Terminator and the future of feminist filmPosted: November 10, 2011
I’ve been rewatching the Terminator movies recently and I’ve come to a conclusion about this series and the portrayals of women in film. I’ve always loved the Terminator movies because if you’re me there’s nothing better than a movie about killer robots traveling back in time from a dark future.
Unless you also get awesome female characters.
I love pretty much everything Terminator has to offer and could go on for hours about the co-optation of institutions of authority, the genius of filming the movies some years apart, or the robopocalypse. Instead, I’m going to talk about only one thing: the awesome women of Terminator.
Sarah Connor is 18 or 19 in the first Terminator movie. She has a shitty waitressing job, an apartment with her best friend, and fabulous 80s hair. She’s looking for love and not having luck. She drives a scooter. I’m not going to go on about how this is the most amazing character writing ever, but she’s a well-drawn character. When she hooks up with Kyle, it makes sense in the larger plot.
In the second movie, she has decent character development and is not just there to be The Mom who worries excessively while failing to understand what’s up. She’s a badass bodybuilder who escapes from a high-security facility, shows off all the skills she’s acquired, and takes initiative in fighting Cyberdyne.
In the third movie, we have Kate Brewster, John Connor’s future wife. She has a job she’s very serious about, a boyfriend she’s getting engaged to, and a family history that advances the plot and justifies her skill sets. She is more central to the movie than John, and if the movie has a thesis statement other than Robopocalypse!!! it’s Kate Brewster is awesome. Also, the other terminator here is primarily female-bodied, which is nice.
In the fourth movie things are really focused on John Connor and his dad, Kyle Reese, and there’s this whole awkward plotline with the terminators that could have been developed better. There aren’t a lot of primary women characters, but Kate Brewster is hanging out being awesome and Kyle’s sidekick, Star, is a little girl who manages to be fantastic despite not talking and the women of the robopocalypse generally are just as badass as the men.
I’m not going to make an argument that the Terminator series is great feminist film. The first three movies pass the Bechdel test. I’m not sure about the fourth, although that’s harder to evaluate when Star interacts with people significantly but does not speak. What I am going to say is that the women are solid characters. They’re as well drawn as the men are. They’re not objects. They’re not there to be The Mom or The Girlfriend. It actually matters to the plot that Sarah and Kyle are attracted to each other rather than having this be so you know that the movie is appropriately heterosexual.
I feel that this should be the minimum standard for women in movies: do as well as Terminator. Write women with real plotlines, real backgrounds, real lives. Don’t drop women in as the awkwardly placed love interest with two lines who’s really there to keep the two dudes who are totally obsessed with each other from seeming too gay – write a real part for the woman or skip her entirely and give me some hot man on man action. That’s probably a second rant. Anyway, write real parts for women, like we’re real people or something. Give women real things to do, goals and lives and interests. I’m holding up as the positive example here an Arnold Schwarzeneggar action movie about killer robots traveling back in time from the robopocalypse. This is not something I should have to do and indicates to me that possibly the machines have won and I’m living in some bizarre dystopia that can’t offer me anything better than Sex and the City.
Write real women.
Do as well as Terminator.