October 26, 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the theatrical release of The Terminator. That was James Cameron’s first real directing job, and he followed it up with the even better Aliens and The Abyss. In 1991, he returned to the franchise that made him famous and produced a film that is superior to the original in just about every way.
Not only is Terminator 2: Judgment Day one of the best sequels ever made, it is also another example of Cinematic Chiasmus. Is it overkill to do two examples of this ancient storytelling technique from the same director in one month? Probably, but I don’t care because Aliens and Terminator 2 are both awesome films and they deserve the star treatment.
So let’s explore the chiasmus found in Terminator 2. Come with me if you want to give this movie a whole new meaning!
Here are the film’s events broken down into a chiasmus:
A. Sarah Connor describes the bleak future of mankind
B. The Terminator arrives from the future
C. The T-1000 arrives from the future
D. Concerning his foster mother, John Connor says, “She’s not my mother”
E. John’s mother, Sarah, is imprisoned in a mental institution
F. The two Terminators seek John, unbeknownst to him
G. The arm of the Terminator from the first film is at Cyberdyne
H. Sarah begs her doctor to let her see her son, but he refuses
I. The Terminator and the T-1000 fight while John runs
J. A chase scene ends with the T-1000 burned in a fire
K. The Terminator tells John, “My mission is to protect you”
L. The T-1000 kills John’s foster parents
M. Cops show photos of the Terminator killing everyone in a police station from the first film
N. John makes the Terminator swear not to kill anyone
O. Sarah escapes from her cell and an alarm gets set off, alerting the T-1000
P. The Terminator reappears to Sarah after many years
Q. Sarah, John, and the Terminator escape from the mental institution
R. John cries when his mother chastises him and refuses to comfort him
S. The Terminator patches up Sarah’s shoulder wound
T. He tells John he’ll learn more about human behavior as he spends time with them
U. Sarah demands to know everything about Miles Dyson
V. She obtains all sorts of weapons to protect her son
W. John and the Terminator bond, talking about would-be father figures
W. Sarah observes the Terminator and her son bonding like a father and son
V. She is helpless to protect anyone from dying in her dream
U. She goes to kill Miles
T. When the Terminator suggests killing Miles could be good, John exclaims, “Haven’t you learned anything yet?”
S. Sarah shoots Miles in the shoulder
R. Sarah cries and John comforts her
Q. Sarah, John, Miles, and the Terminator sneak into Cyberdyne
P. The T-1000 reappears after a long absence from the screen
O. The heroes tie up one security guard, but another sets off an alarm, alerting the T-1000
N. John reminds the Terminator of his promise not to kill anyone, and he responds, “Trust me”
M. The Terminator causes 0.0 casualties battling the cops
L. Miles is killed
K. The Terminator tells John and Sarah, “Stay here. I’ll be back”
J. A chase scene ends with the T-1000 frozen by liquid nitrogen
I. The Terminator tells John and Sarah to run, and then he fights the T-1000
H. The T-1000 demands that Sarah call to John, but she refuses
G. The Terminator nearly cuts off the T-1000’s arm after leaving his own crushed arm behind
F. John hides from the T-1000
E. After being impaled by the T-1000, the Terminator frees himself
D. The T-1000 impersonates John’s mother
C. The T-1000 is destroyed
B. The Terminator is destroyed
A. Sarah expresses hope for the uncertain future
Now we’ll talk about each of these points in greater detail and show what it all means.
A. Sarah’s Vision of the Future
At the start of the film, Sarah Connor does a voiceover in which she describes the future as a bleak war between humanity and the machines. She knows the day the war starts and many other details about what’s coming.
At the end of the film, Sarah does one final voiceover where she explains that she no longer knows what’s going to happen, but she’s hopeful because if one of the machines bent on humanity’s destruction could learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.
B. The Terminator Arrives and Departs
The Terminator is the first time–traveler we see come back to the past. He immediately begins his mission to find John Connor and save humanity from certain doom.
Once John is no longer in danger, the Terminator’s mission is over, and he asks Sarah to destroy him in order to eradicate any other traces of Skynet and secure humanity’s future.
C. The T-1000 Arrives and Departs
The T-1000 arrives from the future after the Terminator.
The T-1000 is blown up by the Terminator and falls into a vat of molten steel, destroying him.
D. “She’s Not My Mother”
John’s foster father tells John to listen to his “mother,” but John angrily replies, “She’s not my mother, Todd.” He then hurries away on his motorcycle.
At the climax, the T-1000 impersonates John’s real mother, Sarah, and asks John for help. At the last moment, John realizes it’s not his mother and makes his escape.
The first time we see Sarah, she is imprisoned in a cell at a mental institution for her seemingly insane belief about the future. Despite her best efforts, she hasn’t been able to free herself.
After his final fight with the T-1000, the Terminator finds himself pinned to the floor by a metal rod. He manages to free himself.
F. Seeking John
The two Terminators hunt around the city for John, who is completely oblivious to his perilous situation.
In the steel mill, John runs and hides from the T-1000, acutely aware of the danger he is in.
G. Terminator Arms
We learn that Sarah isn’t crazy when a scientist named Miles Dyson examines the arm of the Terminator from the first film, which is being held at Cyberdyne.
The Terminator cuts off his own hand, which had been smashed in a giant gear, and then slashes the T-1000’s shoulder, nearly separating his arm from his body.
H. Sarah Needs to See Her Son
After months of good behavior, Sarah begs her doctor at the institution to let her see her son, but he knows she’s manipulating him and denies her request.
The T-1000 pins Sarah to a wall and commands her to call to her son and make him come to her. She refuses, knowing that the T-1000 would kill her anyway.
I. Terminator vs. Terminator
When the Terminator and the T-1000 come face to face for the first time they engage in a brutal fight. In the end, the T-1000 throws the Terminator through a window. While this is happening, John flees.
After telling John to run and save himself, the Terminator has a rematch with the T-1000. The T-1000 literally gets the upper hand by pushing the Terminator into a gear, which crushes his hand and holds him down.
J. Hot and Cold Chase Scenes
The T-1000 pursues John first on foot and then in a big rig. The Terminator saves the day by shooting the truck’s wheel out, making the T-1000 crash into an overpass and burn in a fiery explosion.
Later, the T-1000 pursues John, Sarah, and the Terminator first in a helicopter and then in a big rig hauling a huge tank of liquid nitrogen. The Terminator forces the truck to roll over and spill its liquid nitrogen all over the T-1000 freezing him.
K. Protecting John
The Terminator explains his mission to John. He’s there to protect him after being reprogrammed and sent to the past by John’s future self.
Later, the Terminator tells John and Sarah, “Wait here. I’ll be back.” He then singlehandedly takes down a SWAT team. This is a clever reversal of his “I’ll be back” catchphrase in the first film. This time, he’s not killing cops to get to Sarah, but he’s non-fatally wounding cops to make an escape route for Sarah and John. He was reprogrammed well by the future John.
L. Killing Parents
The T-1000 kills John’s foster parents and attempts to lure John into a trap.
Miles Dyson waits just long enough for John, Sarah, and the Terminator to get to safety before killing himself and destroying Cyberdyne in a giant explosion.
M. Human Casualties: 0.0
Sarah is shown several security-camera photos of the Terminator from the first film at the police station in 1984. He showed no mercy that night and killed all of the cops he could find.
Faced with John’s order not to kill anyone, the Terminator launches an attack on the L.A. police force in which he destroys almost all of their vehicles and keeps them at bay but doesn’t cause any deaths.
N. “Trust Me”
After witnessing the Terminator about to gun down an innocent civilian, John forces the Terminator to swear he will not kill anyone.
When the Terminator sets out to take care of the police, John reminds him, “Hey, wait! You swore!” to which the Terminator smirks and says, “Trust me.”
O. Blaring and Silent Alarms
Once the security guards discover Sarah has escaped from her cell, they set off a loud alarm that tells everyone in the mental institution to converge on her location – including the T-1000.
Once the security guards at Cyberdyne learn that Sarah has broken into their building, they trigger a silent alarm that brings every cop in the area to her location – including the T-1000.
P. Long Lost Terminators
The last time Sarah saw a Terminator he was trying to kill her. Ten years later, the same model (with a different mission) shows up and scares the living daylights out of her.
After a long screen absence, the T-1000 finally makes his return at Miles’ home. Thankfully, the place is abandoned so he doesn’t wind up killing anyone.
Q. Breaking Out and Breaking in
Sarah, John, and the Terminator make their escape from the mental institution in spectacular fashion.
Miles tries to sneak Sarah, John, and the Terminator into Cyberdyne, but when that plan fails, they barge right in.
R. John’s Reward for Saving His Mom
After they get away from the institution, Sarah tells John he was stupid to come and save her because she can take care of herself. He starts to cry, and she just rolls her eyes and refuses to comfort him.
After Sarah’s attempt on Miles’ life, she starts sobbing. John comes to her rescue once again, and this time she’s not angry with him. She tells him she loves him and they console each other.
S. Healing and Creating Shoulder Wounds
The Terminator stitches Sarah’s shoulder wound shut. She got that wound from a fight with the T-1000.
Sarah briefly takes on the role of a Terminator when she shows up at Miles’ house and shoots him in the shoulder.
T. Learning Computer
The Terminator tells John he will learn more about humans and become like them the longer he is around them. John imparts some of his childish and yet wise advice on interacting with people.
As the Terminator and John attempt to stop Sarah, the Terminator notes, “Killing Dyson may actually prevent the war.” But John reprimands him, saying, “I don’t care! Haven’t you learned anything yet? Haven’t you figured out why you can’t kill people?”
U. Miles to Go Before She Sleeps
Sarah asks the Terminator to tell her everything about Skynet and its creator, Miles Dyson.
She puts that knowledge to use later when she decides to assassinate Miles before he can create Skynet.
V. Sarah’s Nightmare
Sarah takes John and the Terminator to an old friend’s home in Mexico. There she finds plenty of guns and other equipment she needs to protect her son from any threat.
Shortly after that, she falls asleep and has a nightmare. She sees a group of kids playing, and she’s unable to talk and warn them about the horrific fate that awaits them. She’s helpless to stop Judgment Day from destroying humanity.
W. Father Figures
John and the Terminator talk about John’s father, Kyle Reese, and the many other men who came and went from John’s and his mother’s life. The Terminator listens patiently and the two bond in a way that John has never experienced before with a father figure.
Sarah sees her son and the Terminator bonding, and suddenly we get her perspective on what’s happening. She sees the Terminator as the best kind of father for John, comparing him to all of the others who had come before and had failed to measure up.
What This Chiasmus Means
What this chiasmus shows is that Sarah Connor is the focal point of the story. At the start, she believes in Judgment Day so much that when she looks at people she just sees corpses. She doesn’t care about herself or anyone else except her son. And she doesn’t even really treat him the way a mother treats her child. She wants to train him and keep him safe for the sake of protecting the future, but she has lost sight of the love that should be at the core of her relationship with him
In the end, seeing John and the Terminator risk their lives to save her touches her deeply and makes her reconsider her life and the fate of humanity, in general. She has her own “Judgment Day” when a machine that was originally programmed to be a killer makes her see the value of human life in a way she had long since forgotten.
No matter how old the first two Terminator films get, they will remain timeless classics because of amazing details like these.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again. In other words, I’ll be back.
All images are the copyright of their owners.
Be right back. Going to erect statues in your honor, Mr. Lockard.
You rock! Thank you. 🙂
If you’re looking for recommendations for future “chiastic” analysis, I would say Rosemary’s Baby. It seems like it would work quite well.
Keep up the great work!
With regard to T, if you haven’t seen Mad TV’s The Greatest Action Story Ever Told (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFrufPxjwX0) you should check it out.
I have seen that and it is absolutely hilarious. Nice timing with Christmas, too. 🙂
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