec pile and produced movies SO frequently.

So let's break it down:

Motherhood. This is a woman who's conceived a child from ONE night of passion by a now dead lover who came from the future. She's managed to ensure her pregnancy has gone smoothly, she's given birth, she's managed to drop off the grid, she's managed to raise a child in a nomadic fashion. That's pretty difficult, I grant you. What's more, she has the knowledge her child will SAVE MANKIND. Wow! That's quite a privilege and a huge responsibility. Lots has been made of Sarah's likeness to Mary here, but I have one problem with this. To me, Mary is a loving, protective mother who not only adores her son, but backs Jesus up in his mission, even though she must know it will end badly for him (and indeed, for her), but she puts him first as good mothers are wont to do. In direct contrast, Sarah treats John as a commodity throughout the duration of T2, even checking him for DAMAGE as if he was like the machines coming after him and IGNORING his pleading cries for affection. This means her ludicrous rant about maternity in the Skynet guy's kitchen has very little impact, because just *what* is this character supposed to be - a loving mother or a hard-faced mercenary/bodyguard? Because it seems the latter to me, every time. So why did we need Arnie, then?

Military training. Let's remember for a moment Sarah Connor was plunged into this living nightmare through no fault of her own. In Terminator she was just a young, good time girl with no military aspirations. A decade later, she's so hardcore she's almost unrecognisable. Now, much has been said of the idea Sarah WOULD bulk up, become fantastic with weaponry, whatever - there's an apocalypse coming FFS, who wouldn't want to BE PREPARED??? But there's two issues here. 1) Sarah knows Skynet will go NUCLEAR to destroy the world. What the hell use is advanced weaponry on the ground? 2) There's being prepared - and there's being prepared. Sarah knows full well she CAN defeat a Terminator with very few weapons, even none: in the first film she did not kill Arnie with a big-ass gun, she OUT-WITTED HIM, by drawing him into the big presser thing in the factory and crushing him. What's more, Sarah and Kyle spent most of the film RUNNING from Arnie - that's the most effective thing you can do from an unstoppable killing machine against which bullets are INEFFECTIVE. Why didn't Sarah work solely on keeping John OUT of the spotlight and close to her at ALL TIMES, instead of BOTHERING with all this military training that isolates her from her child?? To make herself feel better? No wonder John thinks she's so selfish - she is.

Her insanity. There's no value judgement here about people with mental health issues, let's just get that straight first: I'm NOT saying someone who loses their sanity is weak. No way. However, I have consistently heard how Sarah's insanity is a "fantastic" and even "realistic", because WHO WOULDN'T GO INSANE IF THEY KNEW THE END OF THE WORLD WAS COMING? But let's just rewind that. There's an apocalypse coming, you know this for a FACT. Your kid needs to be protected AT ALL COSTS 'cos he is the new Messiah. And Sarah - who's supposed to be a good mother, remember - not only doesn't have a back up plan of who will look after John if she's indisposed (ie. in the asylum) so he ends up fostered by God-knows-who, she doesn't even remember to KEEP HER MOUTH SHUT ABOUT THE APOCALYPSE?? Really??? When we have such a rich history of imprisoning and abusing people who claim the apacalypse is coming, but Sarah conveniently forgets this EVEN WHEN HER SON NEEDS HER MORE. Tsk. Oh, but but! You say: she's insane, she doesn't know what she's saying!!! Then that's either pretty lazy writing or a PLOT MANOEUVRE to make sure she's out the way and John is on his own, not "great characterisation".

So like Sarah Connor all you want: be my guest. But DON'T tell me she's a "great female character".


Unsung Movie Heroines by me

Why Sarah from Jurrassic Park: The Lost World Is A Good Female Character by me

A Breakdown of "Typical" Female Roles by Me on Twelve Point (Free Article)

Why "Strong Female Characters" Are Bad For Women

The Female Character Roles Flow Chart


Dawn said...

I have to agree with you there, Lucy. I don't think the story is the best out there. There are flaws. You make some great points which I'm sure non of the 'male population' would have thought about. May I ask, was the film written by men, by any chance? need I say more.


Lucy V said...

Like I say, end of the day - like any film you want and I have enjoyed films in which hotties kick ass, especially the lovely Milla Jovovich in RESIDENT EVIL (the first one, more than the others - though I've yet to see the 4th one). I'm not allergic to fun. And let's face it, T2: JUDGEMENT DAY was a huge film and continues to do very well, so the average audience member clearly was not troubled by the big flaws of character here.

But what gets me is the almost RELIGIOUS fervour in which Sarah Connor and indeed James Cameron's writing here is held up as a bright star, when in real terms it actually does very little (at best) to forward the cause of good female characterisation. Why are we celebrating the likes of Sarah Connor, when so many other far more worthy female characters are underrated?

For me, it's actually a little worrying so few people - especially writers - seem to get this.

James said...

"*what* is this character supposed to be - a loving mother or a hard-faced mercenary/bodyguard?"

You actually described exactly WHY she is a great character. That question is her central conflict throughout the entire movie.

It's exampled when she scolds John for coming to rescue her. A move that surely saved her life. And climaxes when she is unable to kill Dyson even though she believes doing so would save the future of humanity -- which results in her V.O. that you despise. It also marks her change.

What more do you want from a character? Be it female or otherwise?

Sarah Connor is a STRONG CHARACTER. And also a female. Hey, look at that. It qualifies her for a strong female character. Wow, go figure.

As for the "insanity" -- Sorry, you misinterpreted it, but it's fairly clear that she never was insane nor lost her sanity. All her actions are clear, controlled, and concise. With purpose. The reason she is in a mental hospital is the same reason Reese was dubbed "insane," by the same doctor no less.

Instead of argue why she is or isn't a strong female character, which you've obviously set your mind on (No biggy. We don't all have to like the same things) -- I'm curious what you examples of a strong female character is?

Lucy V said...

OMG, I've just realised my mistake James. Thanks so much for putting me straight. Must be my pesky female hormones getting in the way, I'm just "misinterpreting" movies *all over the place* goddamnit! ; )

As for what I think are strong female characters - there's links at the end of the post. In "Unsung Movie Heroines" one's even by James Cameron.

Amos Keppler said...

She is a great female character because she is a great character, period.

I think T2 is the least fantastic of the 4 films, but still beyond great.

There are many ways of making strong female characters. This is clearly one of them.

She wasn't "just" strong, but also had great personal problems, which was also great.

If there was anything wrong with T2 it wasn't with Sarah Connor.

Me? I didn't like the kid much.