I was 14 years old, buried in a heap of fractions when one of my best friends bounded into second period math.
“I want arms like Linda Hamilton!” she said. My friend Jaime went to the movies weekly with her dad and seemed to know what was trending long before the rest of us. Months later the film migrated from the Silver Screen to the TV screen—and that’s when I got to witness firsthand the Sarah Connor of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I’ve loved her--arms and all, ever since.
“I called Linda. She didn’t want to be the little waitress she played the first time. She said, ‘I want to be crazy.’ ” James Cameron, producer, director and co-writer of the film said of Hamilton regarding the second installment. Arnold Schwarzenegger was already on board—Cameron wasn’t interested in recasting the role knowing the story centered around the relationship of Sarah and her son. And that’s the first reason why she rocks.
She was a committed mother. Literally.
In 1984 a human soldier, Kyle Reese, is sent from the future to protect a young Sarah from a cyborg assassin who has been sent to kill her because her son John (not yet conceived) will lead the human resistance against the self-aware machines. The scripted future plays out as Kyle and Sarah spend one night together. Months later, John Connor is born.
Sarah loves her boy fiercely but she’s not packing healthy lunches and taking him to T-ball. Instead, she’s preparing him for war. Weapons training, computer hacking, engine repair and constant preaching that one day he’s going to be a great military leader. John finds the whole story incredulous. When Sarah’s deep convictions land her in Pescadero State Hospital and John in foster care—she remains unapologetic. John is resentful.
As a mother I am in awe of her determination not to raise a nice boy, but a leader who would save the world. Her parenting strategy was singular and had glaring deficits—but her eyes were fixed on future glory.
She was more concerned about people’s lives than their opinions.
“Three billion human lives ended on August 29, 1997. The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Judgment Day. They lived only to face a new nightmare, a war against the machines.”
Sarah saw Hell and it changed everything.
With this new perspective, she was like a prophet warning of impending doom if change didn’t occur. The police didn’t believe her. Neither did Dr. Silberman and his cronies, or the orderly who sexually assaulted her while in restraints (the one she later beat senseless with a broken mop handle). Even her beloved son doubted her story. She paid for her beliefs by being ridiculed, incarcerated and separated from John.
But Sarah wasn’t looking for converts, fans or likes. She was trying to save three billion lives.
This was a woman of conviction and passion. She knew what she believed and if she had to go down, she’d go down fighting.
She was resourceful, focused and forgiving.
It’s been said when people really want to do something, they find a way and when they don’t, they find an excuse. Sarah Connor had no time to whine. She used 6 months of confinement in a California State mental hospital to build a physique that would match her mental acuity. (Remember the chin-up scene?) She used a syringe of rat poison as a hostage-taking weapon. She sought no comfort in food or drink or shopping or sex because personal comfort was unwanted if the world was ending. She wasn’t a woman who delighted in distraction—but extreme focus.
Despite originally being her enemy, Connor partnered with the “800 Series” Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to defeat the nearly indomitable T-1000 (Robert Patrick). Forgiveness is a weapon as powerful as any and by collaborating with Schwarzenegger’s character, she was able to accomplish a goal she couldn’t have alone.
She discovered the value of human life.
Anyone who’s felt passion’s flame also knows the blinding quality of its light. In pursuit of something noble and good, we’re often blinded and can become what we abhor.
It occurs to Sarah that Judgment Day could be avoided if she murders Miles Dyson, the Cyberdyne Systems engineer who further develops the technology that becomes Skynet and initiates the holocaust. Kill him, save everyone else.
If you could go back into time and put a bullet in the body of a young Adolf Hitler before he had the chance to kill two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe, would you? Would his murder, in cold blood, be justified?
Sarah Connor ultimately says, no.
Imagine a balance scale with all the people who are or would be on one side and a single person on the other. Imagine the big group of people are victims and the lone wolf is a potential killer. The scales remain balanced.
It seems that fatally condemning someone before their violent acts have been committed or murdering one to save many—doesn’t work in Connor’s mind and heart. But that’s not to say she didn’t try.
First, she used a CAR-15 laser-sighted sniper rifle to take Dyson out. When that failed, she charged his house with a .45 caliber side-arm and shot him at close range, in the shoulder. Seeing the terror in the man’s eyes as his wife and son looked on reminded Sarah of her humanity. Life matters. She is not a terminator.
In 1999, The Matrix gave us freedom-fighter Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). In 1997 Demi Moore famously shaved her head and got jacked in G.I. Jane but back in 1991, a character like Sarah Connor had never been seen. Her power wasn’t in her beauty—but her convictions. She didn’t sacrifice it all for love of a man—but love of humanity.
She was flawed. And aggressive, untrusting, struggling with both legal and mental health issues, yet she didn’t seek her solution in a glass of wine, greater self-care, a vacation or a quick tryst. She didn’t ‘Netflix and chill’ or compare her life to peers on social media. She didn’t spend energy hating her body or complaining about loneliness or bemoaning the state of her affairs. She gave her life to something greater.
And she’s coming back!
A new story to tell.
Schwarzenegger, Eastwood, Willis, Stallone and others have had epic action-hero moments in their silver years—but I can’t recall a 63-year-old woman given the same honor. Hamilton and Cameron are changing the paradigm—again.
Linda Hamilton sat out three Terminator reboots: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and Terminator Genysis (2015), though since James Cameron wasn’t an integral part of any, I’m not sure they should be considered part of the cannon.
Hamilton never thought she’d return to the franchise, preferring instead of a “quiet, normal life” beyond the borders of Tinsel Town. But she “saw an opportunity” and there was a “deeper story to tell, at (her) age.”
Terminator: Dark Fate opens November 2019. In the trailer we see frighteningly advanced terminator pursuing a young woman and a girl. All appears lost, until an 80-Series Toyota Land Cruiser (with an aftermarket brush guard) squeals to a halt and an armed and determined Sarah Connor steps out.
She's dressed for the occasion: all black fatigues accessorized with a Serbu Super Shorty shotgun and leg-mounted holster, a few grenades, a small revolver and the absolutely necessary LAW rocket launcher. In the war against machines, it works every time.
She’s a “bad grandma with a shotgun,” Cameron says of his muscled muse.
To be clear, the world doesn’t need more literal Sarah Connors. Her lack of interpersonal skills, singular focus and legal woes would bury her positive attributes but as an icon, the Sarah Connor/Linda Hamilton legacy is profound.
She isn’t a superhero with Amazon blood coursing through her veins. She wasn’t born with Mystique’s shapeshifting abilities or Black Widow’s super-human strength. Sarah Connor was extraordinary, precisely because she was ordinary. Even her name belies her normalcy. Yet this common waitress, when given a revelatory vision of the future and against insurmountable odds—becomes the woman she was destined to be. And saves the world.
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "