WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Terminator: Dark Fate, in theaters now.
Terminator: Dark Fate realigns the franchise around the exploits of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), along with her new mission to help protect/train another leader of the future human resistance. Along the way, it reveals the full extent of the trauma she's taken on because of the Terminators and how she's tried to deal with it's lasting, lingering effects.
It also makes the film a surprisingly apt companion piece for a similar concept explored in another female-led film franchise semi-reboot from last year: 2018's Halloween., which saw Jamie Lee Curtis reprise her role as horror's most famous final girl Laurie Strode.
THE LAST CONNOR
Since the events of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Sarah Connor has been defined by trauma. She was separated from her son for most of his young life because of her "delusions" of what happened in the previous film, but she was eventually able to reunite with him and help protect him from the T-1000 that was sent back in time to kill him. However, she wasn't able to protect him forever, as he was eventually targeted (and killed) by another T-800 sent back into the past. This loss is the first moment of Terminator: Dark Fate, and quickly becomes the defining tragedy of Sarah's life (which already had plenty of tragedies to look back on.)
To keep herself going after the loss of her son, Sarah found a new purpose as a Terminator hunter. Whenever one of the machines is sent back in time, she gets the chance to take some form of revenge on the things that have consistently ruined her life. Her actions are driven by her loss and memories, but she admits to Dani (Natalia Reyes) that she's begun to lose those specific memories.
Sarah never took any pictures of her son for fear it could be used as a clue to find him. But because of that, she has no way to look back at him. Even her memory is becoming weaker in her older age, and she fears she's forgetting what her son even looked like. His loss defines her pain and amplifies the hurt the Terminators had already laid on her, and so she uses the things that caused her these pains as an outlet.
THE FINAL GIRL
It's not too dissimilar to the approach taken in director David Gordon Greene's follow-up to the mythology of Michael Meyers in last year's Halloween. In another sequel that ignores decades of follow-up films, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is revealed to have, in the years since she survived an attack from Michael Meyers, prepared herself for his eventual return. Her entire life centered around that fear, at the cost of her relationships with her loved ones. She had multiple husbands over the years, and her daughter was even taken away from her by social services for not providing a nurturing enough home. Laurie's decision to define herself in opposition to the threat that ruined her life means that while she has found a level of control again, she's still basing many of her decisions around the person who hurt her.
Much like Sarah Connor though, this commitment to preparing for something new ends up paying off. Michael Meyers (naturally) escapes custody during a prison transfer and soon slaughters his way through a small suburban town. He even chases down Laurie's granddaughter, who barely escapes him multiple times. He eventually finds his way to Laurie's home but doesn't find a terrified old woman. Instead, he gets wrecked by Laurie, her daughte, and granddaughter. Ultimately, they're even able to trap this source of three generations' trauma and seemingly destroy it by burning down a house on top of it. They don't run from or learn to accept their trauma: they attack it and defeat it.
Both films take an interesting look at how both of these women deal with the traumas of their youth. They have particularly dark events in their past and were forced in their youth to become something harder to survive. Sarah went in that direction immediately and was placed in a mental hospital for it. When she escaped, she went to war against the concept of the Terminators, trying to strike back at the things that hurt her and threatened her son.
In the old Halloween continuity, Laurie Strode did become more active in the hunt for Michael, but it was more defined by the revelation in those films that Laurie was actually Michael's sister. That was the connection that bound them, instead of just the coincidence of finding one another. But those films didn't explore the lingering effect those attacks would have on someone nearly as much as the 2018 Halloween did. That film confronted the effects trauma can have long-term and the weight that it can leave on someone. It's important that neither woman comes to the conclusion that they just need to "move on," even after Laurie is repeatedly told to do so in the film. However, it's ultimately her steadfast preparation for Michael that keeps her and (most) of her family alive.
Ultimately, these characters and films seem to explore the the concept of defeating trauma by embracing it rather than learning to passively live with it or moving past it. These films posit that the way to deal with trauma is by becoming resilient enough to face it, and strong enough to defeat it. It gives the women agency in the stories wherein they're previously the ones being hunted, which proves to be the key to their survival when trauma resurfaces.
Directed by Tim Miller and produced by James Cameron, Terminator: Dark Fate stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Gabriel Luna, Natalia Reyes and Diego Boneta, in theaters now.