The Terminal Man (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Can’t control his impulses.

            Harry Benson (George Segal) is a brilliant computer scientist who begins to suffer from blackouts after receiving a head injury in a car accident.  During these blackouts he goes on terrifying violent sprees, which includes the abuse of his own wife and children. To help control the condition a group of doctors come up with an experimental procedure of implanting a computer chip inside his brain that will set off a signal that will alleviate these compulsions when they begin.  Unfortunately things do not go as planned and Harry’s condition becomes frighteningly worse in this cinematic realization of the Michael Crichton novel.

Director Mike Hodges visualization is the stand-out here. Every scene and camera shot fits together into a seamless whole. The first hour is filled with sets and backdrops showing a square, gray, futuristic –like surroundings while the second half features more white interiors while still maintaining the modernistic look.  Hodges shows a terrific awareness of every little sight and sound making each one an integral part of the story. From a visual perspective it is brilliantly handled and a masterpiece in need of more attention.  His use of classical music by Johann Sebastian Bach is equally effective. One particularly unique scene has Harry violently stabbing someone to death during one of his seizures, but instead of hearing the expected pounding music we instead hear the soft strains of Bach while the victim’s blood creates a red pattern on the white tiles of the floor.

The operating sequence and build-up to it is especially captivating and takes up most of the runtime.  I appreciated how a great deal of care was taken to make everything follow a very believable logic. The intricate procedure itself becomes fascinating and riveting to watch as they drill small holes into the patients head and use tiny metal tubes to literally shoot the mechanical pellets into strategic spots in the brain.

Segal, mostly know for light comedies, takes a nice break into drama here. He does a terrific job at getting the viewer to see him as a human being and feel empathy for his situation and when he has his head shaved he looks exactly like Howie Mandel . The part where he screams “Make it stop! Make it stop!” as he goes through another of his violent outbursts is especially moving and disturbing.

The supporting cast is strong as well although I didn’t particularly care for Donald Moffat and his put-on Irish accent, which was too strong and distracting and completely unnecessary.  Richard Dysart is memorable as the surgeon conducting the operation. He has two of the film’s best lines. One is when he is putting the computer chips into the brain and he states “This is the one job that can be both boring and nerve-wracking at the same time.”  Another great line of his occurs when a reporter asks him he if considers this procedure to be a type of mind control and he responds “What do you call compulsory education through high school?”

Joan Hackett gives her usual solid performance as Janet Ross the one doctor who is more concerned with the welfare of the patient then the implications of the experimental procedure. Jill Clayburgh, in an early role, plays against type here as Harry’s ditzy blonde girlfriend and the change of pace is interesting.

The film certainly makes a strong statement at the potential dangers of medical science and how the medical staff can be highly intelligent in one area, but very dense, immature and selfish in others.  The dehumanization element is pounded home to the viewer and in that respect it succeeds magnificently, but I couldn’t help but feel that it was being a bit unfair. In the years since this film was released the advancements in the medical field have improved the life and health of the patients and society as a whole. The film’s negative slant seems to conform too much to the pessimistic sentiments of its era and its unrelentingly doomful outlook is unnecessary.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mike Hodges

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

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