It was just happenstance that I was watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day around the same time that the President of the United States escalated a nuclear war pissing contest on Twitter. Over the holidays, I was sent a review copy of its recently released 4K edition and what started as “just trying to get caught up” somehow, with one tweet, became “relevant.”
As someone who was a child in the 1980s growing up with the ever-present threat of nuclear war — this piece sums it up pretty well, and it also includes, strangely, a group picture I’m in from 2009 watching the Super Bowl, and I wish I could go back there now — I still sometimes have a recurring dream of seeing a bright white flash, then being engulfed by flames. (To be fair, it’s fairly low on my “recurring dream” list, thankfully. Number one is still “the semester is ending and I just remembered there’s a class I haven’t been to in three months.”) But the scene depicting Sarah Connor’s dream of nuclear annihilation is pretty much spot on to that recurring dream. This moment is absolutely horrifying.
The saddest thing about all this: the sense that Sarah Connor, John Connor, and the Terminator all might be in a better predicament than we are right now. Sarah and John have a robot from the future who just plainly tells them, “Miles Dyson is your problem.” Well, that seems pretty easy to solve. Sure, they try to kill him at first, which is mean, but cooler heads prevail and the Terminator calmly explains to Dyson that, in the future, his scientific research will destroy the planet. This all happens at a dining room table in a suburban home. And Dyson, for his part, is kind of like, “Huh, yeah, that’s no good. Let’s not do that.” (To be fair, he’d already been shot in the shoulder, so maybe he was more susceptible to reason at this point.) With our situation, we don’t even need a robot from the future. We already know who our Dyson is. But it doesn’t matter and that’s what’s so upsetting about the whole thing.
(Also, could you imagine the Terminator entering the Oval Office, showing Trump his robotic hand, and then calmly explaining how his actions lead the world to destruction? Trump would respond, “You’re fake future news. You’re a fake Terminator. I only get my future news from T-1000s.”)
Terminator 2 was released in 1991, the same year the Soviet Union collapsed. We had kind of stopped worrying that nuclear war was a real threat anymore. At the time, I really thought Jesus Jones and Scorpions were right and this was all a thing of the past and we were going to live in an era of World Peace. Jesus Jones lied.
It’s funny, I had forgotten about the scene where the Terminator explains the story to Dyson at a dining room table. In fact, I had forgotten a lot about Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It was such a part of popular culture in the ‘90s that I had somehow convinced myself I had seen it many more times than I actually had. Watching it now, I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I had seen it from start to finish. And I think it’s a movie that suffers from its sequels — that the brand has gotten so diluted with sub-par installments that try so desperately to “world build,” the idea of watching any Terminator movie now seems like a chore. But Terminator 2: Judgment Day is about as perfect an action movie can be.