Terminator : A Disturbing Story of Incest. (3700 mots)
A few days ago I wrote a short article about the fact that in Terminator 1, John Connor didn’t exist and Kyle Reese was truly Sarah Connor’s son that which made their sexual intercourse at the end of the film incestuous.
I really didn’t know what to make of it at the time. If you have to write a sci-fi action movie why make your climactic scene a sex-scene between a mother and her same age son from the future ?
But I now have realized something flabbergasting: Terminator is essentially about incest. It’s not just one scene hidden behind the fact that you believe that Kyle is John’s father, it’s every single minute of the whole entire movie, its main plot and its characters' arcs. And it’s actually pretty impressively written (in my impressionable opinion).
The best way I can put it is that Terminator can be interpreted as a metaphorical representation of the story of a 14ish years old boy who is entangled in a morbid relationship with his mother. The boy discovers his sex drive and suddenly experiences the desire to break free from her influence but will ultimately and tragically end up sexually abused by her.
There’s also a very strong religious aspect to this story: through this incredible time travel stunt Kyle becomes the father, the son and the holy spirit that got the virgin mother pregnant and then disappeared. Also, her son J.C. is the messiah. Does James Cameron suggest that Christianity is based on incest between mother and son ? But I won’t dwell into this here, the metaphor for an incestuous relationship is already enough for me to get lost in my rambling.
First thing: incest is a very vague word as it refers to any sexual intercourse that takes place between two family members. The thing is, it can mean a lot of different things. So, I’ll have to clarify what I’m referring to when I use the word here.
Incest here will refer to a specific abusive relationship between a mother and her son where the kid is deprived of individuality because the morbid mother treats him like a commodity. She denies him the right to choose the objects of his desire (core of an individual), because his desire should only be to correspond to his mother’s expectations. He is only here to please her.
As such a relationship is clearly unacceptable the incestuous mother hides behind a tragic scenario to pass off as a victim who needs to recover from a traumatic experience. I’m sure you’ve seen these mothers who enslave their kids by complaining constantly, as if the weight of the world was on their shoulders… just like Sarah Connor: the fate of the world is on her shoulders. But truly, what’s behind all this is quite often a repressed, unsatisfied or shame-inducing libido.
In parallel with these efforts made to look like a victim, the mother instils a feeling of guilt in her child as a barrier to prevent him from questioning her pain. Any step towards individuation is answered by a punitive stimulus that at its core means: “The more you’ll try to be free, the closer you’ll get to kill your mother.” The mother tells her kid that he is the most important thing in the world, but very strangely he feels like the embodiment of worthlessness and keeps looking for her approval that she never gives.
So, let’s leave it at that and take a look at how much this is Terminator 1.
14 years old Kyle perceives the world as deprived of love because his mother made him perceive any self-oriented desire as a crime; the crime behind this is that such a desire is mother independent, it allows the kid to become autonomous. Kyle Reese is a selfless man in a world of self-oriented beings and as a consequence, it looks to him like a world of insensitive and selfish beings ruthlessly killing innocent ones: the war between humanity and the machines.
Every single element of the representation of this war refers specifically to the mind of an abused child. The blue light represents the lack of emotions or love. The metal describes how the world feels estranged and hostile to the kid. He feels that he is not made of the same substance as others. He is the good one, the human, and the others are the selfish robots who know no empathy. More, flesh is alive, metal is dead. To him, accepting to follow your desires is letting yourself be driven by your death drive.
Kyle is a soldier, persons who submit to rules and sacrifice themselves to a greater cause, he is the embodiment of selflessness. All the people that you see in the bunker are (commonly perceived as) selfless too: victims and children. The rest of the world, people who act according to their desires, are killing robots. Kyle's mother rewards him for not existing as an individual, therefore the world of individuality becomes a threat.
In this metaphorical reconstruction of Kyle’s experience of life, he is of the exact same age as his mother in 1984. But in the real world behind he obviously is not. The time travel is a metaphor for the destruction of the barriers that time should have built between Kyle and the things he is going to get involved with. The first Sarah Connor who gets killed is a mother of two children and the T800 runs over a toy => looking into his mother's past destroys the psychological gap that there is between a mother and a son. Sarah Connor as a mother disappears as well as John Connor as a real kid.
One day, Kyle meets a girl and is spontaneously attracted to her (In the real world + in the metaphorical one of 2029). The birth of sexuality is often the birth of individuality.
Libido is the last thing that can make you appropriate your life because it is the strongest individual desire, if it doesn’t, it means your situation is really serious. Witnessing the desire in the girl’s eyes or behavior makes Kyle consider her as a traitor. If she desires him sexually, then she is not on the side of the selfless anymore (again, these two camps only exist because his mother is abusive). She gets shot by a laser and disappears: her death is disembodied. She just changed side. However, Kyle has to admit (to himself) that he desired her because of the feelings of grief, sadness and frustration that he experiences.
=> In the real world, 14ish years old Kyle must have met a girl and rejected her because she made a move and he felt that she was a slut (according to the alienated perception of the kid).
The flashback shows him climb in a car, crash it and remain stuck inside the burning carcass. The shift from feet to wheels suggests a decrease in his determination. The initiatives he takes become more automatic, mechanic, he lets himself be carried along. The increased efforts he puts in the combat are denial of the fact that he doesn’t have the will to fight anymore. Hence the crash and the inescapable look at the truth: fire/passion.
When he wakes up in 1984, the first thing that he sees is a mechanized penetration. He desired that woman, but this desire would have made him a robot in the eyes of his mother, and thus in his own eyes too.
In the real world, 14ish Kyle feels frustrated that he rejected that girl, that he denied the fact that he was attracted to her/her body.
That’s the meaning of the attack of the underground bunker. The robots can now pass off as human being. Kyle is confused, he doesn’t know how to make the difference anymore because experiencing a desire makes him perceive himself as a traitor.
The T800 wins the fight, Kyle wonders whether he is a robot or not (we're again inside the metaphorical), he looks at Sarah’s burning picture. This time the passion is directed towards his mother: Kyle feels like he failed her. His desire destroys his mother.
Young Kyle has a rush of panic because he feels that if his mother knew anything about how this girl made him feel, she would hate him. He is now convinced that a hidden part of him makes him undeserving of his mother's love. Hence the Terminator: human outside, robot inside.
All the flashbacks describe the birth of sexuality and the confusion that ensues in young Kyle Reese. The fact that each of them should end with his suggested death underlines the fact that the boy is in a psychological dead-end, he cannot carry on like that, he has to deal with the problem of his mother if he wants to hope to free himself from her influence and live his own life.
Supposition: Sarah submitted Kyle by making him feel guilty each time he would do something that reminded her of her traumatic experience or something that would underline that he doesn’t perceive her as traumatised. Consequence in the movie: Both behaviours mean by extension that she made him feel responsible for what happened to her. His spontaneous response to the desire to live his own life is thus the desire to escape the guilt and undo what was done to Sarah. This initiative represents his birth as an individual: the first initiative he took for his own self ever. That's why the time travels have the T800 and Kyle arrive naked in a fœtal position.
In the real world, young Kyle now actively embraces his mother's expectations in order to help her sort out her problem or to make her satisfied once and for all. He accepts the unfair responsibility of making her happy (the job of a man her age) in hope that once he's reached this goal, he can go back to the girl that triggered his libido and repair the mistake he made of rejecting her.
K: "Come with me if you wanna live" S: "Well, I think I'll watch the invincible guy get up for the second time. It's really rare that a man can do that."
Once he’s saved Sarah from the T800, things take a disappointing turn for Kyle: his mother is not satisfied.
(in 1984) Sarah’s reaction to Kyle’s appearance in her life is marked by an incredible ingratitude on her side. Kyle ostentatiously utters the sentence that became cult: “Come with me if you want to live.” The thing is, Sarah doesn’t react and Kyle has to shout “COME ON !” to wake her up. Then in the car, when he asks her if she was shot, the kind of question that tends to suggest that you care about someone, she tries to jump out of the speeding vehicle. This reaction is ridiculous. She has just lived through a day during which two other Sarah Connor(s) have been killed. She’s just seen herself get trapped in a nightclub until a guy pulled out a pistol and pointed it at her face. Without Kyle Reese's intervention her brain would be trickling down the walls of the nightclub at that moment. It is specifically thanks too him that she can answer “No ! I’m not shot.” Instead, she acts as if he was the aggressor.
"I've contemplated my own death all day, and when I thought my time had come, you popped out of nowhere and heroically saved my life by shooting an invincible robot and you're now driving like crazy in order to bring me to safety but PLEASE DON'T HURT MEEEEEE !"
She is depriving her saviour of her gratitude by acting confused and scared. Awkwardly Kyle states “It’s very important to live” and Sarah answers “This isn’t true.” Of course, she is actually talking about the Terminator getting shot and then getting up as if nothing had happened, but the exchange remains meaningful nonetheless because of its awkwardness and timing.
Step by step the relationship between Sarah and Kyle reconstructs itself according to the same pattern as an incestuous one even though, this time, it started with Kyle saving her life. The kid tries to help his mother escape her depressive state and to bring her joy, instead he destroys his own self-esteem by experiencing the intense weakness of his influence over her mood. What he doesn't know is that his mother is perfectly satisfied with the situation.
By not showing any gratitude, Sarah is going to reinstate herself as a victim of the circumstances and leave Kyle alone to deal with the responsibility of his initiative: “I didn’t ask you to save me. And actually, I didn’t mind dying. So if you want me to live, then you have to work for it. I’m not following you, you are forcing me to follow you.” Sarah’s reluctance to thank Kyle quickly shifts to her reluctance to accept her role as future mother of the leader of the resistance.
Kyle introduces himself as a soldier and not as her son because he knows that if he does so he will appear as motivated by his own self-interests and Sarah will use this in order not to acknowledge her gratitude and his merit. In the same way, he tries to make her recover a will to live by offering her an ideal version of the future: she is the mother of the leader of the resistance. Her son is the incarnation of selflessness and importance. He saved humanity from the same evil that left her crippled for life, whatever it was, and the single last thing that has to be accomplished is for her to simply survive this T800. If she puts her trauma aside there will never be another victim. Kyle makes Sarah’s personal intimate fight, the fight of the entire human race. She taught him that selflessness is the ultimate quality; once he’s realised that she won’t save herself out of love for life, he offers her the highest status possible on the scale of selflessness. She would save humanity by simply take the pain and find the strength to survive this T800 even if she doesn’t like life.
edit: I've just realized that, the T800 is Kyle. Just like I said in my introduction: “The more you’ll try to be free, the closer you’ll get to kill your mother.” So, when Kyle experiences a self-oriented desire, he can't see the difference between a terminator and himself. Sarah has made him believe that her life rested upon his being the perfect selfless son, he thus suddenly believes that she is in danger. (He thinks that) The T800 part of himself is gonna kill her, while the submissive and loving son will do anything to save her.
Sarah refuses her future as if it was something that was imposed to her and not what she would have done wilfully and spontaneously anyway. I always thought this passage was stupid but now I see that they're not truly talking about the future. Sarah is only refusing another reason to remain alive that Kyle is giving her... because it's not: "Come here baby, I've got a throbbing will to live for you in my pants."
When Sarah also rejects the role of mother of the leader of the resistance, Kyle resorts to a more desperate argument and tries to appeal to her by using the simple fact that she will one day be a mother:
- Your son gave me a message to give to you. He made me memorize it. “Thank you Sarah for your courage through the dark years. I can’t help you with what you must soon face except to say that the future is not set. You must be stronger than you imagine you can be. You must survive or I will never exist.” That’s all.
In this pretended message from John Connor that has no reason to have ever been said in the first place, it isn’t question of humanity's fate. It is only a very vague request to be strong and stay alive for the sake of the man who will live thanks to her.
Kyle is reluctant to use that kind of arguments. He wants to stay away from the whole “you’re my mother” aspect of the situation because he actually wants Sarah to survive for the exact opposite: He wants her to survive because she has a life beyond being his mother so that he can eventually try and escape her influence without triggering the apocalypse. (The apocalypse is when he loses her love, when everyone's a robot in her eyes even him and she dies out of solitude).
Unfortunately, each step he takes to make her accept to fight for her life, she uses in order to come closer to the incestuous act. The invented message from John was a double-edged sword because it underlined the need for Sarah to have a baby, and this from the mouth of the leader of the resistance, the admired superior of Kyle Reese who gave him a picture of his mother.
"What's for diner ?" Linda Hamilton looks super charming at times in this movie... when you're not analysing the incestuous subtext.
When they reach a hotel room, Sarah asks Kyle “What’s for dinner” subtly bringing about the idea of being a couple. But Kyle only bought ingredients to make bars of dynamite : because Sarah is so passive, Kyle ends up revealing his maturity through the fight against the Terminator. These phallic tubes of explosive are a metaphor for his sex and Sarah (who is a virgin) takes the opportunity to learn about male sexuality without the fear of being judged. If Kyle allows her to explore him like that it’s because he is innocent (sexually speaking). He doesn’t know what’s going on.
Edit: The step-by-step disclosing of the terminator's mechanical parts goes hand-in-hand with the mechanization of Kyle. The conclusion of all this should be that Sarah accepts that there are no selfless angel and no robot, just human beings.
The way Kyle reacts to Sarah's flirting makes the scene truly creepy. He is literally petrified. He takes ages to answer each one of her questions and does not seem to understand where all of this is going as if he were suppressing this outcome or as if he were totally ingenuous.
In the following scene, Sarah asks him about whether he ever had a girlfriend which he never did. He omits to talk about the girl soldier we saw and for whom he is doing everything. Sarah pretends to be sorry because “being sorry” means you are not experiencing your own feelings, you are empathetic and therefore your motivations find their roots in the other person's desires: she brings sex about without acknowledging the fact that she’s the one who wants it.
Kyle didn't ask for anything, didn't display any kind of attraction towards her but Sarah is "so sorry" that he never had anyone in his life that she starts touching him. And the guy just looks terrified.
Poor Kyle tells her that he’s always loved her, that he came in the past for her. His declaration is desperate. He has done everything he could to “save” Sarah, to make her admit that ok, she’s fine now, she can take care of herself or at least, that he's done enough, that's it's not his job to save her, but she never frees him from his duty. I know that on a literal level it would look ridiculous if Sarah said "I'll take care of this T800 on my own, just go live your life Kyle" but it's a metaphor: the invincibility of the T800 is only Kyle's perception of the importance of the threat to his mother's life (her depressive state in real life). Keep that in mind, it is very important.
She never compliments him, she never thanks him, she never gives any sign of approval or pride or respect or admiration, that would make him grow independent from her. Instead, she pretends that she is going to do him a favour by having sex with him. After everything that he’s done, she treats him like a child who needs caring. We are at the disgusting core of incest: the poor kid whose last argument is “I love you mommy, please be satisfied with my unconditionnal love” before his life gets destroyed.
When he realizes that he triggered something that he doesn’t want to see in his mother, Kyle rushes to the bars of explosives and angrily hides them into a bag: “I shoudn’t have said that.” He is angry at himself because he betrayed his sexual maturity and desire. Now his mother very nicely wants to provide him with what he wants and he knows that he desires another woman but cannot say it without becoming the monster that hurt his mother years ago and started the whole story. If he says "no", he becomes selfish, he becomes "one of them," he admits that he is the T800.
Kyle is so traumatized by the war that it takes him ages to react to Sarah's kisses, or maybe he just didn't want this to happen because... she's his mother ?
So, he lets things happen and Sarah gets what she wanted all along.
Because in reality, the traumatic experience that Kyle unknowingly saved her from is simply a one night stand with a random guy. That’s all.
Sarah Connor is introduced in the film as a woman who is intolerably frustrated sexually. The boyfriend of her flatmate calls and whispers sexual promises in her hear thinking he is talking to his girlfriend. Sarah is irrepressibly aroused by them, and she listens for a minute before making the guy "feel stupid" by interrupting him with a cold “Who is this ?” Then she gets stood up by her boyfriend and leaves Ginger and Matt alone so that they can “have a good time” together. She pretends that she’ll go and see a movie but instead ends up in a nightclub in which the music sings “You’ve got me burnin’.” Dance is a metaphor for sex, she wants a partner and the guy who approaches her is the T800.
We are never given the opportunity to witness what happened in the original timeline but I am convinced that on the level of meaning, the same thing happened. Maybe Sarah didn’t go to the same nightclub, or maybe she got hit on in the theater room, in the end she still was approached by a stranger to whom she gave herself because she was craving for love making. She learnt that Ginger’s “we’re too good for mortal men” was a huge overstatement. Not only isn’t Sarah above mortal men, but any mortal man can suit her.
What happened on that night made Sarah feel disgusting and ashamed of herself to the point that she rejected men and sexuality entirely... my problem with this is that I don’t understand how she got pregnant afterwards if this experience traumatized her. There isn't much information about when Sarah's son is supposed to be born.
Anyway, I made my point: Sarah’s trauma was simply discovering that her libido could make her stoop very low (in her own men-despising judgment), that her libido could bring her to her knees. It’s only her ego that is “traumatized.” She is only deprived of the possibility of considering herself like a spotless princess... that which might be the reason why she was able to find a husband (Mr. Reese) and sleep with a man again: she wasn’t truly deeply traumatized. I know, all of this is a bit complex but to put it simply, there are two versions of the same event in the movie. There’s the complacent version of the incestuous mother who wants to look like a traumatized victim, and there’s the more judgmental version that holds her responsible for her behaviour.
The problem that lies behind everything in the movie is that Sarah is ashamed of how strong her libido is, and thus of how much power "despicable" men have over her. The T800 is only as strong as her desire for sex is. I'm not kidding. Kyle is fighting against his mother's libido, and he eventually ends up swallowed by it.
After Kyle and Sarah have slept together, her will to live is renewed, but he is a dead man walking. The following chase with the T800 is a metaphor for their sexual intercourse. Kyle throws phallic explosives at the Terminator and gets wounded. He is still focussed on trying to “save Sarah”: the kid has sex with his mother in hope that he can heal her sadness. Sarah takes the wheel, she suddenly knows where to go and what to do (sexually). The car chase ends with a huge explosion (provoked by a phallic explosive again) from which Kyle hides in a dumpster: the kid prefers anything to witnessing his mother’s orgasm (the explosion) but it taints him anyway.
Sarah is on her own when she finally gets what she wants, little Kyle is hidden in a small dark place in which he cannot know what's happening to mummy. I am going to puke.
Kyle and Sarah embrace as if the nightmare was over. But it would be extremely morbid if things ended here because it would mean that having the son sleep with the mother was actually the solution to everything. The T800 reappears in its skeleton form. There’s no flesh/innocence left to see: because they slept together, Kyle now considers himself as exactly what his mother was trying to prevent him from becoming.
The Robot carries on chasing them and Kyle commits suicide by having a last bomb explode => he blames himself for what happened with his mother. Also, now that the T800 mechanical part is all that's left, "innocent" Kyle cannot exist anymore.
Sarah is wounded by the explosion => she realizes that she went too far, that incest wasn’t the solution (no kidding). But also, she is a hypocrite as deep down, she knows that Kyle isn't a little angel, and more, she craves for his "mechanical" parts that she made him reject to the point of committing suicide once he cannot hide them from her anymore.
Kyle is dead and it's sad. However, I suppose Termintaor Genisys changes this. And he is not raped by his mother anymore either.
The T800 is still partly functional and still represents a threat. This means that as Sarah still has a libido and men still disgust her, the threat that has been lingering over her head since the beginning of the film remains. Kyle didn't change anything because she is the sole one who can do something about her problem. So, what’s the solution people ? Tell me ? What does a girl do when she craves for sex and there is no man around who appeals to her ? She just PUSHES THE BUTTON !
At the end of the movie, Sarah Connor finally accepts to take the responsibility for her sexuality and learns to masturbate instead of holding men responsible for whatever she does to satiate her libido. She metaphorically kills the Terminator single-handedly. That's how easy it is for her. She is a hypocrite, only Kyle thinks that she is powerless in front of her libido.
“You’re terminated fucker !” is a sad conclusion, because she still has a bad opinion of men who desire her... and euh... she killed her kid ? Notice the comparison between the Terminator and a sex partner "fucker."
So… here we are. This convoluted analysis is over. Terminator is a movie about a woman who can’t take the responsibility for her libido and establishes an incestuous relationship with her son as a consequence. I need a strong drink.
I'll have to rewatch T2 and Genisys at least because I'm curious about how all of this evolves.
In T2, Sarah carries on with the incestuous relationship but in a sublimated manner. She is not going to rape John Connor, but John is even less free than Kyle was. He will not meet a girl to make him rebel against his mother. This time she uses John's destiny as a reason not to thank him for saving her life. She is still hiding her motives and desires behind a façade of absolute commitment to a cause.
In T5, Kyle and Sarah are awkward towards each other. A joke is made of the fact that they should have sex but are not attracted to each other. GOOD. I can't remember if they sleep together in the end though. But I know that John Connor is a robot in that one which is good too. John should never have existed. It's Kyle or John.
Edit: The beginning of T5 is a retelling of what I consider to be a lie -John Connor saving Kyle Reese, the victory over the machines, the last minute time travel- the whole beginning of the movie is completely impossible if Kyle Reese is Sarah Connor's son.
What confirms my interpretation though is that this beginning proves to have the most convoluted past possible including the idea of “mixed timelines.” Kyle and John cannot exist in the same timeline, if you start mixing timelines then yeah, of course, anything is possible.
We witness the exact story that Kyle tells Sarah in T1, but he when comes back from this future which we believe to be the original timeline, 1984 is a complete mess. The logical problem in this is that if 1984 changed, and changed and changed, 2029 should have changed, changed and changed too and John Connor shouldn't be the guy who appears to save the day in the same way that Kyle Reese described it in T1.