Ode to the power of one

Wednesday, October 30, 1991

Terminator 2
Directed by James Cameron
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton
Reviewed by David Nerlich

Okay, so we know Arnie is a Republican, which most readers of this paper might consider sufficient for him to burn in hell for ... but what kind of a Republican? What do you mean, "Who cares?" You want to "know thy enemy", or don't you?

Terminator 2 is to date the most expensive movie ever made. Schwarzenegger has always had an eye for scale. From pumping the biggest iron (three times Mr Universe wasn't it?) he's now pulling the biggest budgets, and he never even had to change his name! Arnie is a "can do" kind of guy.

His films have always been political. Almost always he's driven to distraction by the exploitative machinations of corporate bad guys. Often as not there's a revolution waiting to happen and some half-arsed outfit for him to condescend to befriend and lead to a colourfully incendiary victory. The evil is consistently some kind of centralist capitalist militarist plutocratic industrial complex.

So how come in real life he's such chums with White House incumbents Ronnie and George? There's no way you can argue these guys aren't the harbingers of everything the Schwarzenegger character invariably sets out to blow up, burn down and tear apart with his bare hands. Is this some neurotic contradiction between Arnie's real life and his fantasy life? Is he a political enigma or just an ignoramus?

In Terminator 2, Arnie is an android sent back to the present from a 21st century where people are at war with the malevolent offspring of their own automated defence systems. Amid the explosions and the biff-o violence (with occasional excursions into reprehensible splatterdom) and the immaculate and sometimes beautiful graphic effects, there is the traditional science fiction theme of the humanisation of the alien/machine. The Terminator learns it's wrong to kill — though it's all right to kneecap.

This and a legion of lesser films like it that come out of the US are odes to the power of one. They are about revolt against establishment of any kind, about the triumph of the individual over the infrastructure, an idealised notion of freedom that has its roots in the American Revolution. It is not so miraculous or mysterious that these ideals are now the terms in which economic and military manoeuvres driven by modern US dynasties are couched. They are part of a popular revolution industry that serves to perpetuate them.

Most Schwarzenegger films are crap. The Terminator films are an exception. Terminator 2 is not the brain(?)child of Arnie and his buddies (and is mercifully devoid of the numskull humour common to such adventures).

Director James Cameron, if not a visionary, is a consummate craftsman, and the film succeeds on every level, psychologically and technically, that it needs to. The car-truck-helicopter chases are state of the art re unusual. Linda Hamilton gives a professional and very physical performance. The violence does repel, a point on which Schwarzenegger is rightly condemned for contributing to the insensitivity of young North Americans. If it's any consolation, Arnie cops the worst of it.

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