Making a Case for “The Terminator” as a Christmas Movie

terminator_ver4This would have made more sense to post a few weeks ago, but I didn’t have the conversation that inspired this until Christmas Day and work got in the way. Let’s just call this early for Christmas 2014.

There’s a growing movement that considers “Die Hard” to be a Christmas movie, and I understand that completely. It takes place during Christmas, for one thing. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is referenced heavily in the score, and that’s a staple of Christmas church services in Europe. And it devotes a subplot to John McClain’s attempts to reconcile with his family, so it even covers “Christmas is all about being with family.” Obviously, there’s room for debate on this, your mileage may vary, etc.

For example, my wife refuses to consider “Die Hard” a Christmas movie. Just because it takes place during Christmas doesn’t make it a Christmas movie, she says, and that’s fair. She says a true Christmas movie should be about Christmas, whether it’s about the actual birth of Jesus or about the celebration of Christmas in some way. Simply including Christmas in the background doesn’t equal Christmas movie, or else all the movies Shane Black has ever made have to be considered Christmas movies. “Die Hard,” she says, only takes place on Christmas Eve, and nothing that happens in the movie has anything to do with Christmas in anything more that a superficial way. (I’d argue that by that measure, “Holiday Inn” and “White Christmas” both have as much to do with the actual holiday as “Gremlins” does, but whatever.)

The “Die Hard” question got me thinking – what’s the strangest movie that could fit my wife’s definition of a Christmas movie? Is there a movie out there that’s closer to “Die Hard” than “A Christmas Story” that would still be about Christmas in a way “Die Hard” isn’t? What if that movie didn’t even reference Christmas at all? Is there a movie where there’s no snow, no Santa, no jingle bells on the soundtrack – but comes closer to being a Christmas story than most so-called Christmas movies? Yes, Virginia, there is such a movie. It’s “The Terminator.” Here’s why one of the best sci-fi thrillers of all time can also qualify as a re-telling of the Nativity story. Lights, please?

The Virgin Mary is visited by an angel who informs her she will bear the son of God, who will redeem mankind’s sins. Sarah Connor is visited by a soldier from the future who tells her she will give birth to the savior of the human race. (It might be a coincidence that John Connor and Jesus Christ have the same initials, but it fits this idea pretty well, anyway.)

The man who gives Sarah this information was sent to her by her son from the future, but it’s only because Skynet has sent a Terminator into the past first. While he’s in the present, he and Sarah conceive the child that will be John Connor. Later, in “Terminator 2,” it’s revealed that the only reason Skynet exists is because Cyberdyne Systems reverse-engineered it from the bits of the original Terminator that stalked Sarah.

The movie’s time-travel logic seems pretty simple on its face: Do this, prevent that from happening. Save Sarah Connor, prevent extinction. Kill Sarah Connor, prevent salvation. However, John Connor wouldn’t be born if Skynet didn’t send the Terminator into the past with Reese following it. The Terminator was created by Skynet, but Skynet was created from the Terminator. And, of course, neither Skynet nor the Terminator would have existed without John Connor being born, because going back in time to kill John Connor and leaving parts behind is how Skynet was built in the first place. They’re separate entities that are entirely dependent on each other – a trinity. The existence of all three is a divine occurrence in the sense that it couldn’t have happened by earthly means. Which came first, the chicken or the apocalypse?

Also, it’s important to remember that Kyle Reese is John Connor’s father – a man who isn’t even born yet when Sarah meets him and who never returns to a future that may or may not happen. He and Sarah only meet because of time travel – Kyle Reese is not supposed to be in 1984. For all intents and purposes, he doesn’t exist when he meets Sarah. So, if Sarah is impregnated by a man who exists only through “divine” means, doesn’t that make John Connor an immaculate conception?

If you’re talking about movies that are really about Christmas, there aren’t many that come this close to capturing the true meaning of the holiday. Yes, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is uplifting and “Miracle on 34th Street” is joyous and “Jingle All The Way” has Schwarzenegger in a jetpack. But “The Terminator” is a story about how the birth of one child will mean the salvation of all mankind in the face of divine wrath – a child born to a simple woman, conceived through unearthly means, and eventually leading the human race to a new age. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. Come with me if you want to live.

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