Check out the poster for 1974’s The Terminal Man.
Look at it carefully. Examine it. Try to ignore the fact that it’s weird that George Segal was once a film star. Yes, on the poster, Segal has been drawn to have a somewhat strange look on his face. Ignore that. Instead, concentrate on the words in the top left corner of the poster.
“ADULT ENTERTAINMENT!” it reads.
That’s actually quite an accurate description. The Terminal Man is definitely a film for adults. No, it’s not pornographic or anything like that. Instead, it’s a movie about “grown up” concerns. It’s a mature film. In some ways, that’s a good thing. In some ways, that’s a bad thing.
Taking place in the near future (and based on a novel by Michael Crichton), The Terminal Man tells the story of Harry Benson (played, of course, by George Segal). Harry is an extremely intelligent computer programmer and he’s losing his mind. It might be because he was in a serious car accident. It may have even started before that. Harry has black outs and when he wakes up, he discovers that he’s done violent things. Even when he’s not blacked out, Harry worries that computers are going to rise up against humans and take over the world.
However, a group of scientists think that they have a way to “fix” Harry. It’ll require a lot of brain surgery, of course. (And, this being a film from 1973, the film goes into excruciating details as it explains what’s going to be done to Harry.) The plan is to implant an electrode in Harry’s brain. Whenever Harry starts to have a seizure, the electrode will shock him out of it. The theory is that, much like Alex in A Clockwork Orange 0r Gerard Malanga in Vinyl, Harry will be rendered incapable of violence.
Of course, some people are more enthusiastic about this plan than others. Harry’s psychiatrist (Joan Hackett) fears that implanting an electrode in Harry’s brain will just make him even more paranoid about the rise of the computers. Other scientists worry about the ethics of using technology to modify someone’s behavior. Whatever happens, will it be worth the price of Harry’s free will?
But, regardless of the risks, Harry goes through with the operation.
Does it work? Well, if it worked, it would be a pretty boring movie so, of course, it doesn’t work. (Allowing Harry’s operation to work would have been like allowing King Kong to enjoy his trip to New York.) Harry’s brain becomes addicted to the electrical shocks and, as he starts to have more and more seizures, Harry becomes even more dangerous than he was before…
The Terminal Man is a thought-provoking but rather somber film. On the one hand, it’s a rather slow movie. The movie does eventually get exciting after Harry comes out of surgery but it literally takes forever to get there. The movie seems to be really determined to convince the audience that the story it’s telling is scientifically plausible. On the other hand, The Terminal Man does deal with very real and very important issues. Considering how threatened society is by people who cannot be controlled, issues of behavior modification and free thought will always be relevant.
Though the film may be slow, I actually really liked The Terminal Man. Judging from some of the other reviews that I’ve read, I may be alone in that. It appears to be a seriously underrated film. As directed by Mike Hodges, the film is visually stunning, emphasizing the sterility of the white-walled hospital, the gray blandness of the doctors, and the colorful vibrancy of life outside of science. Though he initially seems miscast, George Segal gives a good and menacing performance as Harry.
The Terminal Man requires some patience but it’s worth it.