J.P. Telotte is, for my money, a pretty good film critic (of the scholarly, academic kind). His work contains a lot of what seems like insight - e.g., I've long appreciated much of what he has to say about Forbidden Planet - but he also writes a lot of stuff that rings false for me, and seems like strained interpretation. Then again, how do we know when an interpretation is fresh and insightful as opposed to when it is strained and implausible?
Here's an example that I tend to put in the latter category. Writing about Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Telotte discusses the scene where Arnie and the T-800 choose their weaponry from Enrique's underground arms cache out in the desert. Telotte has had a fair bit to say about ideas of literal and emotional hardness, surfaces, depths (of various kinds), and so on. Then we get this passage in an endnote to the relevant chapter of his book, Replications:
We might read in this context of opening and penetration the scene in which Sarah uncovers the arsenal she has been hoarding in anticipation of the coming war with the machines. As John and the Terminator descend into the underground bunker and inspect the variety of weapons there, they discuss Sarah and the boy tries to explain - to the Terminator but more for himself - why she has all these things and why she is the way she is. It is a very literal depth analysis, a penetration beneath the hard desert surface, accompanied by an effort to penetrate the cold hard surface Sarah has cultivated.
Okaaaay. Maaaaybe... But this seems off to me: I don't think the movie is inviting us to view the descent into the bunker, or whatever it is properly called, as somehow analogous to a descent into the depths of Sarah's mind even though some discussion of her motives takes place (I must check the script to see exactly what is said, because the main thing I recall is the famous exchange, complete with Arnie's memorable grin, when the T-800 chooses a Vietnam-era mini-gun as its weapon). This seems to me like a strained reading; I want to say that Telotte is reading in something that's not there, in whatever sense "not there" has in the context of literary or cinematic interpretation. Yet, it's possible that other viewers find it plausible. It's even conceivable that the creators (James Cameron, etc.) thought of something like this. I doubt it, but I'm often surprised at the bizarre, tangential things creators say about their work, so I don't rule anything out. But even if, unlikely as it seems, Cameron had such an idea when he wrote the script, I just can't see that the scene works as Telotte describes.
Part of the trouble is the way Telotte's endnote builds interpretation on interpretation - seeing Sarah as maintaining a hard, cold surface, which is certainly one way to describe her, and then comparing her emotional and physical "hardness" with the hardness of the desert surface (something that has not been emphasised at all in the narrative or the images). So he sees Sarah's/Linda Hamilton's toned, ripped body together with her emotionally harsh treatment of John, interprets these in terms of "hardness and coldness", then sees the desert which he imagines in terms of "hardness" (somewhat oddly, I think) and then compares these two things with each other. The two characters in the scene do penetrate beneath the surface of the desert, but the film doesn't mention penetrating beneath the surface of Sarah's mind (though again, it is not far-fetched to describe some of the arc that way, as she is driven by events to show her true emotions for John). I see some of Telotte's point but the actual comparison is just too tenuous, too many steps removed from what the film presents, from its images and soundtrack.
By contrast, I totally agree with the claim that has often been made, including by Telotte - and even appears in the script as a guide to the dramatic intentions - that Sarah turns into something like a Terminator herself during this part of the movie ... and to some extent even earlier. This is never stated in an explicit way on-screen (e.g., I don't recall John ever saying something like, "Please, Mom - you're starting to act like one of them!"). But the narrative and images compel that comparison, or at least justify it if someone else points it out to us.
What do you think? Not just about the particular example but about how we can discuss such an issue rationally.