In this essay I will comment on how the directors of ‘The Matrix’, the Wachowski brothers, and the director of ‘The Terminator’, James Cameron, portray women in the opening scenes. The key actors and actress in ‘The Terminator’ are: Arnold Schwarzenegger who plays The Terminator, Michael Biehn who plays Kyle Reese, and Linda Hamilton who plays Sarah Connor.
Likewise, the key actors and actress in ‘The Matrix’ are: Keanu Reeves who plays ‘Neo’, Laurence Fishburne who plays Morpheus, and Carrie-Anne Moss who plays Trinity. Both films are classified as sci-fi thrillers, and ‘The Terminator’ was released in January 1985, a pre-feminist era, and ‘The Matrix’ was released in June 1999, a post-feminist era. They are also renowned for high-octane shootouts and super-realistic special effects, which relate well to the sci-fi genres of the films.
Although they are both sci-fi/action films, their conventions in relation to women are drastically different, due to ‘The Terminator’ being released just before feminism’s thrust in media in the 80’s, where women were stereotypically considered less strong and powerful than men, and ‘The Matrix’ being released after this therefore being ‘post-feminist’, where women were getting increasingly treated equally to men.
This differentiation is further emphasized by the difference in the role of the male antagonists in these two films, as the male protagonist in ‘The Matrix’ is being trained by Trinity, the leading woman, whereas Kyle Reese, the male protagonist in ‘The Terminator’, is protecting ‘weak’ Sarah Connor, the leading woman in ‘The Terminator’. Nevertheless, the first conventions of the films are the same- they both use a typical general plot.
The film ‘The Terminator’ is an overall typical sci-fi/action film, as it uses a typical plot and typical characters which are gender specific, and it uses typical dress codes (where women wear pink and men wear harsher colours like black etc. ) as well as using a typical look and style- where the music creates an aura. James Cameron, the director portrays Sarah Connor, the leading female role, stereotypically as weak, fragile, and in need of help, as she is being hunted down by ‘The Terminator’.
He does this through numerous ways, for example, he uses imagery and diegetic/non-diegetic sound, and from that the audience intently deduces the connotations from the imagery, and that essentially leads to delivering Cameron’s portrayal of women. Sarah Connor reacts stereotypically to other characters in the movie. She cries aloud a lot for help, and ‘submits’ herself to being protected by Kyle Reese, therefore acknowledging that he is more powerful than her.
The other main characters in the opening scenes of this film include ‘The Terminator, who’s purpose as a cyborg (Half human-half robot), sent back in time from the future by machines, is to kill Sarah Connor, whose son is (in the future) going to lead a rebel army against the machines, and Kyle Reese, who is also sent back in time from the future to protect Sarah Connor from ‘The Terminator’.
Firstly, Cameron uses imagery and sound to depict his portrayal of women almost straight away in the beginning of the film, when ‘The Terminator’ is first introduced to the audience as the most likely antagonist. He is kneeling down and slowly rises up to reveal a heavily muscled and built naked body, and this suggests strength and power. This combined with non-diegetic sinister chords and pacing drums informs, (as well as an intimidating creating atmosphere and suspense) the audience that ‘The Terminator’ is the probable antagonist of the film.
The low-angle camera shots so that ‘The Terminator’ is depicted as higher than the viewers so it intends to illustrate to the audience that ‘The Terminator’ is on the whole, more powerful and intimidating than the viewer, hence, Cameron is intending to make the audience feel intimidated by the presence of ‘The Terminator’, and is wanting ‘The Terminator’ to be a typical sci-fi/action movie antagonist. This links in subtly with the pre-feminist convention of the film as it represents ‘The Terminator’ as a powerful male and so the connotation is that men are stronger and more powerful than women.
The film stresses more of the stereotypical aspects as it is typical in a sci-fi/action film to depict a tough man as the antagonist, rather than a ‘feeble’ woman. Secondly, Cameron portrays women in his stereotypical style directly for the first time in ‘The Terminator’, in the scene where the audience initially encounter the leading female character in the film, Sarah Connor. As soon as the film switches to this scene, the atmosphere entirely changes, and the non-diegetic, cruel, dramatic sounds of the Terminator’s presence is replaced by more feminine, softer non-diegetic sounds, and this is complimented by the pink clothes she is wearing.
She is shown riding a small motorbike, and the non-diegetic sounds deliberately overpower the more masculine diegetic sound of the motorbike engine, as Cameron wants to provide the connotation from this to the audience that Sarah Connor is a typical ‘soft’ female character in a sci-fi/action film. Here, the audience are intended to feel happier because Cameron is trying to contrastingly make Sarah Connor’s presence much more comforting to the audience than the Terminator’s presence.
Furthermore, Cameron sustains his stereotypical portrayal of women in the film’s opening scenes when ‘The Terminator’, the antagonist of the film, shoots a different Sarah Connor seven times. Whilst we see the antagonist walking towards the woman’s front door, the non-diegetic pacing drums that are heard every time at the antagonist’s presence get faster and faster, which suggests that Cameron is developing suspense, in the light that he wants the audience to know that something thrilling is going to happen. The Terminator then shoots the woman upon her answering the door, and we hear 7 loud gun shots.
This is shown in slow motion to capture and emphasize the scene to the audience. Cameron is showing the woman’s sheer weakness compared to the strength of ‘The Terminator’, and this is further accentuated by the low-angle shots which illustrates the antagonist as more powerful than the woman and the viewers. The implication from this is that, again, men are typically depicted stronger and more powerful than women in this film. Whilst the film ‘The Terminator’ has a stereotypical portrayal of Sarah Connor due to it being ‘pre-feminist’, the portrayal of Trinity (leading female role) in the film ‘The Matrix’, is completely different.
This is because, as explained above, the film is ‘post-feminist’, and the directors reflect that attitude. Trinity reacts differently to other characters in the movie than Sarah Connor does in ‘the Terminator’. She talks to men as if she was a man herself and taunts them to challenge her, however like Sarah Connor (who falls in love with the protagonist in ‘the Terminator’, Kyle Reece), we see her more ‘innocent’ side when she falls in love with Neo.
The Wachowski brothers, also similarly to Cameron, use imagery in key scenes, with diegetic/non-diegetic sound, and from this the audience can deduce connotations that link to the film’s portrayal of women and other conventions. ‘The Matrix’ also has philosophical conventions, as the plot is revolved around a simulated reality. This makes ‘The Matrix’ a far less typical sci-fi action film than ‘The Terminator’. However, both films use the idea that machines have taken over humans, and they are both set in the future. The first depiction of women in ‘The Matrix’ is when Trinity is being held by several police officers.
She is shown to be wearing black leather and sunglasses, which is unusual for a woman, nevertheless, the audience are intended to feel attracted to this ‘new’ sort of woman. However, when she then jumps up, runs along the wall, and defeats all the police officers with advanced martial arts, she is portrayed by the Wachowski brothers as equal, if not more powerful than women, and she clearly plays a man’s role effectively, as she fights the antagonists. This is contrasts completely to the typical ‘weak’ Sarah Connor in ‘The Terminator’.
Her untypical dominance over males in this scene is emphasized by the directors using ‘Bullet Time’ during the fighting. In other words, it films (with the help of computer generated imagery) the action slow enough to show normally imperceptible and un-filmable events, (such as flying bullets) and space, by way of the ability of the camera angle (the audience’s point-of-view) to move around the scene at a normal speed while events are slowed. ‘Bullet Time’ is accompanied with faint diegetic ‘whooshing’ sounds when the subject moves.
This special effect is one of the main reasons why ‘The Matrix’ won four Oscars and numerous nominations. Moreover, the Wachowski brothers depict Trinity different to ‘The Terminator’ when she is being chased on the rooftops by three ‘agents’. Whilst she is being chased non-diegetic fast paced chase music is being played to show hurried suspense and put the audience into the unknown about what is going to happen. There are also diegetic sirens and shouts which are typical in chase scenes. Here she successfully runs away from them which further provides exposes the connotation that she is stronger, and faster, than men.
In conclusion, it is obvious that these movies have completely different portrayals of women, despite their other somewhat similar conventions. Cameron is portraying women in reflection to the typical views of women before feminisms thrust in the media. However, the Wachowski brothers have changed the typical portrayals of women and have created a new era in the film industry, where we, the audience, are made to challenge stereotypes. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed both films, but I particularly liked the fight scenes in ‘The Matrix’ where ‘Bullet Time’ is used because it makes the audience feel like they are part of the action.