The Terminator as envisioned by James Cameron was a cold, brutal tale that perfectly captured the cynical air of the fend-for-yourself 1980s. What audiences were not expecting from the 1991 sequel — but what cemented it as an instant triumph — was the cultural aptness of Cameron’s revision of the nuclear family as one boy, one estranged mother, and one cyborg assassin.
Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn had no time for love in the original movie. There was only the regret and desperation of knowing that all their actions — even their coupling — were predestined by fate. Ffiteen years later, that leftover need had reached a fever pitch, and every decision the three main characters make is ruled by their feelings for each other, even as the fate of mankind hangs in the balance.
In two strangers (one more “virtual” than the other), young John Connor discovers the parental bonds that ease and focus his rebellious spirit. Sarah Connor learns the hard way that she’s worth more to her son as a human than as an avenging angel. And all logic aside, it’s obvious that Arnie’s unfeeling T-800 melts a little inside as he becomes a surrogate father and husband. Americans saw genuine traces of their own dysfunctional families in this ungainly trio, and many a dude found himself shedding quiet tears in the theater over their plight.
Cameron clearly had been warming up to this concept for some time: The survivors at the end of Aliens —
a woman, a child, a robot, and an incapacitated Michael Biehn — are exactly the same. But by taking these archetypes out of chilly outer space and turning them loose in our world and our streets, Cameron
acknowledged the loving ad-hoc family arrangements of today — counting on the future to take care of itself.
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