Women in Horror #4: Sarah Connor

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

For my fourth and final post on Women in Horror, I’m looking at the heroine of the TERMINATOR films. OK, maybe this is more science fiction than horror, but it’s a series that deals with horror themes. Machines take sentience and try to destroy the human race. The second film opens with apocalyptic scenes of a nuclear blast, an empty playground, machines crushing piles of human skulls in their wake. And it’s the second film I want to focus on, the film in which Sarah Connor becomes a kick-ass heroine.

Sarah Connor
sarahconnor
When we meet Sarah in the first TERMINATOR film, she’s an ordinary American young woman. She works as a waitress, she goes to college, she laments with her flat mate about not being to find Mr Right. And then her life changes when she learns a cybernetic entity from the future is hunting her down, and will not stop until she’s dead. The reason she’s being hunted is not for something she’s done, but something that will happen in the future. When the machines rise up to destroy humanity they almost succeed, but one man leads a band of human survivors to victory. That man, John Connor, is Sarah’s son – the son she hasn’t conceived yet.

Aided by the man that her son sent back in time to help save her – a man who turns out to be the father of her son, conceived the one and only time she sleeps with him (yes, let’s not dwell on that paradox too much lest our brains explode), Sarah manages to escape from the Arnold Schwarzenegger-shaped cyborg, though her rescuer is killed in the process. The end of the film shows her alone and pregnant, driving through Mexico, knowing the Hell of the future that is to come and burdened with the knowledge that the unborn child she carries is the last hope for humanity. That’s got to change a person.

It’s the second film in which Sarah becomes a lean mean fighting machine. Eleven years have passed. Her son John is a hellion, placed in foster care because Sarah has been sectioned. Caught trying to blow up an electronics factory and ranting about the machines that were going to destroy humanity, she was deemed to be mad and locked up in an institution. In her first scene in T2, she is doing arm lifts on bars in her cell room, bulging biceps clearly on show and wearing the expression of a woman who is completely sane and in control of her faculties. Linda Hamilton took her role as Sarah Connor seriously, engaging in a gruelling workout routine before the second film, to demonstrate the hardcore survivor that Sarah had become in the years since the first film. Eventually breaking out of the mental institution with the help of her son and the Arnold Schwarzenegger cyborg who’s now a Good Guy – the cybernetic assassin from the future who’s been sent back to kill John Connor as a child is even more devastating and unstoppable than the first one was – Sarah goes after the electronics engineer who will develop the computer chip that will directly lead to computers gaining sentience – the cataclysm that marks the beginning of the end for humanity. On the way we learn just how tough this woman has become. She has all manner of contacts around the country, stashing weapons and supplies with all of them. And her only motive is to do what it takes to survive – long enough to raise her son to adulthood and ensure he grows into the man who will save humanity. Sarah Connor is a self-taught bad ass. Once she came to terms with her fate (can’t be easy finding out just when and how the world will end, and that you’re going to survive to suffer the aftermath), she set out to learn the skills she would need to survive.

John Connor is presented as the most important human ever to live, because he’s the leader of the human survivors and he takes them into victory. But John would not have become the man he does without Sarah – so in one sense, she’s the most important human in the world. She’s the one that saves humanity, because she turns John into the leader he needs to be.

As far as female role models go, you don’t get much better than that.

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2 comments so far

  1. Diane Dooley on

    Linda Hamilton blew my mind in T2. She was fantastic!

  2. Sealey on

    “She’s the one that saves humanity, because she turns John into the leader he needs to be.” Ah, the oldie, but goodie: “behind every great man there is a great woman”. 😉 Taken out of context, it’s something that I get kinda irked about. It doesn’t FEEL like a compliment because the woman is still BEHIND the man. But when you look at in something like this–where the woman is very clearly portrayed as a bad-ass…it’s almost more like an inside joke. An elbow to the ribcage, you know? It’s been AGES since I’ve seen the movies. I totally want to go back and revisit.


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