Skip to content

George Segal: The Terminal Man


    The recent news about billionaire technologist Elon Musk and his company Neuralink successfully implanting their brain-computer interface into a human brought to mind parallels with the George Segal film “Terminal Man.” It’s fascinating how reality often mirrors the themes explored in art. In Michael Crichton‘s novel, and later in the film adaptation, we witness the consequences of pushing the boundaries of technology and human biology, much like the developments we’re witnessing today with Neuralink. As science fiction becomes science fact, the line between imagination and reality continues to blur, inviting us to ponder the ethical implications and potential consequences of such advancements.

    It’s uncertain whether Michael Crichton drew inspiration from Anthony Burgess or Stanley Kubrick’sA Clockwork Orange,” but “The Terminal Man” presents a dilemma reminiscent of the aforementioned works, albeit on a more cerebral level. The film follows George Segal as Harry Benson, a brilliant robotics developer who survives a traumatic car accident. Subsequently afflicted with unexplained brain trauma, Harry experiences epileptic blackouts and bursts of violent behavior. He is apprehended and placed under secure confinement, emerging as a prime candidate for an innovative medical procedure involving a computer implant designed to regulate the synaptic impulses triggering his fits of rage.

    The concept of mind control, once relegated to the realm of the mystical, has now become a disturbingly plausible reality thanks to advancements in modern science. The consequences of scientific overreach take center stage in “The Terminal Man,” adapted from Michael Crichton’s novel and helmed for the screen by Mike Hodges. George Segal portrays Harry Benson, a computer scientist who undergoes experimental brain surgery in a bid to quell his potentially perilous seizures. With electrodes strategically placed on 40 terminals of his brain, the intention is to counteract his violent impulses.

    However, the experiment goes awry, and Harry finds himself unable to escape the labyrinth of his mind. The very treatment intended to alleviate his condition instead exacerbates it, unleashing his seizures with a vengeance. Probing deep into this visionary narrative is an unsettling experience that will leave you on edge. Yet, beneath its hallucinatory horrors lies a captivating exploration of profound truths that will both intrigue and provoke contemplation.

    Despite its experimental nature, Harry willingly undergoes the procedure, generating cautious excitement within the medical community. However, the true horror unfolds during Harry’s post-procedural assessment by a psychiatrist and covert technicians manipulating his implanted computer. Through controlled voltage pulses to specific brain regions, Harry experiences varying sensations and stimuli, akin to channel surfing on a television. This revelation underscores the unsettling notion of human programmability.

    Complicating matters further, Harry’s episodes of epileptic rage resemble the desperate cravings of an addict seeking relief. As his condition deteriorates rapidly, with diminishing intervals of lucidity, Harry escapes confinement and assumes the role of a modern-day Frankenstein, wandering the streets of Los Angeles. In contrast to the frenetic action of “A Clockwork Orange” or “Westworld,” “The Terminal Man” unfolds as a disquieting drama, evocative of introspective classics like “Charley” and “The Andromeda Strain.” While the film boasts commendable performances, its shortcomings in character development and narrative coherence diminish the audience’s ability to empathize with its protagonists.

    In typical fashion for a Crichton adaptation, the procedure in “The Terminal Man” proves remarkably effective. However, as the protagonist begins to exhibit a peculiar super-intelligence controlled by the computer, the film takes on a more contemplative tone, diverging from the sensationalism and gore often associated with similar narratives like “Hollow Man” and Cronenberg’s remake of “The Fly.” While not without its flaws, this unconventional gem offers a nuanced exploration of themes reminiscent of “Altered States.” George Segal’s portrayal of the protagonist, oscillating between fear, exhilaration, and psychosis, leaves a lasting impression, echoing the complexity of his character’s journey.

    “The Terminal Man” remains a vastly underrated gem, its relevance undiminished in contemporary society. Yet, its treatment by Warner Archives as a mere relic, bereft of supplementary features like subtitles or bonus content, is lamentable. Nevertheless, the film merits inclusion in any discerning cinephile’s collection, alongside the enduring classics it echoes.

    Tony M.