Terminator: Genesis: A Biblical Analysis of the Next Terminator Movie’s Title

When I heard that the new Terminator movie’s working title was Terminator: Genesis, I was unimpressed. It seemed like a lazy way of accomplishing multiple objectives at the same time:

  1. Invoke Biblical language in the same way that Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Terminator: Salvation did.
  2. Remind people that this a clean-slate reboot of the franchise.
  3. Give me an excuse to make the following lame sight gag:
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Terminator Genesis! Get it? GET IT?

(Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let’s get down to the actual analysis.)

Since the announcement, I’ve had time to properly Overthink this and get over my instinctually negative reactions to any news about a new Terminator movie. Now, I’m more inclined to call it “puzzling,” not “lazy.” Genesis is a far from obvious way to invoke the Bible when it comes to Terminator, and I’m left scratching my head trying to figure out how this movie will invoke the Book of Genesis.

Before we speculate on Terminator: Genesis, though, I should explain why invoking the Bible is an important part of the Terminator franchise. In a previous post, I described at length how Terminator 2 embodies the idea of poetic authority, in that it strives to supplant, support, sustain or otherwise build upon the role of Scripture as a literary operation. Terminator 2 imitates the relationship between the poetic language of The Bible and the Authority it implies in order to imbue itself with a feeling of importance and meaning.  The subtitle of the movie itself–Judgment Day–is an obvious example of this. It ties Skynet’s nuclear holocaust to the Biblical ideas of apocalypse and God’s punishment of mankind’s sins. It goes on from there to touch on less obvious Biblical themes such as revelation, conversion, and the giving of commandments.

"Thou shalt not terminate." Exodus 20:13

“Thou shalt not terminate.” Exodus 20:13

As for Terminator: Salvation, there are not one, but two, Christ-like acts of dying to save others.

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It doesn’t work nearly as well as it does in Terminator 2, but the intent is the same: both movies are tapping into the poetic authority of the Bible to imbue themselves with meaning.

And that’s presumably what Terminator: Genesis is trying to do with its title. But how exactly? It’s tricky to figure out what ideas this new Terminator movie will take from the Book of Genesis, which is packed with a lot of familiar Bible stories that cover a lot of different themes. We’re most familiar with the story of Creation, followed by the Fall of Man, but a lot happens within this book after that: Noah and the Flood, the Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham receiving the covenant of God, and Joseph’s betrayal at the hands of his brothers, just to name a few. In Genesis, the Lord giveth (Eden, Abraham’s Covenant), and the Lord taketh away (the banishment from Eden, the Flood, the destruction of the Tower of Babel).

fall

Now, just because the movie is named Genesis doesn’t mean that the movie has to follow all of the beats in the Book of Genesis to a T in order to meet some sort of Biblio-Terminator standard of excellence. No such standard exists; Terminator 2 does a lot of things well, due in no small part to its poetic authority, but faithfully telling the story of the Book of Revelation is not one of them.

Likewise, Terminator: Genesis isn’t likely to draw upon all of the Book of Genesis, but it’s a safe bet that it will try to evoke the Creation and Fall stories, since they’re so strongly associated with Genesis. And here’s the problem: whose Genesis–i.e., beginning–are we talking about here? The most obvious answer seems to be Skynet, since its birth is central to the Terminator story (as we’ve come to know it). But if Skynet is the object of Creation, then who is the Creator? Mankind, broadly speaking? Miles Benedict Dyson, or the equivalent singular inventor who is most responsible for Skynet’s existence? Either way, this creates a major problem: if humans are the Creator and Skynet is the Created, then does Skynet undergo the Fall? I suppose it would be an interesting twist to tell the story more from Skynet’s perspective; in fact, the idea of eating from the Tree of Knowledge corresponds nicely with that of Skynet achieving self-awareness. But Adam and Eve, in spite of their sin, are meant to stand in for humanity fallen from grace, not the forces of evil that seek humanity’s demise. And God is the Freaking Almighty, not a scruffy, desperate resistance fighter one step away from getting mowed down by cyborg laser fire.

I realize that Judgment Day as it’s described in Revelation isn’t the perfect biblical jumping-off point for the war against the machines either. There’s a finality to the Biblical Judgment Day that precludes further conflict between good in evil. But at a basic level, it does make sense, in that mankind is punished mightily for all of its misdeeds. The Creation and Fall stories lack even that basic ability to be mapped to Terminator, and for this reason I described the decision to name this movie Terminator Genesis “puzzling.”

There is, however, one way to make sense of this title. The Book of Genesis is by and large about the beauty of God’s creation and man’s tragic, selfish, repeated rejection of it. If you consider The Terminator and Terminator 2 as emblematic of the beauty of God’s creation (and I do), and the studios’ tragic, selfish, repeated attempts to make sequels as emblematic of man’s tragic, selfish, repeated rejection of His creation (and I do), then it all starts to make sense.

CREATION

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“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

PARADISE

I know now why you cry - Terminator 2

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

THE FALL

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“So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.”

THE FLOOD

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“So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.'”

THE TOWER OF BABEL

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“So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.”

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