Are you saying it’s from the future?


I’ve been a fan of the Terminator franchise since the first one. Heck I remember seeing it in the theater with my parents. Couldn’t have been more than 9 or 10 at the time. My parents rock.

I even liked Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Even though it wasn’t recognized by any of the creative forces behind the movie franchise and really stretched the boundaries of the storyline, it still held a soft spot in my heart. Course Lena Headey and Summer Glau had a lot to do with that. Nothing like some eye candy to peak one’s interests.

Anyway, one thing that’s always puzzled me about the Terminator franchise is their whole concept of time travel. People have been getting turned off to the movies because the time paradoxes are too complicated. In an attempt to make sense of it all I hereby present a Guide to Understanding Terminator 1 – 4.

Let’s take this one step at a time…

Terminator – The original 1984 movie tells the story of a post apocalyptic world where sentient machines had caused the near extinction of mankind. A resistance force, lead by a man named John Conner helps overthrow their oppressors in the year 2029. In an attempt to prevent their ultimate destruction the machines send a cybernetic assassin back in time to kill John Conner’s mother therefore preventing him from being born and in essence, averting their own destruction at his hands.

1984 —– John is born ——— Judgment Day ———— John smashes the machines

That’s the way the time line played out prior to the machines sending a terminator back in time. When they altered the past by doing so they caused a tangent thread to the existing timeline…

1984 —– John is born ——— Judgment Day ———— John smashes the machines
——-\(t1 events) — John is born —– Judgment Day ——- John smashes the machines

Terminator 2:  Judgment Day – A now teenage John Conner must contend with a new advanced terminator that’s been sent back to kill him. This time a terminator defender is sent back instead of a human to help protect him. John, Sarah and the terminator protector not only try to stay alive but try to prevent judgment day form happening by destroying all traces of the original terminator that was sent back.

1984 ——————————- John is born ——————————- John smashes the machines
——\(t1 events) — John is born — Judgment Day — John smashes the machines

Once again intervention from a future timeline causes yet another tangent thread to the tangent thread…

1984 ——————————- John is born ——————————- John smashes the machines
——\(t1 events) — John is born — Judgment Day — John smashes the machines
——————————————–\(t2 events) — Judgment Day — John smashes the machines

Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines – John Conner, now a young adult,  must deal with yet another even more advanced terminator that’s been sent back to kill him. Yes.. another terminator defender is sent back instead of a human to help protect him. John, his future wife and the terminator protector try to stay alive again and try to prevent judgment day from happening by destroying Skynet before it goes online and takes out humanity. I know… sounds like the same thing as T2 but hey… I didn’t make the movies.

1984 ——————————- John is born ——————————- John smashes the machines
——\(t1 events) — John is born — Judgment Day — John smashes the machines
——————————————–\(t2 events) — Judgment Day — John smashes the machines

…and yes… because of future interference we have yet another tangent reality…..

1984 ——————————- John is born ——————————- John smashes the machines
——\(t1 events) — John is born — Judgment Day — John smashes the machines
——————————————–\(t2 events) — Judgment Day — John smashes the machines
————————————————————–\(t3 events) — Judgment Day — John smashes machines

Terminator Salvation – Set in post-apocalyptic 2018, John Connor is charged with leading the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. But the future Connor was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright, a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row. Connor must decide whether Marcus is truly a friend or foe when the revelation is made that he is part machine. Together the embark on a quest to not only take down Skynet but rescue Kyle Reese, John’s one-day father.

1984 ——————————- John is born ——————————- John smashes the machines
——\(t1 events) — John is born — Judgment Day — John smashes the machines
——————————————–\(t2 events) — Judgment Day — John smashes the machines
————————————————————–\(t3 events) — Judgment Day — John smashes machines

This latest movie adds yet another tangent onto the string of threads already spawned…

1984 ——————————- John is born ——————————- John smashes the machines
——\(t1 events) — John is born — Judgment Day — John smashes the machines
——————————————–\(t2 events) — Judgment Day — John smashes the machines
————————————————————–\(t3 events) — Judgment Day — John smashes machines
—————————————————————————————————–\(salvation events) — John smashes machines (?)

So what the hell does all of this mean?

Firstly, the subject of time travel shouldn’t be taken lightly when writing. Because there are uber-nerds out there (like me) they’ll pick apart and question every little aspect of what was presented in order to make sense of it.  I’ve never come across a “perfect” time travel story yet. There have been some good ones (like Primer) but the subject is so ambiguous, there ends up being many theoretic holes that can and often will be exploited.

A common hiccup that comes up is chicken-and-egg theory. Kyle Reese is John Conner’s father. Kyle Reese is from the future. Sarah Conner gives birth to John Conner before the war (and before Kyle Reese is born). How is that possible? It gave me headaches when I first saw the movies. After watching many movies about time travel the tangent reality theory suited this movie series best. Terminator’s time travel concepts differs from Back to the Future’s which differs from Donnie Darko’s. To understand (and/or appreciate) Terminator you need to understand its vision of time travel which is what I believe is tangent realities.

In the original Terminator movie John Conner’s upbringing is very cloudy. The only things the viewers are told for certain are that Sarah Conner taught her son to survive and that John Conner never talked much about his father. That leave a lot up to interpretation. During the course of the movie we learn that Sarah is a shy, demure and introverted woman who is often stepped on (figuratively) in life. It’s also determined that she didn’t have much luck with relationships either so it can also be speculated that she probably got involved with someone (whom she later parted ways with) and gave birth to John. In the original timeline (in which no future interference occurred) it can be reasonable speculated that at some point in her life she got fed up with her station in life (of being a doormat) and toughened up a bit. Those sort of letdowns, disappointments and harsh treatment could have contributed to her becoming a harder woman by the time judgment day came around.

There are certain constants in the Terminator franchise that you kinda have to accept in order to understand and cope with the confusion:

  1. Doomsday occurs no matter what. It’s a paradox in its own because one of the tag lines in Terminator 2 happens to be “There’s no fate but what we make”. The irony is that no matter how much the protagonists try to prevent the apocalypse it still happens regardless therefore proving that fate (as they define it) isn’t something you can change after all.
  2. John Conner is born and leads a human resistance against the machines in the post apocalyptic world. Again, another ironic twist to the concept of being able to change your fate. This is explained in more detail further down in the movie/timeline breakdown.
  3. This is science fiction – not science fact. Who knows if displacing matter from one point in time to another point will have cataclysmic consequences? Who knows for sure if you go back in time and accidentally prevent your parents from meeting you’ll cease to exist? Until someone actually time travels and proves one way or another we’re left to just speculate. Science fiction was invented to creatively explain things we don’t have concrete answers for.

Have I given this far too much thought? Of course! I’m a movie geek so it’s my calling to overly analyze movies that I find interesting. I love stories. I love science fiction. Anything that gets me thinking about anything other than pixels and web coding is a welcome escape for me. Now mind you, the guide here is just something I came up with to help me understand the movies. Many won’t agree with it. Some will. Either way I’d love to hear about other people’s ideas about the subject of time travel. It’s such a vast and open concept that it makes for good thinking.

Disclaimer: As always if you are the rightful owner of any image used in this post and want it removed just contact me and it’ll be resolved asap. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the free publicity.

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2 responses

  1. I think I’m just confused because Kyle is looking at a picture of Sarah from the future he came from…but technically, that’s not the future that’s happened already. So regardless of how John was born and who his father was, Sarah always made it to that gas station where the little kid took the picture of her. Hmm…

    September 6, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    • Yup. Yet another testament to the whole “you can’t change fate” oxymoron throughout the series.

      September 6, 2010 at 12:32 pm

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