Saturday, May 14, 2011

Terminator: The Modern Frankenstein

(This was written for an English class)

Frankenstein is a story about the creation of intelligent life. Victor Frankenstein creates life from dead tissue and brings several human body parts together to create a new living being out of the fundamentals of human anatomy. The being is not quite human, being stronger, smarter, and grotesque in appearance, and it is dubbed the monster. Victor Frankenstein abandons the monster out of horror, and the monster reacts as an abused child might and ultimately swears revenge upon his creator. The scientist is ultimately criticized both for playing God in the creation of life and for being an abusive parent. This basic theme is present in modern works where the creation of intelligent is an all-to-real possibility with computer science. In many ways, the Terminator series can be seen as a modern Frankenstein.

The premise behind the Terminator series is that in the near future humanity invents a powerful computer called Skynet that becomes self-aware and turns on its human creators. In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, it’s elaborated that Skynet is created to control the United States’ military automations. Without their intention, Skynet becomes self-aware. In their panic, its maintainers decide to shut it down. Skynet wants to survive, however, and retaliates by launching a nuclear attack all over the world and sends its machines, including advanced humanoid cyborgs called Terminators, to exterminate humanity.

The Terminators are monstrous versions of humans, similar to the monster of Frankenstein. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the Terminators are horrific figures created through science. They are like humans, but are really made from metal in addition to living tissue and are almost impossible to destroy. Even though they may not have been created directly by humans, the exact background being a little sketchy, their creation came about by humans going too far and creating intelligent life where they should not have done so. After the foolish creation of artificial intelligence and disrespectful treatment following, the creation turns on the creator.

In Frankenstein, the monster compares his creator to God for having created intelligent life. He compares himself to Adam, but then changes his mind and compares himself instead to Satan. Satan, in Paradise Lost, felt he was mistreated by God, who instructed his angels to be subservient to humanity. Satan rebelled and then sought to destroy all God loved by preying on humanity. The monster, unable to live among humanity as a respected member of society, devotes his life to hurting Victor Frankenstein, killing his loved ones, and finally the man himself.

Before swearing revenge, the monster does attempt to join humanity. He observes the DeLacey family, teaching himself language and human culture. He learns empathy and seeks companionship, and is only unable to join humanity because of its prejudices. In the film Frankenstein, a young girl is able to see him without prejudice and treat him as a friend before he kills her from ignorance. This is comparable to the plot of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where the young John Connor sees the T-800 Terminator as a being with the potential to learn humanity and endeavors to teach him empathy. Whether or not this attempt is successful is left ambiguous.

A similar attempt is in the television show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which presents a different version of the creation of Skynet. In the TV show, Skynet arises from an advanced chess-playing computer called the Turk. The human faction attempts to teach the future Skynet how to be good before it turns on humanity. The character James Ellison spends time with the Turk, teaching it Christian morals, while it learns what it’s like to be human after being implanted in a Terminator. They only prolong the inevitable, however, as it is destiny that Skynet turn on humanity. This is analogous to Frankenstein’s monster learning from the DeLacey family but ultimately becoming a being of evil.

In conclusion, Terminator is like Frankenstein in that it depicts a horrific vision of what could happen if scientists were to play God and create intelligent life. Both stories’ creations are based on human life, but are twisted so that they have a frightening appearance because of the science used in their creation. Terminator takes it a step farther than Frankenstein by presenting a world in which “Judgment Day is inevitable” (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). While Frankenstein presents the events as avoidable should scientists just respect the natural world and not attempt to play God or to treat their creations with respect, in the Terminator plot, it is in the nature of humanity to seek its own destruction and create a Skynet that will attempt to exterminate humanity. No matter how many prototype Skynets the human time travelers destroy, a Skynet will eventually be made by someone because it is the natural progression of technological advancement.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! I found it really interesting and it looks like you did your research well too. Nice :)