Enjoying my vacation in Arizona. I’ve spent most of my time relaxing and watching movies. Mostly movies on cable, since I’m trying to get some work done on my novel and who wants to venture out into the 110-degree heat, anyway?
But I have gone out twice now to the movie theater, once to see “Matrix 2” and then again to see “Terminator 3”. I can’t think of the last time I went to a newly-released movie on opening day, but since I’m on vacation, I can hit the less-crowded morning matinee. Plus I had the probably not-coincidental good fortune to catch both “Terminator” and “Terminator 2” on cable this week before Wednesday, so I was pretty primed for T3.
And I have to say, it was pretty satisfying. “Satisfying” means it didn’t end like T2 did, with this big time-paradox in which a cyborg comes back from the future and helps change history so that the technology that created him is never developed. In “T3”, they bit the bullet and went through with Judgement Day, and John Connor’s life is spared by someone from the present time for reasons that have nothing to do with him becoming the future leader of the post-apocalyptic human rebellion.
I guess most people watch the Terminator movies for the action sequences and cool special effects. I find the long drawn out car chases and crashes and explosions monotonous myself. Another car is crushed. Another building crumbles. Yet another car is crushed. Yet another building crumbles. *Yawn*, we get it, the evil Terminator is evil. Most humans are stupid. *Yawn*
The same goes with the fight sequences in The Matrix, which I’ll talk about in a minute. I actually had to pee pretty bad while watching Matrix 2 and chose one of those 15-minute fight sequences to do it. You don’t miss anything having to do with the plot.
What I enjoy most about the Terminator movies is their exploration of destiny and the Messiah archetype and the psychological effect foreknowledge of one’s role in destiny can have. I think the Messiah archetype is my favorite literary archetype. Or, I should say, the “I’m not the Messiah yet” archetype–the exploration of a future savior’s early life, when s/he is dealing with a destiny that hasn’t happened yet. But it’s just as interesting to me if they don’t know their destiny, either, and yet they have this destiny all the same.
And it’s not just about good Messiahs, but evil ones as well. My favorite moment in the movie “Damien: The Omen 2” is when Damien finds the number 666 tattooed on his scalp. He’s been told by the people around him that he is the anti-Christ, and he doesn’t want to believe it. He doesn’t want that destiny. Then he finds the tattoo and that, along with some other evidence, clinches it for him He IS the anti-Christ. He runs outside crying in despair and resistance. An emotionally stunning moment. Eventually, he accepts his identity, even embraces it. But it’s that time before hand, the early life of the Messiah before s/he faces the moment(s) of destiny, that fascinates me. I remember getting goose bumps the first time I laid eyes on teeny-bopper John Connor in “Terminator 2”, and it wasn’t because I thought Eddy Furlong was cute (a buffed-out Linda Hamilton, on the other hand–that wasn’t rivaled until Faith did pull-ups in “Salvage”).
I suppose that’s what originally turned me on about the character of Connor on Angel. He was this child of miraculous birth (which is a cool archetype in itself), and seemed to be a key part of the Nyazian prophecy “that would bring about the ruination or purification of Mankind”. I thought at the time (during the pregnant Darla arc in S. 3) that he was brought into being by the PTBs to serve some sort of important world-saving destiny. And I suppose that turned out to be true, more or less. Jasmine, a PTB, arranged for his conception. But in the end, the important thing he did to save the world was to kill Jasmine, his creator, to save the human race from her wrath after daddy Angel dethroned her.
But that doesn’t really count as Connor’s “destiny” in the sense that I am looking for, because ME had originally planned for Cordelia to wake up and kill Jasmine. Connor got to do it as a consolation prize. Then they write him off the show. So much for that big prophecy about the death of Sahjhan, huh?
The whole thread of prophecy and destiny in BtVS and Angel never bugged me, because I think destiny is a cool concept. Especially, as I said, when one’s destiny is something important and world-changing. I am not one of those people who thinks destiny takes away anything important in free will, because I’m not so sure our will is really all that free. As somebody put it once, “We are free to be the people that we are”. We have personality traits, and life experiences and people around us, and events around us that shape how we will act. The Messiah has the destiny s/he has because of the kind of person they are—brave, a leader, willing to fight the odds—and because of the dire circumstances they find themselves in, which aren’t entirely their choice.
This is what was cool about Terminator 3. John end up in the bomb shelter where he will survive the coming nuclear war, but he had gone there to stop the war, not wait it out. Circumstances beyond his control shaped his future.
This brings me to the Matrix, which is a completely different take on the Messiah archetype. In the first movie, you get a pretty standard Messiah story. Here is this evil world run by machines, and there is this oracle, who we assume is human, who tells the human rebels that a Messiah will come and save the human race from their enslavement. It’s destiny. Neo arrives on the scene, and it seems obvious to some that he is this long-anticipated Messiah.
As Rob on ATPo pointed out, though, Matrix 2 throws this completely on its head. It turns out that the oracle is a program, part of the Matrix itself, and that Neo’s skills and abilities, perhaps even some of his choices, are programs that have been written into the Matrix. Neo is human, but the creator of the Matrix is using him for “his” own purposes. As I understand it, and this movie is way too complex to digest on one viewing, the “Matrix” has been re-built six times. It took six tries to create a computer-generated reality that would be believable to the human minds forced to live in it. The first Matrix world was too perfect and none of the humans believed it was real. They rebelled. In fact, every time a Matrix world was created, humans eventually discovered its flaws and rebelled.
So the creator of the Matrix decided to program that rebellion into the machine-dominated world itself. It chose a human to become “The One” and gave him the skills to discover his world was false and to eventually escape and return to the Matrix to fight. Neo is horrified to discover that his role as “The One” isn’t some spiritual destiny that proves humans are better than machines and that we will fight the machines and win. He is “The One” because the machine world arranged for him to play a role in their more “realistic” scenario. Humans will rebel against the Matrix, the creator of the Matrix has accepted that, and built it into the machine-dominated world a cycle of re-creations of the Matrix, all with chosen “Ones” and Zion cities built and then destroyed.
This is the kind of “destiny” that people should be scared of. John Connor knew his destiny because people came back in time and told him. Nevertheless, his destiny will play out because of the kind of man he is, a good man who had a higher respect for individual human lives than even his mother/mentor had, and who survived the coming war through no choice of his own.
Neo, on the other hand, is a pawn in a giant game. One Messiah in an endless circular chain of machine-generated Messiahs. So you can almost predict what “Matrix 3” will be about. It will be about Neo ending this repeating cycle and claiming the world for humans once and for all, and if and when Neo does this, it will be not out of any sort of “destiny” at all. But it will come out of the kind of person he is. The personality traits within him that exist beyond the programming.