The Terminal Man

Year: 1974

Production: Warner Bros.

Director: Mike Hodges

Starring: George Segal, Joan Hackett, Jill Clayburgh

Screenwriter: Mike Hodges

Based on The Terminal Man (1972) by Michael Crichton

107 minutes, cut to 104 minutes; Color


Segal plays a man who suffers from violent blackouts as a result of brain damage suffered in a car accident. Doctors use him as an experimental guinea pig: into his brain they insert eletrodes linked to a tiny computer implanted in his shoulder, so that when a convulsion starts the computer will automatically send soothing impulses to the brain. However, the brain enjoys the soothing effects so much that it induces the blackouts at an ever-increasing rate; the man is driven to commit further acts of violence and finally has to be shot down. Quotes from T.S. Elliot, music by Bach, color-coded visual symbolism (with lots of black) - all seem to aspire to a significance that does not, in the end, seem very profound. The mutually destructive relationship between man and machine is interesting; the stereotypes (monstrous doctors, etc.) are crude.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

Badly received at the time of its original American release (and yet to be distributed in Britain) for its self-consciousness, which was thought to be out of place in an "action" movie, this is a superior thriller. Former tv director Hodges and cinematographer Kline brilliantly capture the flavor of Michael Crichton's pessimistic novel.

Segal is the psychotic who has a tiny computer implanted in his brain to control his violent tendencies, only to discover that the process of being "calmed down" by the computer is so pleasurable that he goes on a murder spree simply for the pleasure of being restrained. In contrast to Westworld (1973), written and directed by Crichion himself, in which man is threatened by his creations, robots, or Coma (1978), another of Crichton's films, in which human bodies are broken down into spare parts to be used by those who can afford to pay for them, Terminal Man examines the frightening prospect of man and machine locked in a symbiotic relationship that is mutually destructive. The result is a film that covers much of the same ground as A Clockwork Orange (1971) but with the difference that whereas Stanley Kubrick celebrates Malcolm McDowell's violence as the mark of free will in a totalitarian society, Segal, after being operated on by the well-meamng doctors, is just the same as before. Thus Hodges' film ends with the scientists, seen throughout in black and white (though the film is in color), killing their creation (the film opens wiih a magnificent extended sequence of Segal's (re)birth on the operating table) and recoiling in horror from the monster they cannot change.

If in the film's big scene - the murder of Clayburgh, Segal's one-time girlfriend (who is even called Angela Black and whose last act, in keeping with the film's color coding, is to paint her nails black) - Hodges is unable to restrain himself for the most part he lets the camera (and Segal's worried eyes) leisurely pan over the banks of equipment and monitors that, despite their shiny premise, can do nothing for Segal.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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