At the movies · Catchphrases

“A real Terminator wouldn’t do that”

Suspension of disbelief is a crucial part of reading fiction and watching movies. You can refuse to believe everything that is portrayed in any work of fiction because it is all, literally, made up. But we suspend disbelief. We get into the story and read on, as if it really happened, or could have happened. We see a bunch of cartoon cats singing “Everybody wants to be a cat” and none of us says, “Well, that’s never going to happen. Cats? Playing piano, and singing? Never going to happen”.

The original “Terminator” movie was the kind of thing I watched in the early days of having a VCR, along with “Trancers”, a similarly-themed (and lower-budget) movie about time travel. I didn’t see “Terminator 2” until ten years or more after its original release (and saw it on DVD rather than VHS), and was reminded of my brother’s experience of watching it with his wife at the cinema. All sorts of factually incorrect stuff happens, inevitably. There is no such thing as time travel. There was no possibility of a Terminator returning from the 21st century to 1990s California. There is no such thing as a Terminator. But most of us who have seen these movies accept all that and enjoy them anyway.

Towards the end of that second movie, when the Terminator is just a metal skeleton, our hero goes to blast the time-travelling baddie with a heavy-duty firearm. But there’s no ammunition. The Terminator skeleton wags an index finger left and right, shakes its head and makes a “tch-tch-tch” tutting noise. At this point, after sitting through all of the scarcely believable (and completely fictional) stuff that had preceded it my brother’s wife tutted too, turned to my brother and said, “A real Terminator wouldn’t do that”. It’s become one of our favourite catchphrases when watching movies and shows just how far we can go when suspending our disbelief.

Something similar happened when we were watching the Disney cartoon of “Robin Hood” many years ago. One of the characters is wearing a watch, and a member of my family commented, “That’s not right, is it? They didn’t have watches in those days, did they?” As if it mattered. This was a film in which Robin Hood is portrayed as a fox, Sir Hiss (not a real historical figure) is a snake and Little John appears as a bear. If they’re taking those kind of liberties we needn’t worry too much about whether wrist-watches were available in Robin Hood’s time.



One thought on ““A real Terminator wouldn’t do that”

  1. I have a lot of sympathy with your sister-in-law’s view that a real terminator wouldn’t do that. My problem is with the anthropomorphising of the Terminator. I doubt a killing robot would be programmed with the very human characteristic of smugness, but as you say it is all make-believe…for now. Having said that if we’re getting hypothetical a learning robot such as a terminator could begin to learn human characteristics, in fact it could be programmed to do so to enable it to conceal itself in human society. I think I’m talking myself out of my original position… maybe a terminator would do that, not consciously but as a gesture it had learned from being around humans.

    I can remember watching Jurassic Park at the cinema in 1992, I think, and feeling the same way as your sister-in-law about the scene where the little girl locks the doors using the UNIX terminal. Before writing this I decided to watch the clip again, Here it is, At the time I found it ridiculous but it doesn’t look so bad now. What I find more ridiculous this time is the way Sam Neill and Laura Dern can hold the door closed against a dinosaur, especially after it has managed to get its claws around the door.

    Perhaps people are willing to suspend disbelief as long as the make believe universe we’re entering is consistent with itself.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s