"Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" (Warner Brothers), 109 minutes, PG-13
Directed by Jonathan Mostow.
Written by Tedi Sarafian, John Brancato, and Michael Ferris.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Terminator
Nick Stahl: John Connor
Claire Danes: Kate Brewster
Kristanna Loken: T-X
If nothing else, "Terminator 3" is worth seeing for the pleasure in imagining how Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would terminate the budget crisis in Sacramento. Unfortunately, he is scarcely a principled conservative and is surrounded by former Governor and Senator Pete Wilson's political operatives. The recall raises enough problems, as my colleague Glenn Ellmers notes in the current Weekly Standard. But there are other reasons to see this movie.
Despite the violence and sex, the first "Terminator" played off Christian themes: A man comes from outside of time to save the human race, to lead its fight against machines, who have come to imitate men. But to be truly human is to be something other than a machine, a mere mechanical artifact. To save what is distinctly human, the future men must use technology to reassure the continuity of history and give humanity a chance to win.
In "Terminator 3" the machines of the future send a stunning female cyborg (Kristanna Loken) back into time to undo mankind. Her icy looks are not the only reason one would not want to hold her hand, which is full of lethal gadgetry. A technologically less sophisticated Arnold is sent by men from the future to save mankind, by protecting John Connor (Nick Stahl) and Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), daughter of the Air Force general who is charged with developing a secret project called Skynet. Connor, we know from the previous films, is destined to become the leader of the humans of the future. This Terminator is also a pacific cyborg, programmed not to kill humans, but who nonetheless throws a great deal of lead.
The other enemy here is Skynet, a computer program that is designed to take control of all computer-operated systems in the world. Its activation is the apple the woman gives the world. As some of my colleagues have noted, this may be seen as a metaphor for the bureaucracy that actually does threaten the human spirit. Without giving away what little plot there is in this extravaganza of (mostly cartoon) destruction and mayhem, let us note that the ultimate crisis comes about when elected officials evidently surrender control over making crucial decisions. We hear the telephone voice of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff promising more funding for Skynet and insisting that the untried program be activated immediately. Under protest, General Brewster complies. Choice and error govern human destiny, as the movie makes clear on several occasions. Our current choice of not defending ourselves from offensive missiles (or even manned bombers) is abundantly clear. On the individual as well as the national level, the option of suicide reflects man's freedom.
The "end of history" situation in which men behave like subhumans is accelerated by technology. But the Americans we see depicted in "Terminator 3" are not yet in that condition. Young Connor must prove himself to be superior in a way to the Terminator. Heroic action can save men from this machine-like existence, but it requires a power that is beyond ordinary human understanding. The silly attempts of social and behavioral science to arrive at knowledge of man is embodied in a preposterous crisis counselor (a psychologist briefly resurrected from the first two films). But the human can be fully explained only though the superhuman. Ordinary human beings are asked to behave like saints. They have the opportunity of reviving the world, just as Christianity grew from an obscure cult to the state religion of the decaying Roman empire. Courage and cunning are required to support belief, both in this movie and in reality.