Technological Madness: “Terminator” and Transcendentalism

I know, it seems incredibly outlandish for me to relate Transcendentalism to The Terminator film franchise, but what the heck, I’m gonna go for it!

Transcendentalism says that technology is bad, and only cause more problems for society.  It ends up running us, and not the other way around.

That is basically the plot for all of the Terminator movies, so I have no idea how that ties into Transcendentalism whatsoever.  (Just kidding, it actually does relate.)

In this post, I will be diving down into Cyberdyne and Skynet, and I’ll be finding a way to weave Transcendentalism through the original film, Judgment Day, and Rise of the Machines.  (I’m not counting Salvation because Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t in it, and I just flat-out didn’t like it.)

In the original 1984 film, titled The Terminator, a cyborg sent from the year 2029 (portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger) hunts down his target named Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton.)  As The Terminator is about to execute Connor, a man named Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) steps in for her protection and helps her forge an escape.  He explains to Sarah that he comes from the future where an intelligence network, Skynet, has initiated a nuclear holocaust of mankind.  He tells her that only her unborn son, John Connor, can save the resistance from the machines, and that in order to keep that hope alive, he must keep her alive.  This ties into Transcendentalism because technology ends up running society, just as Skynet ends up running the entire post-apocalyptic world.


In the 1991 sequel film, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah Connor now is an inmate of an insane asylum, and John Connor (Edward Furlong), 11, lives with his foster-parents.  Skynet sends a T-1000 from the future (portrayed by Robert Patrick) to Connor and end the resistance once and for all.  But meanwhile, the future John Connor sends a reprogrammed T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to protect his younger self.  After breaking Sarah out of the asylum, The Terminator and John Connor learn the identity of the creator of Skynet, who is an employee for Cyberdyne Systems, and must deter him from making Skynet self-aware.  This ties into Transcendentalism because the technology that Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) creates is bad, and in the end, it ends up running society.  Dyson sacrifices himself to destroy his research, and The Terminator sacrifices himself in the end so that his technology cannot be used to recreate Skynet.  The Transcendentalist influence here is that technology must be carefully watched, so it does not take over our everyday lives.

In the 2003 sequel, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, John Connor (portrayed by Nick Stahl) is a grown man living off-the-grid in LA.  Although the technology of Skynet was destroyed, he still believes that the future war between the Resistance and Skynet has not been thwarted.  Skynet sends from the future a model T-X (Kristianna Loken) to kill Connor’s future lieutenants of the Resistance, since Connor cannot be found.  But the Resistance sends a reprogrammed T-850 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to protect the T-X’s targets.  After Cyberdyne Systems was destroyed in the previous film, the United States Air Force took over the production of Skynet, and is led by Lieutenant General Robert Brewster.   Skynet becomes fully aware and takes over many machines to ultimately kill John Connor, and to destroy the human world.  But The Terminator defeats the T-X, and sacrifices himself for Connor’s safety.  This film ties into the philosophy of Transcendentalism due to the technology of Skynet.  Technology is harmful to others in the eyes of Transcendentalists, and Skynet represents how technology can make us lose sight of what is important in life.

I know it’s very far-fetched and completely repetitive, but the ongoing message of Transcendentalism in the Terminator film series is to not let technological devices run our lives, because if we do, the end result could be catastrophic.




Transcendental Foes: Villains in “The Dark Knight Trilogy”


“The Dark Knight Trilogy,” co-written and directed by masterful filmmaker Christopher Nolan, is a brilliant achievement in comic book films, but also a large step in the development of Transcendentalism through popular culture.

Who would have thought that the Caped Crusader could have valuable ties to a philosophy involving Thoreau and Emerson?

But it’s true.  Not for Batman himself though, but the foes that he butts heads with throughout the trilogy exhibit Transcendental traits that help form the basis for their characters.


In the origin film of the trilogy, Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne/Batman (portrayed by Christian Bale) faces off against a villain named Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson), who intends to terrorize Gotham City using a microwave omitter.  Ra’s’ character preaches about restoring balance to the world by ridding of it’s corruption.  This ties into Transcendentalism because Ra’s believes that the source of corruption is society, and that to become whole again as a city of justice, the city must be torn down and rebuilt.  Ra’s thinks that his instincts and decisions are righteous because in his mind, these actions must be committed.  But the fault in Ra’s al Ghul’s master plan is that he believes his actions are right, because others, like Batman, believe that society has corrupted him, and they want to stop him so his corruption does not kill their individuality.

Liam Neeson in Batman Begins

In the thrilling 2008 sequel, The Dark Knight, Batman must face his internal struggles as he battles his deadly and chaotic nemisis known as The Joker (portrayed by Heath Ledger.)  The Joker lives in a world built around chaos, and is completely opposed to materialism.  This is where Transcendentalism plays it’s part.  The Joker makes a deal with the mob in the beginning of the film, agreeing to take half of the pay where the job is concerned.  But while he slides down from atop his pile of money, he tells The Chechen that this is his city and burns all of the money, since he strives for chaos, not materialism.  The character of The Joker traces back to the philosophy of Transcendentalism because he believes that money causes people to place artificial and false value on certain objects.


Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight

Set eight years after the events of it’s predecessor, The Dark Knight Rises stands as an epic conclusion to the trilogy.  After Bruce Wayne/Batman assumes responsibilility for the crimes and death of District Attorney Harvey Dent (portrayed in the previous film by Aaron Eckhart), he lives in hiding as a recluse in the rebuilt Wayne Manor.  Now, with Gotham at it’s most peaceful point in years, the city has turned it’s back on Batman.  But when terror strikes at the heart of Gotham with a more skilled and powerful mastermind known as Bane (Tom Hardy,) Batman must don his cape and his cowl once again to save his city from this monstrous foe.  Bane reveals that his intentions are to fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny from the first film, and to ultimately destroy Gotham City.  Bane’s intentions relate to Transcendentalism in two ways.  One way, just like Ra’s al Ghul in the first film, shows that he believes that society has corrupted the citizens of Gotham, and that his decisions are righteous in his mind.  The second way, like The Joker in the second film, shows how he despises the materialism in the city of Gotham, and that striving for material gain only corrupts the city and must make the city start over again.  Once again, the fault in Bane’s master plan is believing that what he is doing is right, since Batman fights for the individuality and freedom of the city.


Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises

Quentin Tarantino: Non-Conformity 101

There are many filmmakers in Hollywood, and many have the same style, the same techniques, and even the same type of films.

But not Quentin Tarantino.

Quentin Tarantino is the king of non-conformity when it comes to feature films, and in my opinion is one of, if not the, most unique filmmaker of our time.  Tarantino uses different techniques throughout his movies, including non-linear storylines, mixed with neo-noir characteristics, homages to Hong-Kong martial-arts films, spaghetti westerns, and blaxploitation films; and of course, the over-indulgence of violence.

But due to his non-conformity to standards of regular filmmakers, his films also exhibit certain aspects of the philosophy of Transcendentalism.  In his Oscar-winning neo-noir classic, Pulp Fiction, Tarantino displays Transcendentalism through the character of Jules Winnfield (portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson.)  Along with his partner-in-crime Vincent Vega (John Travolta), Winnfield is a hit-man, who in the wake of a mysterious yet eye-opening miracle, is forced to rethink his lifestyle.  Before Winnfield kills his targets, he recites a Bible passage about the tyranny of evil men as opposed to the weariness of the weak, yet he never really thinks about it’s meaning until a scene where the diner he is eating at is being robbed.  He pulls a gun on the robber and forces him to sit down, and then he recites the Bible passage.  But this time he takes some thought as to what he says, and believes that maybe the both of them, the robber and himself, are the weary and the weak, and that society is evil.  Winnfield’s observations here tie back into Transcendentalism, since the philosophy heavily deals with society corrupting the individual.  Winnfield’s character does not need customs or values because society’s corruption kills his individuality.

Also, in Tarantino’s fictional war film, Inglourious Basterds, Lt. Aldo Raine (portrayed by Brad Pitt) and his posse of Jewish-American soldiers organize a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and the hierarchy of Nazi leadership. Hitler’s oppression against the Jewish population is used by Tarantino as the symbol of society’s corruption. Since Transcendentalism wraps back around to the idea that Hitler is an oppressor of the Jews and wants conformity; Tarantino’s story shows that society misguides men, women, and children in many ways, which somehow includes a ruthless demagogue like Hitler. So in a way, Lt. Raine’s quest for vengeance can be thought of as a Transcendental journey in which he fights for the individuality of a population.

Finally, in Quentin Tarantino’s latest work, Django Unchained, Transcendentalism is exhibited through the character of Dr. King Schultz (portrayed by Christoph Waltz.) Set in the Deep South during the year 1858, Schultz is a bounty hunter that hires a slave he frees named Django (Jamie Foxx) to continue in helping him with his line of work. The two of them head out to Mississippi to rescue Django’s wife from ruthless plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio,) but things start to spiral out of control when Candie realizes Django and Schultz’s true intentions. While sitting in a chair at the plantation, waiting to complete the transaction to purchase Django’s wife, Schultz begins to have second thoughts. He has images of Candie’s brutal treatment of slaves flash into his head over and over again, and his intuition is telling him to leave the plantation as soon as he can. This moment is where Transcendentalism comes into the equation. Transcendentalism tells us that our intuition and natural instincts guide us to do the right things. In this instance, Schultz uses his intuition to make the right decision and to leave, but Candie’s corruption then entices him, forcing him to make the wrong decision. The ensuing shoot-out at the plantation only occurs because Schultz does not fully follow his intuition and does not resist the corrupting ways of Calvin Candie.


Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction


Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds


Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained

My View on Transcendentalism

While watching a documentary in English class today, I noticed that Ralph Waldo Emerson’s publication, “Nature” (1836) is largely referred to as a “Transcendentalist Manifesto.”  So I decided to look up what this actually means, and how important it relates to Transcendentalism.  In fact, I found that one day before Emerson’s world-renowned essay was published, he met up with Frederic Henry Hedge, George Ripley, and George Putnam, forming the Transcendental Club.  I noticed this marked his beginning of importance towards the Transcendentalist movement, due to his sudden emergence onto the platform of Transcendentalism.  The philosophical movement involves the inherent goodness of both people and nature.  This explains the point that Emerson was an influential figure in the Transcendentalist movement, showing that his publication, “Nature,” was truly a “Transcendentalist Manifesto” due to his overt references to nature, and that comprehension of reality can only be gained through the study of divine nature.