THX-1138 (1971)

thx-1138

“Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents, be happy.”

The Scoop: 1971 R, directed by George Lucas and starring Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasance, Don Pedro Colley, Maggie McOmie

Tagline: Visit the future where love is the ultimate crime.

Summary Capsule: George Lucas’s horrifying vision of a future where love and sex are forbidden, people are expendable and there’s nothing on TV but reality programming.

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Heather’s rating: Making the transition from food to pills won’t be all that difficult for many people these days.

Heather’s review: Ah, THX 1138: The movie whose title can be said dripping with nerdy awe or with total uninitiated confusion and still come out sounding like something one might order at NAPA.

Jokes about auto parts franchises aside, THX 1138 is a film that geek society will allow no rabid George Lucas fan to be ignorant of. Lucas’s student short film project titled “Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB” (proving to us all that one can make a title more laborious than THX 1138) garnered the man enough attention to get American Grafitti made, the success of which allowed him to make some of the most iconic films of all time. So basically, this film based on a student film project is responsible for Star Wars and Indiana Jones. In a way it’s also responsible for The Phantom Menace. You take your good with your bad.

I’m not trying to say that this film holds no merits beyond being the launching pad for some of the world’s most well-loved movies. Perish the thought! THX 1138 is an animal all its own. Lucas’s more well-known films are great adventures of fantasy and imagination that lift the spirits of young and old. THX 1138 is dark and dreary, disturbing and at times offensive. It has no whimsy and fantastical elements (although I swear I saw an Ewok in there. Darn you, Lucas!). Instead, be prepared for Lucas’s dark side. (HA!)

It’s your standard dystopian idea, really. Our protagonist, THX 1138, lives in a oppressed world where emotions are illegal, sedative use and the state sanctioned religion are mandatory, and all is aglow in sterilized white limbo splendor. His roommate LUH decides to break them both free by switching out their medicines. Much odd, clumsy bald-people sex ensues. The two are found out and separated. THX must find out what has happened to his beloved LUH and, with the help of an eccentric hacker and a rogue hologram embarks on a mission to be free or die trying.

What is it that makes a dystopian future so fascinating to us? Is it because we fear a future so different from what we know? Do we see it as a warning for us to change our ways before it’s too late? Is it because so many people can relate, feeling trapped, lonely and held back in their own lives by the government or the people closest to them? For whatever reason mankind has always envisioned a terrifying future for itself and seems to enjoy it. Myself included.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this movie, it being made in ‘69. I’m not saying that nothing good came to theaters in that time period, but a lot of it was grainy, sluggish and devoid of soundtrack of any kind. I want to make it clear that I do not appreciate my movie being a vehicle for whatever talentless pop crooner is big that year, but too much silence between dialogue and action and you end up with something that feels like one awkward moment. Like Napoleon Dynamite, but worse.

Now that I’ve sucker-punched the sacred cow of cult movies I’ll attempt to rectify my credibility before I’m attacked by the pitchfork-wielding hordes and their leather-clad behemoths. THX 1138 is a very good movie. It’s not what we’re used to with today’s attempts on the same genre. It lacks a lot of action, there is no rebellion against the overlords fueled with sweet semi-automatic arsenal, no rallying of the troops with an inspirational speech. There is a definite lack of PVC. If you can’t see your future-gone-awry movie without these elements then you will be sorely disappointed. As for me I enjoyed the subtlety in this film. Simple, yet chilling announcements made over the speakers, disorienting sets and background images made this one unsettling future. I didn’t miss today’s blockbuster flashiness of the scenery and dialogue that smacks the audience over the head with “We’re trying to be epic! And meaningful! Social commentary!! Syyyymbolismmmm!!!”

Instead we are left with scenes like the confessional box where THX goes to talk to the image of the state sanctioned deity. He’s lost control of his emotions and breaks down, sobbing and begging for interaction and conversation. All he gets in return is a flat voice recorded on a loop, repeating the same empty phrases over and over. It’s been a long time since anything in this genre moved me like that. If you’re a fan of dystopia then I suggest that you check this one out. It’s refreshing in its constant creepiness and ability to pull you in rather than waiting for the next big robot explosion.

Now if you’ll excuse me I hear the pounding of a mace on my door amidst rhythmic chanting and shouting. That would be my cue to take my underground exit to the beach where I will escape on my man-made raft.

“I swear, if anyone makes even ONE Styx joke they’d better pray to OMM that I don’t hear it!”

Intermission!

  • A cropped version of Hans Memling’s Christ Giving His Blessing (1478) is used as the visual representation of the state-sanctioned deity OMM 0910
  • Some of SEN’s dialogue was taken from Richard Nixon’s speeches.
  • In the same manner of the epic Han Shot First debacle, Lucas messed with THX 1138 as well. I’ve heard that there is no DVD release of the original as of yet. I can see wanting to clean up the special effects, but what is it about the man that makes him compulsively change important elements in his films?

Groovy Quotes:

    • Male announcer: That accident over in Red Sector L destroyed another 63 personnel, giving them a total of 242 lost to our 195. Keep up the good work and prevent accidents.SEN 5241: You rate very high in sanitation. I checked.

OHM 0910: Buy more. Buy more now. Buy, and be happy.

Male voice (jet car radio chatter): Hey, I think I ran over some – I think I ran over a wookie back there on the expressway…

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