In 1984, a leather-clad Arnold Schwarzenegger kicked Hollywood’s door in and started blasting, playing the baddest cybernetic killing machine ever seen on screen and forever changing the cinematic landscape. The Terminator was the first film to effectively bridge the gap between sci-fi and action that divided audiences since movies began. Action movies were no longer for dumb, jocky, John-Travolta-in-Grease wannabes and science fiction fans could crawl out from their rocks, bedrooms and parents basements to bask in the glory of their newly discovered cool.
The Terminator and T2: Judgement Day still rank amongst the best of their genre. In the near future, a sentient AI named Skynet has initiated a nuclear genocide against the human race. However an army of humans, led by the charismatic John Conner, waged war against the machines, reverse engineering their weapons to be used against them. Just as the humans finally seemed poised to triumph, Skynet sends a robotic killing machine known as a ‘Terminator’ back in time to murder Sarah Conner and pre-emptively abort John, ensuring the robots future victory.
But after learning of Skynet’s plan, the resistance send back their own agent, Kyle Reese, to defend John’s mother and destroy the mechanical murderbot. In the course of doing so, Kyle manages to speed up the process by impregnating Sarah Conner, leading to an entire chicken-egg type of situation. Although he dies in the process, Kyle nearly completes his mission and damages the Terminator badly enough for Sarah to finish it off with a hydraulic press before fleeing to Mexico. In T2; Judgement Day, Skynet sends another Terminator, model T-1000, to kill John as an adolescent. At the same time, John Conners sends a reprogrammed T-800 back to defend his childhood self, leading to one of the most kickass scenes of robot-on-robot violence ever conceived. Eventually the T-1000 fails to kill John and is destroyed in a vat of liquid metal. The T-800, again played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, also lowers himself into the vat, ensuring that no scientists will ever use him to build Skynet.
Now although these plots aren’t complicated in and of themselves, there’s a lot going on in the background. John Conner is obviously a messiah figure, a saviour to the entire human race who was born through impossible circumstance and given the initials JC. He and his family are chased into the desert by persecutors willing to kill everything, even children, to prevent the emergence of a new power. After all, the second film is called ‘Judgement Day’ and one of the later sequels ‘Salvation’, so it’s fair to say that the filmmakers aren’t exactly being subtle.
The film also gives us an AI, one of the primary fears for a population rapidly hurtling toward the digital age, and this AI has counterparts more physical than itself; the terminators. The newly-born Christ figure leads a rebellion against this AI and leads the humans to victory and the freedom of all mankind.
Which, coincidentally, is the exact same plot as the Matrix.
Let’s break it down a little; the Matrix takes place in a future (quoted by Morpheus as being ‘close to 2199) where machines have taken control of the world, and humanity is forced near the earth’s core. The story centres around Thomas Anderson aka Neo, a computer programmer who is freed from the artificial reality in order to….lead a human rebellion against an army of machines. Although his initials aren’t quite JC, ‘Neo Anderson’ means ‘New Son of Man’, which I think we can all agree is pretty Jesus-ey. He dies, only to be resurrected in his true form, as well as carrying the burden of all human existence to a final conflict whereupon he sacrifices his own life for the good of mankind and, at the end of the final film, the Architect tells Neo that this messiah journey is only one of an endless cycle of messiah journeys when one man will raise an army to subdue the machines. This sounding a little suspect, yet?
If you were to look at it laterally, there is no way that the messiah journey shown in ‘The Matrix’ is the same journey that the architect talks about. There is no way to be certain that the One wouldn’t be killed by random chance, or that the human rebels searching him out would be successful. If we accept this to be true, then we also have to accept that the artificial intelligence would have a contingency plan, a way for humanity to rise up against the machines without ever having to leave the Matrix. Like a massive, time-travelling robot uprising.
John Conner in the Terminator could easily be an earlier version of ‘The One’ who didn’t escape the Matrix. However, the Matrix still needs a system reboot where humanity rails against it, is defeated, dies and then is reborn to wage a new war and the Terminator franchise would be the perfect way to do it.
However, that seems unlikely. If there were a robot/human war at any point in the Matrix timeline, you’d think Neo might have taken five minutes to tell someone about it. Instead, I’d posit that the Terminator and T2: Judgement Day are actually prequels to the Matrix, with Skynet creating the virtual reality in order to supress humanity after destroying most of their armies and there’s actually a surprising amount of information to back this idea up.
First of all, the terminators are a terrible design. Human beings are not designed to wage war; we cultivate crops, catch animals and generally complete a lot of tasks that a robot wouldn’t need to. If we were going to create a machine for wiping out large numbers of humans quickly (which we have) they’d look even more like tanks than Arnold Schwarzenegger, mainly because they’d be tanks. But tanks would be ineffective when all of humanity is bundled up in tunnels deep under the earth; we’d create something more manoeuvrable and dangerous, like a giant robotic murder squid.
This is simple enough to explain; when a machine can create machines more powerful than itself, then computers will become truly unstoppable. However, despite what the John Von Newman conspiracy theorists say, any type of production will inevitably take time. If the first battles for control took place on the surface of the earth, as Morpheus says, then Skynet could feasibly have made an army of humanoid machines to defend itself while creating more and more advanced versions, including (but not limited to) the squids that the Nebuchadnezzar crew know and love so dearly.
Morpheus also describes how humanity scorched the sky, creating darkness so that the machines couldn’t use solar energy as a power source. Subsequently, all future battle scenes in The Terminator and T2 are set in the pitch black. It wouldn’t make sense for the humans to wage war at night because they can’t see in the dark, so the only reason to fight in the darkness would be if there was no other choice.
Then we have the idea of separate, subordinate AIs. The Terminators, especially the T-1000, show that Skynet is capable of creating machines capable of reasoning, creating plans and carrying those plans out with a high level of efficiency, not unlike the agent programs hiding inside the Matrix. Similarly, both groups showcase superhuman speed and durability, as well as the ability to take on other forms. The Matrix Reloaded even shows us some defunct versions of the Agents, some of whom could shift through matter, meaning that the range of potential abilities in both the machines and the agents is basically limitless.
And the Wachowskis have pulled this kind of crap before. If you look at The Invisibles, a graphic novel by Grant Morrison, it becomes pretty clear that the siblings are fairly comfortable using other people’s ideas without giving credit. Given that the Wachowskis were alive in 1984 and that basically everyone in the world saw the Terminator, it’s fair to assume that the franchise had a least some influence on their later ideas.
Overall, when you watch the films together it becomes clear; it’s altogether possible, if not downright likely, that both franchises exist in the same universe. The Story began with Sarah Conners and the conception of the messiah and ends with Neo Anderson and the messiah’s sacrifice. The machines were in control the whole time.
Please Note: This article specifically excludes reference to any Terminator movie past Judgement Day (except Salvation in passing) or the TV show. They were all terrible.
Also Note: Okay, the Sarah Conner Chronicles was entertaining, but didn’t come close to stacking up against the OG films.