A Kosovar Review of Terminator: Genisys
Terminator: Genisys is a time travel movie in form, function and content. Going back in time is integral to its plot as it’s impossible to watch and not feel the nostalgia for its predecessors (and as such, it will be most enjoyed by those who have seen all of the sequels). This movie is in a sense a time machine for your mind. This puts Terminator: Genisys at an unfair disadvantage. It has to compete for attention like a last-born child faced with the glory and greatness of its elder siblings.
Growing up in Kosovo during the ‘90s, my favorite movie was Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and so as I watched scenes from this new sequel it was impossible to stop my mind from jumping back in time with all the references to the previous movies. But even more than that, I found myself remembering the hot Kosovar summers of my childhood that I spent watching action movies on VHS tapes.
I remembered the scorching midday heat in Prizren of the ‘90s. Water sprinkled in the morning in front of someone’s gate, evaporating in a mirage dancing in the distance. The yellow-brown dust clouds emerging from the grassless strip of land between the Bazhdarana’s tower apartments. Mothers recalling their children to hide home from the sun. Neighborhood kids’ howls and screams now muted, as if Sarah Connor’s prophecies of apocalypse had come true. A white and blue car with the inscription “Milicija” lazily rolling by, like robots roaming the post-apocalyptic wasteland in search of humans to enslave, and for a moment slowing next to the graffiti of a Serbian cross with four Cs, which had in turn been rebelliously defaced by the addition of four extra edges to appear more like a swastika. Back in my room as if barricaded in some bunker, blinds shut to produce a darkness impenetrable to the outside world. VHS tapes rolling despite the headache from already having watched three movies in a row. The glow of the cathode tube television screen the only illumination burning my eyes.
During that time, Kosovo’s campaign of civil disobedience and peaceful resistance was slowly turning into a hopeless wasteland of stagnation. And an action movie like Terminator 2 was just the type of a stimulation I needed to start making sense of the world around me. I could easily identify with the plot: a resistance for a better future, free from the oppression by the machines — and Serbia’s state, police and military apparatuses were exactly that: cold rational machines determined to exterminate and ethnically cleanse. Even its subtitle, Judgement Day, projected an apocalyptic aura, not of an impending nuclear holocaust as in the movie’s storyline, but of an inevitable annihilation, for after Serbia would be done with waging its wars in Croatia and Bosnia, Kosovo would surely be the next on its list.
No other movie during the ‘90s was able to capture my imagination as did Terminator 2: Judgement Day. This was for many reasons. I strongly identified with the young character of John Connor (we were the same age). Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role of T-800 robot served as a kind of a surrogate paternal figure and his muscles a symbol of a re-masculinization, reinforcing a sense of security to a ten year old boy at a time of great political instability and uncertainty. Since at the time Serbia had turned the entirety of Kosovo into an occupied police-state, I had no trouble seeing the movie’s villain, the shapeshifting T-1000 robot in a policeman’s uniform, as the enemy.
More than two decades after I first saw Terminator 2, the date of the apocalypse came and passed, and Kosovo is now an independent country. The country is nearing almost the same age as I was when I first saw the movie.
You can figure out many of the main plot points of Terminator: Genisys just by watching the spoiler trailer. Just like in all the other movies, Skynet, the artificial intelligence that nuked the earth, sends a humanoid robot back in time in order to kill Sarah Connor before she can give birth to her son who was destined to become the leader of the human resistance. To avert this, humans send a soldier back in time in order to protect her. But when Kyle Reese arrives, instead of finding a timid and fragile Sarah Connor, he finds a fearless and battle-hardened Khaleesi with an aging and somewhat paternal robot for a bodyguard. We find out that humanity’s last hope has been corrupted by what the trailer suggests is a swarm of nano-robots. John Connor is now the movie’s main villain, and it is up to Khaleesi, Arnold and Reese to save the world.
Despite the many poor reviews, Terminator: Genisys is a movie about many things, somehow all relevant to the Kosovar audience: nostalgia, memory, hope, fight for a better future, the old versus the new, determinism in the form of walking the same old path versus the power of free will to change things, corruption of previous visions, failed futures, and new beginnings. Like all time travel movies, this version of the Terminator is also an exercise in ‘what-ifs.’ It’s irresistible not to think about all of the ‘what-ifs’ in relation to where Kosovo could’ve been if things had played out differently.
But I am afraid that Kosovo might’ve suffered the same fate as the Terminator franchise. Just as T2’s John Connor was a freedom fighter, now transformed into a villain in Genisys, so some of Kosovo’s previous greatest hopes – the country’s best and brightest – now turn into corrupt politicians. Was such a fate predetermined, or did Kosovo choose one of the wrong paths from all the possible futures, to produce a symbiont in which good and evil live side by side? It is probably this blend of former heroics and current corruption co-existing within the same characters (who spectacularly succeed in getting themselves re-elected) that pose the greatest danger to Kosovo’s young and brittle democracy.
Perhaps we didn’t avoid the apocalypse. The newborn state’s failures in the rule of law, endemic corruption, isolation and ghettoization from Europe, as well as a struggling economy and widespread poverty, are not harbingers of the apocalypse yet to come, but are signs of a post-apocalyptic society.
But didn’t the human resistance (in the Terminator movies) create the very conditions for the mess that they find themselves in? If they didn’t send someone to the past to save John Connor, maybe he wouldn’t have lived and survived to be transformed into this new villain. The same could be said for Kosovo’s corrupt politicians: if people didn’t vote for them, then perhaps they wouldn’t have turned into the monstrous villains that we make them today. The future is the result of the choices that we make as individuals.
Or perhaps I am mistaken. And, Kosovo’s war was not the real Armageddon. There are still scores of unfulfilled prophecies. The Judgement Day is yet to come. And there is still redemption for both Kosovo and the Terminator franchise.
During my childhood in the ‘90s, partly responding to the images seen in the news, and partly re-enacting scenes I saw in action movies like Terminator 2, I recruited my neighborhood friends to play these games. By enacting my fantasies, I began to merge the two realities; one being the explosions and bullets whizzing from the Terminator’s guns, and the other being the real world marred by Kosovo’s political situation (and the Yugoslav wars of secession). Action movies like Terminator 2 were there to help me make sense of the world around me.
But what use could I have at this age for Termiator: Genisys? What lessons could it teach me? Perhaps its purpose is to jog my memory and act as a time machine to make me revisit the past. And I am not talking here about revisions or negations to history in order to change the future. We have had enough of those ever since the eighteenth century; each nation writing their own romantic narratives.
I am talking about truly facing and confronting our past. To see how far we’ve come and how far that path differed from the original vision. Re-evaluation, before commencing the necessary course corrections. Looking back at the past, in order to predict and possibly fix the future. Perhaps this is the greatest lesson of the newest Terminator movie: self-reflection.
Note: This movie review is part of a creative, nonfiction manuscript titled My Republic, which is currently in the process of being written about the author’s childhood in Kosovo during the ‘90s. It was first published online on Kosovo 2.0 .