Comment: On the Last Scenes of Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Most of this movie is not worth commenting on, and I’m going to sound insane posting this. Furthermore, in order to do justice to the themes that seem to be articulated in the movie, I have to say things that are not my own positions on things, but you’re used to that. Still, it’s on my mind, and I don’t feel like slogging through Greek. So here goes:

The end scenes of Terminator 2 we are all familiar with: the T-1000’s truck, carrying liquid nitrogen, crashes into a steel factory. As he walks out, he is frozen by the nitrogen, and shattered by the gun of the more primitive robot, Arnold’s character.

The heat in the steel factory and the sparks flying from the vats of molten steel melt away the liquid nitrogen and allow the T-1000, who is made of liquid metal, to reassemble: he forms a unified pool and reemerges. He then beats Arnold in unarmed combat, as Arnold is running low on ammunition and space and cannot keep him at a distance. In the second round of that fight, Arnold’s main power source is gored, and he is pinned for a long moment.

Then the T-1000 goes after John Connor, who is hiding in the steel factory. He attempts imitating his mother, only to be attacked by the actual mother. The mother nearly pushes the T-1000 into a pit of molten steel, but runs out of ammo. The last shot comes from Arnold, who is down to one last grenade round, and has rerouted power in his system so he can move at a snail’s pace. The T-1000 falls into the pit, and as he melts, assumes the form of every single person he has imitated during the movie.


Josh, Fr. Jason Rocks, and I discussed this movie briefly, so many of the ideas I will put forth come in some way or another from them.

The question of the movie concerns technology. The fact that freezing the enemy robot does not destroy it seems to say that we can’t stop the fact we make technological progress – that’s a stupid idea, one attempted in the crudest of manners by John Connor’s mother, Sarah, earlier in the movie. Perhaps the acquisition of such technology can be slowed, or the consequences thought through, but trying to stop it altogether is not feasible (notice that this is what the movie is probably saying. This is a completely modern standpoint. Aristotle might have something different in mind).

So returning the machine to the locus of its origin is the only way to destroy it. Technology must be used to restrain technology, as weird as that sounds. The mother and son alone cannot beat the enemy, after all. It is only with Arnold’s help that the T-1000 is destroyed. We need to understand the different principles that underlie human making and production to see what each terminator represents.

The T-1000 kills like a sadist, and seems to relish being in control. This is clearly evident in the final scenes, when he could gore Sarah Connor in a second, but decides to try and make her bring the son to them. There are also indications of this throughout the movie: he kills the foster dad when the dad is being annoying and interrupting his phone conversation; he stabs a security guard near the eye in such a way that he doesn’t make any noise. When he falls into the pit of molten steel and transforms into everything he once imitated, it becomes clear that his cruelty is tied to technology being used to try and create something human or more than human.

Let me bring this principle to light using the other movie the three of us watched, Blade Runner. In Blade Runner, the replicants die fast because they are made to die fast. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t imitations of the human, complete with human aspirations. They are, and that’s why they’re murderous and desirous and turn on their maker. To be made human by humans in terms of material fashioning gives one the impression, if there is no proper education, that things and persons exist to serve one’s will. The very fact of the T-1000’s existence informs his cruelty.

The contrast with Arnold’s character is now clear: the T-800 (I think that’s the number) is being educated in some way by John Connor throughout the movie. “Don’t take a life,” “talk the way we talk,” “let’s stop Mom from being a psycho killer on principle, not because the consequence might be good” – those are all significant lessons. And the teacher learns, too: I think young Connor learns from Arnold how to apply pressure to wounds.

The key to the learning, though, is the T-800’s awareness of its purpose. We forget as humans that living forever isn’t a goal – our mortality can be conceived as the length of time we are actually alive, or as part of the purpose we aspire to achieve. Technology that is designed to fulfill a purpose and then stand aside is good technology. Notice that it does not have a “failsafe,” like a bomb that goes off within it when it starts going crazy. Rather, having a definite purpose gives it clear criteria for when it is doing its job, and when it must go.

That self-sacrificial side of technology is precisely what makes it empowering: if we didn’t have all this biotech and machines to farm, we’d be breaking our backs out there. We have to transfer those functions to machines to have some comfort. At the same time, in doing so, we can lose our sense of what mortality means, and what machines are for.

The end of the movie seems to imply that we can be more human through our work with technology, as it is a product of our labors that we can engage not merely as a problem or a benefit, but as something higher. The idea of intelligent life in the T-800 is seeing one’s purposes and values acted out before one in a more methodical fashion than we are capable of. Oriented towards the good, we might be able to see in a machine, out of all things, the rationality that underlies virtue. If that sounds ridiculous, it is, just as stories of a man fighting a river are ridiculous, or another man talking to a burning bush. The problem with us is not that we don’t take things seriously: we take things too seriously, and have forgotten what is truly a myth, and what isn’t.

After having written that last paragraph, I remind you again: this isn’t my opinion necessarily. This is what I think the movie is getting at. Two different things. I do not think people going around and saying “I am a Terminator” in an Arnold voice has anything to do with rationality or virtue.

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