Layers of Meaning in the Terminator Film Scores

Some time ago, I wrote about the personal significance of the Terminator films to me. I’ve rewatched 1 and 2 dozens of times. The more recent films in the series have been disappointing in some ways but still hugely influential on me.

One of the things that’s easy to miss about the first two films is how their main themes symbolize the struggle between human and machine. In the first one, there’s this constant repetitive metallic clanking in the background. Layered atop that is the sweeping, emotionally gripping orchestral melody.

The relentless clanking represents the forces of Skynet, for whom the war is only a pragmatic undertaking, devoid of drama, and a matter of endurance. The sweeping orchestral melody is the same war but seen from the human perspective. A tempest of emotion. Of heroes, martyrs, and deep meaning.

Combined, it represents both sides of the war and communicates what each of them is subjectively like and what they stand for. The theme itself is the future war.

When you fumigate your house, probably it is not a deeply meaningful, emotional occurrence for you; it’s just a tedious job you want over and done with. But for the rats and their babies who die choking and gasping, it is a day of extreme importance and the deepest degree of feeling such simple animals are capable of.

This juxtaposition returns in the T2 theme but intensified. The DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN has the same metallic quality to it, and communicates the severity of it all. The increased urgency and stakes. Skynet is as relentless as before, but has redoubled its efforts, sensing that its end is near.

Interestingly, this time the machine part of the song has changed but the orchestral melody has remained the same, except that it has grown louder/stronger. Symbolizing the turning tides of the war, humanity’s resurgence as it struggles to deal the final blow to Skynet.

Nothing in such a well made film is by accident or without meaning. James Cameron’s detail oriented brain never fails to infuse every nook, cranny and crevice of his films with rich symbolism. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but I don’t think so.

Follow me for more like this! And why not read one of my stories?

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store