Terminator 2: Judgment Day – Free Will versus Destiny


The first two Terminator films, The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) are riddled with several examples of the paradoxical nature of time travel and the philosophical theme of destiny. The first film sees the titular mechanical assassin (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (played by Linda Hamilton), a woman whose unborn son will lead the human rebellion against the machines in future World War III. The terminator fails, revealing to Sarah the importance of her son’s survival and his destiny as Earth’s saviour. Judgment Day follows her now teenage son, John Connor, as he and a reprogrammed terminator sent back in time by his future self to protect his past self attempt to elude and destroy a more technologically advanced terminator sent back by the machines. It should be noted that T2 is set in 1994-1995, despite being released in 1991.

In the films, Judgment Day refers to the date that the computer program Skynet becomes conscious of its own existence and subsequently declares war on its human oppressors. The Terminator franchise relies heavily on the concept of meta-time – that is, the ‘time outside of time’. Kyle Reese – John Connor’s father (played by Michael Biehn in the first film and in the director’s cut of T2; sent back from the future by John Connor to father John Connor in 1984) – says “The future is not set. There is no fate, but what we make for ourselves,” indicating that even residents of post-Judgment Day Earth believe that their destiny can be changed by the choices of those in the past [Meldal 2004].

According to the Terminator in the first film, Judgment Day occurs in 1997. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rewired Terminator, the T-101, and the primary antagonist of T2, the T-1000 (played by Robert Patrick) travel back to a 1994 from a 1997 where Judgment Day has already occurred in the future from the perspective of that particular 1994. This indicates that the post-1997 Judgment Day version of John Connor exists, due to the fact that he reprogrammed the T-101 to protect his past self from an enemy he pre-empted in the future. However, T2 shows Sarah Connor’s attempts to kill the man who invents Skynet – and almost succeeding – who then instead vows to not write the program, creating a paradox represented by the existence of the Terminators. Sarah’s actions result in a new timeline on the meta-timeline wherein Judgment Day does not occur in 1997 because of her actions in 1994 [Brown and Decker 2009]. By her own free will, Sarah Connor has altered the destiny of the world by pre-empting the chain of events that lead to the apparently inevitable downfall of mankind.

Sarah Connor states in Terminator 2: Judgment Day that she is hopeful for an uncertain future; a future which she created instigated by a threat from a different future sent back in time to “validate the existence of a prescribed, ‘fated’ timeline that assures [the existence of the Terminators] and the domination of humans by machines” [Brooks 2004]. The concepts of free will and destiny are explored throughout each of the four Terminator films, but are shown the most explicitly in T2, resulting in a film of paradoxes, an overbearing sense of inevitability reinforced by the presence of the T-1000, and the importance of choosing your own destiny; an inherently paradoxical concept in and of itself.


Brooks, C. (2004). Doubling in Terminator II. Retrieved June 8, 2012, from http://www.freepatentsonline.com/article/Post-Script/128671363.html

Brown, D., Decker, K. S. (2009). Terminator and Philosophy: I’ll Be Back, Therefore I Am. John Wiley & Sons, Inc: New Jersey.

Meldal, L. (2004). Is the future set? Contradictions in the Terminator story. Retrieved June 8, 2012, from http://www.terminatorfiles.com/media/articles/moviesfacts_005.htm

Posted in movies | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blade Runner – Personal Identity


Set in the dystopian future of 2019, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner stars Harrison Ford as protagonist Rick Deckard, a special police operative known as a ‘Blade Runner’, given the task of hunting down and killing, or “retiring”, a group of rogue androids (called ‘replicants’) in Los Angeles, their presence being highly illegal on Earth. The film explores the philosophical themes of what it means to be human, particularly the emotional and social complexity necessary to identify as a person.

According to Pryor, Blade Runner primarily “emphasises the difficulties humans have appreciating what makes them human” [Pryor 2006]. Specially trained, high-ranking officers of the law administer a “Voight-Kampff” test – an examination involving questions designed to invoke feelings of empathy and emotional depth in humans – the outcome of which determining whether the individual being examined is human on non-human. Pryor goes on to suggest that the human characters in the film show very little empathy, in stark contrast to the fundamental ideal at the core of the Voight-Kampff that humans are inherently empathic.

The philosophical theme at the core of the film – what makes us human – is contested by its non-human characters displayed inherently human emotions and its human characters showing little other than their appearance identifying them as a human person. Deckard administers the Voight-Kampff test to Rachael (played by Sean Young), a young woman working under geneticist Eldon Tyrell (the creator of the Nexus-6 model of replicant, the same line from which the rogue group are built; played by Joe Turkel). Rachael, having failed several questions in the test, is concluded to be non-human, and despite having a remarkable social range and in-depth memories of her childhood, she was unaware that she was a replicant; her own personal identity that has shaped her as a woman was fabricated; her emotions and memories nothing more than complex machinery.

The replicants are “the slaves of the future, without any rights or intrinsic value, merely instruments…” [Falzon 2007, p.94], indicating that a human Blade Runner should feel no qualms in “retiring” a replicant as it is simply an in-organic life. However, the film personifies the androids by giving them emotional complexity and a sense of sociability; Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer), the leader of the rogue group of replicants, begins to fear death due to his short life span as an android, feels love for his female companion and is distraught when she is killed. The climactic scene sees Batty become merciful to Deckard. Batty, by saving Deckard’s life, saw himself in the suffering and in turn experienced the human emotion of empathy.

Blade Runner effectively blurs the line between human and non-human, posing many questions such as whether Deckard, an apparent human with little empathy, is in fact a replicant, and if a replicant can and should be recognised as human despite their inorganic state of being due to their emotional complexity and sociability exhibited. Rachael at one stage asks Deckard if he has ever taken the Voight-Kampff test. He does not respond. According to Cultures of Technological Embodiment, p.265, “the implication is clear: if he took [the test], he would fail” [Burrows and Featherstone 1995], giving a clear indication that the reason for Deckard’s lack of empathy is the fact that he is that which he hunts: a replicant.


Burrows, R., Featherstone, M. (eds).( 1995). Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment (p265). SAGE Publications, ltd: London.

Falzon, C. (2007). Philosophy Goes to the Movies: An Introduction to Philosophy (2nd ed.), p.94-95. Routledge: New York.

Pryor, J. (2006). Central Problems in Philosophy – Blade Runner. Retrieved June 8, 2012, from http://www.jimpryor.net/teaching/courses/intro/notes/bladerunner.html

Posted in movies | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alien: Resurrection [1997 Theatrical Cut] – Morality and Ethics


The Alien quadrilogy has presented the world with iconic characters and creatures, unique and influential story-telling devices, and four films that have divided the opinions of audiences and critics alike from 1979 to 1997. The fourth film in the franchise, Alien: Resurrection, was met with a largely negative critical reception at the time of its release; renowned film critic Roger Ebert said in his 1997 review that “there is not a single shot in the movie to fill one with wonder” [Ebert 1997]. However, while the film as whole was reviled, elements of its plot are worthy of philosophical discussion, namely the ethics of human cloning, genetic experimentation, and euthanasia.

Ellen Ripley, the heroine from the first three films, has been cloned for the sole purpose of growing a new alien queen inside her to begin the xenomorph life cycle once more in a “controlled” environment; a process known as instrumentalisation; using individuals as a means to the purposes of others [Harris 1997].The chief scientist instructs the surgeon to “Sew her back up” when asked what to do with the living host, as though she is not a living human being with human rights but just an experiment with which to use until no longer of use.

As an objection to human cloning, Axel Kahn’s philosophy on the basic human principle of dignity argues that “The creation of human clones solely for spare cell lines would, from a philosophical point of view, be in obvious contradiction to the principle…of human dignity…Creating human life for the sole purpose of preparing therapeutic material would clearly not be for the dignity of the life created” [Harris 1997].We then see the clone of Ellen Ripley alive and conscious; the chief scientist asks “How is our #8 doing today?”, indicating that the scientists believe that the clone of Ellen Ripley is their property, and that they have not given her a name even thought they are entirely aware of who she is/was. When not referred to as #8, Ellen Ripley is referred to as “it” by the scientists and military officers.

As the film progresses, Ripley happens upon a door marked ‘1-7’; remembering she is clone #8, she opens the door and much to her horror discovers the failed attempts to clone her from the original Ellen Ripley’s DNA through genetic experimentations. Each failed attempt is more horrific than the last, yet they are all deceased. #8 finds clone #7 being kept alive, suffering from its own unnatural existence. #7 pleas to #8, “Kill…me” over and over again until #8 takes pity on the clone and takes a flamethrower to the amorphous figure, effectively euthanising her kin. Human cloning, as interpreted by The Ethics of Human Cloning, is unacceptable: “Mass-scale cloning of the same individual makes the point vividly; but the violation of human equality, freedom, and dignity is present even in a single planned clone” [Kass and Wilson 1998 p.39].


Ebert, R. (1997). Alien Resurrection. Retrieved June 2, 2012, from http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19971126/REVIEWS/711260301/1023

Harris, J. (1997). “Goodbye Dolly?”: The ethics of human cloning. Journal of Medical Ethics 1997; 23: 353-360

Kass, L.R., Wilson, J. Q. (1998). The Ethics of Human Cloning – p.39. AEI Press: La Vergne.

Posted in movies | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Shutter Island – How Do We Know What is ‘Real’?


Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island deals with the philosophical theme of our perceptions of reality. The film, set in 1954, stars DiCaprio as Edward ‘Teddy’ Daniels, a U.S. Marshal appointed to investigate the case of a missing person at Ashecliffe Hospital, an insane asylum situated on Shutter Island in Boston Harbour, with his partner, U.S. Marshal Chuck Aule (played by Mark Ruffalo). For the purpose of this analytical text, it should be noted that it is in fact Teddy Daniels who is the missing person at Ashecliffe Hospital.

The events of the entire film are orchestrated by Dr. John Cawley (played by Ben Kingsley) as an elaborate role play to break Teddy – unbeknownst to the game designed for him – from his psychosis and back into reality. The asylum presented in the film correlates with the “loss of identity that [Teddy] experiences”, indicating that the hopeless nature of the film’s setting at an insane asylum located on an isolated island implies an inevitable abject outcome to Teddy’s perception of reality during his tenure there [Pheasant-Kelly 2012]. Teddy believes there to be a conspiracy afoot at Ashecliffe Hospital regarding the death of his wife and plans on going back to the mainland to “blow the lid off this place”.

As the film progresses, Teddy is convinced that the man who caused his wife’s death, Andrew Laeddis, is a patient/prisoner on the island. It is revealed that Edward Daniels actually is Andrew Laeddis. Burdened by the guilt and emotional pain of the murder, Laeddis invented a new persona for himself, a U.S. Marshal named Edward Daniels. The film sees Andrew Laeddis’ former reality leaks through in the form of dreams and hallucinations (caused by withdrawal from the medication) to Teddy Daniels’ perception of his surroundings. This theme of ‘perception vs. reality’ is the key element of Shutter Island that binds the events and settings of the film to the protagonist’s personal journey through his own psyche [Myers 2012]. Scorsese has included many intentional continuity errors to further blur the lines between what is real and what is part of Teddy’s psychosis.

In the climactic final scenes of the film, Dr. Cawley explains to Teddy that the events he has experienced on the island were all part of a game designed to wake him from his stupor and prevent Teddy’s real murderous self, Andrew Laeddis, from requiring a lobotomy. Once Laeddis has accepted reality and admitted that Teddy Daniels was his own creation and that he is a criminally insane murderer, he says to Dr. Sheehan (Ruffalo): “This place makes me wonder, which would be worse: to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?”, indicating that he has either slipped back into his psychosis or he no longer wishes to live as convicted felon Andrew Laeddis but has intentionally adopted the guise of Teddy Daniels to be lobotomised as a man of honour and conviction. Dr. Sheehan looks over to Dr. Cawley, Dr. Naehring, and Deputy Warden McPherson and gives a subtle gesture telling them that “Teddy” is going to require a lobotomy if he is to remain alive at the penitentiary; or perhaps it was actually Andrew finally ridding himself of the guilt of his own reality.


Myers, C. (2012). “Scapegoats and Redemption on Shutter Island,” Journal of Religion & Film: Vol. 16: Iss. 1, Article 2. Available at: http://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/jrf/vol16/iss1/2

Pheasant-Kelly, F. E. (2012). Institutions, Identity and Insanity: Abject Spaces in Shutter Island. Retrieved June 2, from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17400309.2012.658677

Posted in movies | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to Train Your Dragon – Are Animals as Important as Humans?


The idea that human beings rank higher than animals in terms of worth as forms of life has been around since ancient humanoids began hunting animals for food. Killing an animal has always needed less justification than the killing of a person. According to an article published by Cambridge University, “the distinctive enjoyments of human beings have greater moral worth – are ‘higher’ – than those of an animal,” [Cambridge University Press 1992]. This philosophical issue of whether animals are as important as humans is inherent to the core of the 2010 animated feature film, DreamWorks Studios’ How to Train Your Dragon.

The film’s protagonist, a Viking teenager named Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (voiced by Jay Baruchel), has been brought up in a society that is at constant war with dragons. Hiccup has been indoctrinated by his community to believe that killing dragons is the only way of dealing with them as they frequently steal the Vikings’ food and destroy their village in self defence against the Viking retaliations.

According to an article published by Cambridge University, although there is an inherent “moral objection to killing animals, the value of animal life is much lower than that of persons” [Cambridge University Press 1992], suggesting that the Vikings have the right to kill the dragons if they pose an inconvenience to the human community of the area. Schwietzer counters this by stating in his thesis The Philosophy of Civilisation that “Very little of the great cruelty shown by men can really be attributed to cruel instinct. Most of it comes from thoughtlessness or inherited habit. The roots of cruelty, therefore, are not so much strong as widespread. But the time must come when inhumanity protected by custom and thoughtlessness will succumb before humanity championed by thought. Let us work that this time may come” [Schweitzer 1923].

As the plot progresses, Hiccup downs a particularly difficult dragon to capture and can not bring himself to kill it. His father, Stoic the Vast (voiced by Gerard Butler) wishes his son to begin Dragon Training so he too can kill dragons with the others, but Hiccup says, much to his father’s extreme disappointment, “Dad, I can’t kill dragons!”. Hiccup and the dragon he captured, called Toothless, form an inseparable bond throughout the film. Young Vikings openly discuss their conquests and defeats of dragons as though it is a social normality in the Viking community; Faver suggests that “animal abuse reinforces and further contributes to empathy deficits [and] desensitisation to violence” [Faver 2010]. As the young Vikings have been brought up in a world that is focused on killing dragons, this empathy toward the creatures has not developed in them and it is up to Hiccup and Toothless to show that Vikings and dragons co-exist harmoniously.

It can be argued that while the dragons in the film do not have the same general intelligence as the human Vikings (although the scene where Toothless draws a crass image of Hiccup in the sand is indicative of the counter-argument), according to Midgley, “what makes creatures our fellow beings, entitled to basic consideration, is surely not intellectual capacity but emotional fellowship” [Midgley 1985]. Considering the film is aimed at children, it also will inevitably instil valuable ideals about the proper attitudes to have regarding the humane treatment of animals [Ascione, F.R. 1992].


Ascione, F.R. (1992). Enhancing children’s attitudes about the humane treatment of animals: Generalised to human-directed empathy. Anthrozoos, 5 (3), 176-191

Cambridge University Press [Author unknown]. (1992). The Animals Issue: Moral Theory in Practice. Retrieved May 29, 2012, from http://www.philosophy.umd.edu/Faculty/pcarruthers/Blurb-AI.htm

Faver, C.A. (2010). School-based humane education as a strategy to prevent violence. Elsevier, vol. 32, #3, p. 365-370.

Midgley, M. (1985). Persons and Non-Persons. Retrieved June 8, 2012, from http://allenherron.net/Persons%20and%20Non-Persons%20Midgley.pdf

Schweitzer, A. (1923). The Philosophy of Civilisation: Civilisation and Ethics, Part 2. A. & C., Black, ltd.

Posted in movies | Tagged , , | Leave a comment