The science fiction film and technology go hand in hand as it is the function of the genre to represent technology. Its representation is often horrific and rarely for good, and this depiction is why I feel it is worth a discussion.
Before any examples are analysed, it is necessary to establish why these images and themes of technology as the enemy or as producing violence, actually exist in the first place. Ryan and Kellner’s (2004:48) notion of a conservative ideology explains this through placing the films in a political context of the time. Ryan and Kellner (2004:48) first note that ‘fantasy films concerning fears of machines or of technology usually negatively affirm such social values as freedom, individualism and the family.’ Therefore this provides the basis for an assumption that these films are concerned with conservative values in that they suggest that technology represents artifice as opposed to nature, the mechanical as opposed to the spontaneous, the regulated as opposed to the free. Therefore these conservative issues that arise in science fiction films of the 1980’s can be considered as a reflection of the Republican presidency and its ideologies that existed in American during this period. Therefore conservative film makers ‘used the motifs of technology and dystopia to project terrifying images of collectivisation and modernity.’ (Ryan and Kellner 2004:48). It is therefore clear that films that portray technology negatively or as horrific, are usually from a conservative perspective in an attempt to promote conservative ideologies over liberal concerns.
The notion of the Cyborg has populated many sci-fi films, and thus provides an ideal platform to start upon. Haraway (1991:149), provides a definition of the Cyborg, ‘a Cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism.’ This simple definition is the accepted description of a Cyborg and when manifested in films the Cyborg adheres to this definition in that it is machine and computer enclosed in human flesh and tissue, a hybrid. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) provides us with this image of the Cyborg. During the film The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) cuts the skin and muscle away from his metal exoskeleton revealing the machine inside him. This scene in itself is horrific as to get to the technology the audience is forced to watch a seemingly human character make cuts in his skin, drawing some blood and then pulling the flesh away. This visceral scene evokes a reaction in the audience as it is an example of body horror and penetration of the skin. This is compounded by the reaction shot of the horrified, screaming character of Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) in the film. As this is primarily geared to reveal technology, the director, Cameron in associating it with the visceral horror of blood, in turn depicts the Cyborg an example of technology as horrific. What makes this example more interesting is that even as a protagonist The Terminator is still a representation as technology as horrific. This compounds the notion that all technology good or bad is horrific in this example.
Redmond (2004:156) introduces the concept that there are two types of Cyborg. The first, the pathological Cyborg and the second, the humanist Cyborg. The first is initially the most interesting to consider for the purpose of this essay as it clears outlines technology as horrific. However the latter of the two, the humanist Cyborg, provides an interesting counter argument in the sense that Cyborgs are not all one track mind, ‘kill, kill, kill’ machines. In the form of the pathological Cyborg the hybrid technological organism is primarily the enemy of the human race. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) shows a clear depiction of this variant of Cyborg in the character T-1000 (Robert Patrick).
An example of the horror he creates as a manifestation of technology and as a pathological Cyborg is the characters obsession with heavy goods vehicles throughout the film, constantly using them as huge unstoppable battering rams. The film features two chase sequences, one early in the film when the T-1000 chases John Conor, the T-1000 uses a large truck here, and again towards the end as Sarah, John and the Terminator try to evade him. These two sequences work as visual metaphors for the notion of the pathological Cyborg. The notion of an unrelenting ‘invincible armoured Cyborg’ (Mizejewski 1999:156), fits with Redmond’s definition of the pathological Cyborg as ‘wanting to melt away its human simulacra to symbolically rid the earth (past, present and future)’ he goes on to note that ‘the pathological Cyborg wants nothing more than the complete genocide of the human race.’ The two aforementioned scenes mirror this as they show a Cyborg that will stop at nothing as he systematically ploughs through humans, cars and anything that is in his way, in the huge trucks to complete an objective. Technology is therefore horrific as it is a destroyer of humanity. Redmond (2004:157) concurs in noting that, ‘The Cyborg articulates the terror of letting too much technology into everyday life’. The Cyborg in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) is therefore, in both instances, the protagonist and the antagonist, an example of technology as horrific in the other worldly and unbeatable destroyer senses of the word.
As previously mentioned Redmond (2004:156) outlined two distinct types of Cyborg the pathological as demonstrated exist in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) , and the second type an example of which also exists in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) . This type is termed the humanist Cyborg. Redmond (2004:156) defines this variant as a Cyborg that ‘longs for human emotion and human attachment that will add existential meaning to its fragile outer shell.’ Although the words, emotion, attachment and fragile, don’t initially seem to fit with the Arnold Schwarzenegger version of the Cyborg, examples of this can be found.
The first and main example that can be drawn upon is the father figure role that The Terminator adapts through the course of the film. There are little moments of emotional connection between John and The Terminator, these occurrences involve the Terminator’s willingness to learn from John on a moral and emotional level. For example John gets The Terminator to agree to no civilian casualties, telling The Terminator ‘You just can’t go around killing people, you’re not a Terminator anymore.’ The Terminator accepts this just as he does John’s advice to smile. The film also shows the Terminator having his ‘switch’ reset so that he can think more and hence be more human. The Terminators desire to learn more human emotions and morals aligns him with some of the elements of the Humanist Cyborg, this is compounded by the role of the father figure that The Terminator adopts over the duration of the film. These humanistic elements are more like the character types of the Cyborgs or replicants as they are known, in Blade Runner. The relationship between humans and technology that has been highlight so far (oppositions of human/technology), is deconstructed as the humanist element of The Terminator, his father figure role, undercuts the notion nature (the human form) as an opposite to the negative or horrific technology. The humanist element of the Cyborg offers mediation between technology and human values. Therefore the notion of the Cyborg as an example of technology as horrific is somewhat problematic as the Cyborg is not all concerned with violence and destruction, but also with emotion and feeling.
I have not yet applied this to any other Cyborg films so whether it works across the board I couldn’t say. But what is certain is that technology like most other representations has two sides to it, yet more often than not we talk about technology as horrific.
Stay tuned for more Science Fiction later this month, Bodily Transgressions and Technology.