Having just watched the first two terminator movies for the first time, this post makes me think about the weird kinds of simultaneity those movies are invested in: in the first, the son sends his own father back into the past to prevent his being killed before he’s even born and also to conceive him, and in the second, the machine that was invented to kill John Connor is sent into the past, eventually, to destroy the machine that invented him, a machine which it turns out was actually built out of him.

There’s something so bizarrely tautological about these experiences of time, a really interesting combination of simultaneity and linear (since the paradox of simultaneity can only be expressed by recourse to linear terms?), but what I really love about it is Cameron’s disinclination to play “Back to the Future” games with the temporal sequence; whereas BttF tries very hard to make it seem like there’s only one sequence (and changes in the past have more or less instant consequences in the “present”) the whole point of the terminator movies seems to be the incoherance of the nuclear age’s machine messianism, a simultaneity of all times that isn’t merely always present but is also never going to happen, and our heroine gets the message that “there is no future” from the future, in the hands of a person sent to save her from a future that, if it doesn’t happen can’t provide the seeds for its own not happening.

This is why leavening “judgement day” messianism with a quasi Donna Haraway-ist message (in which the machine is what makes us human, even though our humanity is defined by not being machines) seems to be exactly the point. While your Back to the Future wants to domesticate time, regulate it, and make it make sense, here the point of it is that tthe very terms we use to understand it fall apart if we try to make them make sense. They are self-consuming artifact, terminators, if you will…

Another reading would be that the movie evokes messianic time in the first movie because it was made at a time when it was morning in the American cold war — hell, it was actually 1984 when the film was released — so black could be white in a very particular and patriotic sense. But the second movie is definitely on the cusp of nuclear messianism being shunted off stage in favor of something else, perhaps a kind of postmodern soft city-ism which can only be defended against by learning to love the machine again. But how on earth do you historicize a movie about the incoherence of temporality?

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