Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for The Terminator and Time Travel

Time travel is one of the most fascinating and widely explored themes in science fiction. But more to the point, it’s one of the most theorized subjects in the scientific field. For years the likelihood, rules, and shortcomings of time travel have instigated numerous debates, and while many agree that trekking forward seems reasonable, theories on backward time travel are mere conjecture at best. And yet speculation – and interest – continues to grow at a substantial rate.

There are more theories than can possibly be discussed in one short blog, so I’m going to focus on one I find particularly interesting: the Grandfather Paradox.

The Grandfather Paradox (which Rene Barjavel first described in his 1943 novel, Le Voyageur Imprudent), is based on one of the most debated hypothetical situations of backward time travel – what would happen if a traveler went back in time and attempted to kill their grandfather, preventing the traveler’s parent from ever being born, and by extension, the time traveler themselves? Some argue that the very possibility of this occurring means that going backward simply isn’t possible. Others state that it is possible to go back, but the past cannot be changed (unless, of course, there are “alternate/parallel universes”, but that’s a subject for another day). It is this second theory that science fiction writers often put to good use . . . like James Cameron's The Terminator.

Let me begin my saying that The Terminator is my all time favorite movie. Some of you might have noticed that I’ve been somewhat liberal with the term “favorite” over the course of this A-Z Challenge – possibly because I have many, many favorite books and movies. However, The Terminator ranks at the very top of the list. It has absolutely no equal.

But back to my original point. For those of you who’ve never seen it – first off, go watch it. Immediately. Secondly, the premise of the film revolves around an impending future where terminators (aka. machines) have become self aware and declared war on mankind. Their totally annihilation of the human race is prevented by one man, John Connor, who leads the resistance against them. The machines decide to send a terminator back in time to kill his mother, Sarah Connor, and prevent his from ever being conceived. In response, John sends back his own soldier – Kyle Reese – to protect her.

Major spoilers ahead: Now, if the terminator had managed to kill Sarah, it would fly directly in the face of the Grandfather Paradox. Instead, she survives and conceives her son with Kyle, following in the footsteps that the future already set in motion (as Barjavel stipulated). Furthermore, this acts as a Predestination Paradox – where a time traveler becomes caught in a loop that predestines them to travel back in time in order to fulfill their role in history (like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry saves himself from the Dementors with the use of the time-turner). 


Continued spoilers: For the record, it's the addition of the photograph that makes this my favorite film. I find it incredibly lovely – and tragic  that Kyle stares at the picture of Sarah, wondering why she looks so sad, only for the viewer to later realize that it's capturing her grief at his death. It's such an elegant catalyst for the movie's plot. And though I think Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the best action films ever made (and perhaps my second favorite sci-fi movie), I love its predecessor more for its devotion to these small, but rich, details, and perfect demonstration of time-travel paradoxes. 
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This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.

30 comments:

  1. Terminator is a great movie, no doubt.
    Time travel is one of my favorite concepts. The paradoxes are fun to try to trace through, but I'm mostly leaning toward the alternate time-line model, where any change just spawns off another universe, and so, no paradox since each person has their own time line that can be followed and moved along, even if it doesn't remain within their original universe.

    Fun stuff!

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    1. Fun comic: http://xkcd.com/1046/

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    2. I LOVE xkcd. It's one of my favorite websites. And you're right. That one is hilarious!

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  2. I agree with the Ferret above. If backwards Time Travel was possible I'd think it would only make sense if an alternate timeline was introduced... as explained in Back to the Future pt II.

    The Terminator was my favorite movie for a very long time as well. I've seen it so much now I can't say I enjoy it more or less than anything, it's like saying breathing is my favorite thing to do. Sure, if I didn't breathe I'd die, but that doesn't mean I actively enjoy the process. It's just part of the background of my life.

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  3. The paradoxes hurt my brain, so I try not to think about them and just enjoy. :) I love the Terminator movies.

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  4. Fascinating post. I think I prefer T2 myself, but I take your point. They're both great.

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  5. LOVE Terminator...

    Have you ever read "Lightning" by Dean Koontz?....fun time travel stuff there...would make a GREAT movie...

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    1. I SO agree. I've always hoped they'd make it into a movie. Always.

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  6. Terminator was on my brain today because of the T post! I knew you were going to do it. Awesome!

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  7. It was a brilliant plot structure. I love anything with time travel. In fact, one of my novels features time travel. Great post!

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  8. The Terminator is a great film. It took me entirely too long to watch it but I'm glad I did.

    Time travel is an interesting concept. I love stories that make use of it.

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  9. Laughing Ferret – I agree. I think it makes more sense that there would be alternate timelines. But I love how consistent the first Terminator movie is (though of course T2 is not).

    Rusty – Yeah, I’d have to say that pretty much sums up my thoughts about Terminator. I have to watch it like I need to breathe. It’s the reason I love sci-fi, which is ALSO as important as breath to me.

    Brinda – Oh yeah. The time travel paradoxes occasionally make my brain want to explode.

    Simon – It’s a really close call for me. Maybe I’ll just group them together and say Cameron’s Terminator series (which of course excludes the terrible T3, tv show, and the great action movie but terrible follow up to the Terminator franchise T4) is my all time favorite.

    Mina – I just couldn’t do anything else :) It was the first A-Z topic I decided on.

    Julie – I do too. It’s such a fascinating concept.

    MJ – I personally believe that it should be required viewing. For everyone.

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  10. I loved the time loop. I had to read it a few times to make sure I grasped it the first time around. Kind of makes your head spin.

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  11. I really enjoyed reading this post. Time travel is a great plot device when used well. The Terminator and Harry and the Prisoner of Azkaban are excellent examples. I am one of the few people who actually liked Terminator: Salvation, if only because I felt it moved the franchise forward in a meaningful way (when compare to Terminator 3 that is).

    Thanks for dropping by at my blog by the way. :)

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  12. You had me at time travel. Which I also wrote about today. Kind of.

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  13. I didn't enjoy 2, but it wasn't because I didn't enjoy it; it was because I couldn't stand the actor playing John. So, so horrible (as evidenced by his inability to continue acting after that movie).
    I'm assuming you watched The Sarah Connor Chronicles?

    You should read Timescape.

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  14. Have you read Stephen King's newest book, where the character goes back in time to try and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing Kennedy? A lot of the time travel stuff went over my head (as usual) but the signature great SK characters are there (also, as usual!)

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  15. Hi
    You may like the novel I'm reading right now then. It's Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey. Hard to describe but check it out on amazon. It's hardcore kicka*s and brilliant. BTW, I'm over from A to Z. Stop by my blog if you like! Catherine

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  16. Interesting blog you have here! I enjoy some time travel movies.. some are more 'believable' than others! Thanks for popping by my blog!

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  17. Terminator FTW! So there's a new one on the way, right? Because the film franchise hasn't been done to death already.

    But maybe it's time to rewatch the original.

    Erin

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  18. Both Terminator movies are among my favorites!
    Since we knew there was a closed time loop for the first one, we should've guessed that the ending of the second movie would not take the story out of that loop. (Yes, I did enjoy the third one. Fourth one - I just pretend it never happened.)

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  19. Love time travel movies and shows! Some of the Star Trek episodes involving time paradoxes are so much fun!

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  20. I've only seen the second one! I know, that's totally awful of me.

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  21. I don't think I could ever write a book about time travel. It's so complicated! I do really love Terminator, though. And I love the fact that it also got Arnold the title Governator. :)

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  22. I do love both terminator movies, but you are right about the attention to the details in the first one. I love pretty much all time travel stories.

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  23. Terminator one - greatest love story ever told. Kyle's best lines: "John gave me a picture of you once. It was old, faded... you were young like you are now. You looked a little sad. I always wondered what you were thinking at that moment...I came across time for you, Sarah..." I'm not sure there will ever be another movie moment this moving. (Also, as to the time travel theories, Kyle summed it up pretty well when he simply said, "I don't understand tech stuff.")

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  24. Love Terminator! It is so classic. ;)

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  25. Time travel is such a fascinating concept! Personally I'm a bigger fan of the close time loop/time paradoxes than the alternate timelines theory. (Which is why the Back to the Future trilogy didn't impress me, haha.)

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  26. I think it is time for me to go watch that movie again. I saw it when it came out, but we know how long ago THAT was. How convenient for me that I happen to be sitting at my desk at the library, and have access to all of this wonderful movies. *wanders off to order Terminator*

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