Frankenstein vs. Terminator by Katie Mastrucci
It is the year 2029. The human race is on the brink of total annihilation at the hands of the very machines that their technology developed. Despite almost insurmountable odds, the human resistance movement stands ready to emerge victorious and declare indepedence from the cyborg race that has enslaved them. Skynet, the computer system developed by humans to control the robot war machines, somehow spontaneously evolved an artificial intelligence and staged a revolt against its human masters in 1997, thereby ushering in the age of the machines and nearly destroying all life on the planet. An now, over thirty years later, Skynet sees its end drawing near. The human resistance has mobilized and taken the offensive; human victory is almost assured. And so, in a last attempt to retain its control over all mankind, Skynet sends a terminator, a virtually indestructible human-like killing machine, into the past, to the year 1984 with a vital mission: kill Sarah Connor. Sarah Connor: the mother-to-be of John Connor, the leader and organizer of the human resistance movement that will ultimately spell the downfall of the reign of the machines. The future of mankind therefore rests on Sarah Connor's survival. In order to protect her from the android assassin, the resistance movement sends one of its own, a man by the name of Kyle Reese, into the past to defend her against the Herculean strength and superhuman abilities of the terminator. Though many lives are lost and many sacrifices are made, Sarah Connor does live, she does give birth to a son, John Connor, and her son, with the help of the remaining humans, does ultimately quash the cyborg insurrection and safe teh human race from total destruction.
This is the story of The Terminator (1984), an original and groundbreaking film that kep audience riveted nationwide and became an instant blockbuster hit. Although this is how the move appears on its surface, upon closer inspection, one will see that the film is actually a unique reworking of a classic formula; The Terminator is really a modern-day reiteration of the story of Frankenstein, the 1818 horror novel by Mary Shelley. Though one does not exactly mirror the other, both egage similar scientific, political, religious and philosophical themes. Both expose the same flaws inherent in mankind. And both contain important messages and warnings about what can happen when ingenuity goes too far, when man out steps his bounds, when knowledge, and therefore power, are abused. Though Frankenstein may be approaching its bicentennial anniversary, its message and precedent are far from lost. Every era has its Frankenstein, whether it be in film, theater or print, and The Terminator is no exception.
The scientific/technological message conveyed in both works is difficult to miss. In both The Terminator and Frankenstein, mankind has reached a broken a scientific boundary. In Shelledy's novel, Victor Frankenstein discovers the secrets of life and conducts an experiment in which he creates a hideous giant out of dead tissue. In The Terminator, the brightest scientists of the world have figured out a way to engineer robts that function independently of constant human control and supervision. Mankind has created AI: Artificial Intelligence. Yet despite the grand implications and promise of these findings, both go horribly wrong. Victor Frankenstein unknowingly creates a grotesque monster, a vindictive creature of superhuman strength and stamina who visits misery and unmitigated destruction upon his creator and all those he holds dear. In The Terminator, man gives birth to a monstrosity as well, not just one monster, but a race of monsters intent on terrorizing and ultimately obliterating the human race. Neither Victor nor the scientists ever stopped to consider the consequences of their scientific endeavors, and many innocents suffer unnecessarily due to their lack of foresight. The message: the pursuie of technological advances is not a self-justifying act; its repercussions must, too, be weighed.
Another reading of both the novel and the film is the political reading. In both cases, it is the educated, the powerful, those with means, the aristocracy if you will, who create the monsters that end up wreaking havoc and destruction upon mankind. Both Victor and the scientists engaged in their work to produce a robot, a subordinate, a slave who would help them and serve them. Victor and the scientists possessed the education and the privileges that others lacked, and they abused the arbitrary power that this disparity gave them. This interpretation reflects the same abuse of power practiced by upper class society, especially in Mary Shelley's day but even in our own. In an attempt to create and perpetuate a class system and an arbitrary social hierarchy, the supper class ends up making slaves of the lower classes and ultimately of themselves as well. Victor created the monster to be his disciple, just as the scientists in The Terminator produced robots to serve them, but in both cases, the creatures revoltd against their creator and made slaves of their former masters. Political power based on arbitrary distinctions is like a rose with thorns: the harder you squeeze, the harder the thorn will bite back.
There is even a distinct religious reading to both works because both address not only the abuse of power in general, but the abuse of the power to create, a power long vested in the hands of God. Both question mankind's right to wrest the creative energy from the primordial creator. Not only do they question this right, but they reproach and expose man's audacity by revealing the disastrous consequences of his decision to liberally wield the creative power. In this light, both Frankenstein and The Terminator can be viewed as critiques of human boldness and man's trespass upon the realm of the divine.
The broader philosophical issue addressed in both works concerns the legitimate use of power. In both The Terminator and Frankenstein, man has stumbled upon a heretofore unknown power. In both, the invention of artificial intelligence and the reanimate of dead tissue, humans have discovered a means to create life capable of independent thought and governance. Mankind has tapped into an incredible source of power, a spring of limitless possibilities. In neither case though, do the discoverers of said power never contemplate its implications and possible consequences. Not once do they ever broach the fundamental question: just because I have discovered this great power, does that give me the right to use it: In that sense, the power that they have uncovered and now wield is an arbitrary power; they just happened to find it. It was not earned or legitimized in any way; it was not given to them by popular consent or sanctioned as a power they had the right to use. And it is this illegitimacy that becomes the greatest danger of arbitrary power: because the power was simply inherited or found, because it was not earned, because it cannot be revoked, the wielder of said power has no discretions in its implementation.
The final comparison drawn between Frankenstein and is that of the similar character flaws exhibited by both Victor Frankenstein and the twentieth-century scientists whose work triggered the rise of the machines. These scientists, both Victor and his modern-day counterparts, are plagued by blindness and pride. Victor never foresaw the consequences of his actions, and in his pride, he thought he could engage in unhallowed arts and remain unscathed. In the same way, the scientists in The TerminatorThe Terminator were so fixated on the imminent success of their experiments that they never anticipated the destructive forces they were, in effect, creating. They were building war machines to compete with the other world powers in a fight for dominance; ultimately, they proved to be creatures of vanity and little else. Both Victor and the scientists were so self-absorbed that they failed to see their own impending destruction and the monstrous threat their scientific dendeavors posed to the rest of the human race. Seen in this new light, The Terminator is much more profound and resonant than it first appears. It may be just an action-packed thriller to some, but to those with a keen eye, it is the modern Frankenstein.