The Terminator

Movie: Directed by James Cameron.

Inciting Event: We get to watch as the Terminator begins murdering Sarah Connors, working his way through the phone book. We begin to realize “our” Sarah is on his list, but we don’t know why.

First Plot Point: Sarah sees all the news reports of the killing of other “Sarah Connors” and sees someone stalking her too. This is where Sarah really begins to believe she’s in danger. There’s still a chance she can go back to her Normal World if the police can protect her.

First Pinch Point: But the Terminator finds her first and shows her the police probably won’t be much help. Reese rescues her (“Come with me if you want to live”), but she’s just as scared of him as she is of the Terminator. At first, she fights for denial of what he’s telling her, about being from the future and why the Terminator wants to kill her. There is an interesting “plant” here when Reese tells her he’s from “one possible future, I don’t know,” letting her (and us) know that even if his story is true, the future isn’t fixed and there’s no guarantee that she will live to see it.

Midpoint: The cops capture Sarah and Reese—she’s safe, apparently. They begin to persuade her Reese is mad. She wants to believe and go back to her Normal World, but among other things, the Terminator has slaughtered her roommate and the roommate’s boyfriend. Things will never be the same, no matter what she decides to believe.

Second Pinch Point: The Terminator traces her to the cop station and slaughters a lot of cops trying to get to her. Reese gets out of his cell and, instead of taking off, risks his own life again to rescue her.

Third Plot Point: Sarah and Reese hide out in a motel. Low point: “It’ll never be over, will it?” She now accepts that his story stands up a lot better than what the cops and the dork psychologist told her, and that Reese is her best bet to survive. (Not only that, but he’s quite a guy.) She lets him teach her things like how to make bombs, and asks for more information about himself. He tells her he has always loved her from the future. They bond and make love. (Interestingly, in the first drafts of the shooting script, she tells him later that she won’t run and leave him behind because he’s the father of John Conner—she will never have anyone else. I think it’s better left out.)

Climax: When the Terminator finds the motel, they’re on the run again. Reese gets badly shot, and now Sarah starts becoming the legend of the future, the hero mother of John Connor. She drags Reese through several close calls, giving him orders (“On your feet, soldier!”) and refuses to run and leave him when he tells her to, until the Terminator finally manages to kill him.

Climactic Moment: Sarah lures the Terminator into a position where she seemingly has nowhere to go. But she pushes the button that brings a huge crusher machine down on it. Slowly, the red light in its occulars goes out. Irony: she uses a machine to kill the machine.

Resolution: A pregnant Sarah is on the run in an empty, vaguely Hispanic country. A boy takes a Polaroid picture of her, and we see that it is the picture John Connor gave Reese before sending him back to save Sarah. (At one point, Reese had said, “I always wondered what you were thinking then.” She was thinking of him.)

Comments: Many people assume Reese is the protagonist of the story, not least because Michael Biehn got higher billing than Linda Hamilton. But I have always seen Sarah’s evolution as the epitome of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey.” Reese is just the catalyst for everything, including the inception of John Conner himself. Or maybe John is the catalyst, since he sent Reese back to save Sarah.

(Submitted by Eugenia Parrish.)

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