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Thursday, July 5, 2012

THX 1138

After our brief respite in the comedy sci-fi of the mid-60s, it's time to return to the dystopia of the 70s. THX 1138 (THX) was the first film George Lucas directed. He developed the story and co-wrote the screenplay. Robert Duval stars in the tittle role. Donald Pleasence plays SEN 5241.Lucas expanded a college film project of his into a feature film. The result is a dark view of a stark future. There will be many dystopia themed films in the 70s. THX is one of the more enigmatic ones.

Quick Plot Synopsis
(Note: Much of the power in THX lies in visuals and subtle small things, so this bare-bones plot can't do it justice)
The film opens with a teaser-trailer for a Buck Rogers episode announcing how the marvels of the future have not changed Buck. THX is an assembly line worker at a plant that assembles the robot policemen. It turns out his room mate, LUH, has been willfully not taking her meds. Off her meds, she has developed feelings for THX, so she secretly weaned him off of his meds too. Emerging clear-headed. THX discovers feelings for LUH too. They make love. Their new relationship is illegal. She suggests they escape. THX is sure they can keep it a secret. At his factory, a man named SEN has arranged for LUH to be sent away and THX to be his new room mate. THX reports this violation of the rules. At work, THX makes many mistakes, since he's off his meds. A central control dispatcher turns on the Mind Block for THX, causing him to nearly blow up the plant. He is arrested for "drug evasion." He is tried as a subversive. He is taken to a solitary prison of a vast infinite whiteness. The authorities mess with controlling his mind and body. LUH comes to him (a dream?) and they make love again. RoboCops take him away and put him into a white prison with other inmates. SEN is among them, because of THX's report. SEN talks of escape plans. Others babble rhetoric. THX just decides to walk out of infinity. SEN follows. After a long while, they encounter another man, SRT, who has a delusion that he's only a hologram. SRT shows them the way out. The hatch opens to a crowded concourse. SEN becomes separated. THX and SRT get into a bio-lab with fetuses in jars, then a computer bank. The robot cops search, but they evade. SEN almost escapes, but becomes frightened at the prospect and returns. The robot cops pick him up. THX and SRT find cars at a parking deck. THX takes off in one. SRT can't get his started at first. When he does, he immediately crashes and dies. Two cops on motorcycles pursue THX in the tunnels. THX eventually gets away. The robot cops are recalled, as his capture has exceeded the allotted budget. THX climbs an air shaft to emerge into a big red sunset. Roll credits. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Dystopia movies without happy endings are not "fun", but they can be stimulating. Lucas a rich vision of a bleak future. THX is a very visual film. There are themes and concepts to keep many conversations going. It interesting to muse how much closer we are in the 21st century to THX's "Future".

Cultural Connection
This film is one of the echos of Stanley Kubrick's landmark film, 2001. Lucas' view of The Future shares the antiseptic spartanism. By the time of Star Wars, Lucas would have a less terrible view of The Future.

Student Project -- The seeds for THX was created by Lucas in 1966 while a student in college. There, he created a 14 minute film titled, THX1138 4EB. It was basically about the man THX fleeing through hallways, monitored by the authorities and pursued. The film ends when THX goes out a door into bright daylight. There is no back story provided for why THX is escaping. The big impression is of a future society in which the government monitors everything and controls almost everything. All the citizens except THX and dutifully milling about. THX is the lone independent.

Big Step-Brother -- Lucas' screenplay borrows from and melds some prior dystopic visions of the future. There are the omnipresent present eyes of The Authorities and State control of its citizens as in Orwell's 1984. In THX, Big Brother is more visible and turns out to be layers of middle-level functionaries, dispassionately carrying out their tasks. As in Orwell's vision, love is illegal and the two main characters are in trouble for rebellion via emotion.

Brave New World -- As in Brave New World, the population is controlled by drugs and government has taken a corporate spin. Reproduction is controlled by the State.

Metropolis -- As in Fritz Lang's 1927 film, the mindless workers toil in an underground city. One scene, in which several of the robot assembly workers are working in their stations, is very visual reminiscent of Lang's workers at their stations on the Moloch machine.

Escape? -- The film ends with THX climbing up to the surface, silhouetted ageist an extreme telephoto sunset. The starkness, combined with the mutant animals he encounters near the surface, suggests that the earth's surface was rendered uninhabitable. Perhaps THX escaped the frying pan, only to find the fire and not a blessed freedom.

Christ-In-A-Box -- Lucas has his citizens use phonebooth-like confessionals which sport a large image of Christ (from a 15th century painting) The style of the art is bland and emotionless. This fits the canned therapist voice of OMM 0910, which periodically says "I see," "I understand," and "…could you be more specific…" without regard for what the confessor is saying. The State uses these non-annonymous confessionals as a source of incriminating evidence. The facade of a religion is a tool of The State. (This being what the framers of the US Constitution intended to prevent with the First Amendment.)

Bottom line? THX is not an easy popcorn movie. Like 2001, it takes some concentration and connecting of dots. Lucas tells much of his story is tiny nuggets scattered throughout. These can be easy to miss for viewers accustomed to shallow action flicks. Missing a few dots renders the whole movie incomprehensible. This is why THX has as many vocal detractors as it does fans. Viewers fond of dystopia films will enjoy it. Those fond of happy endings and tied up story threads, will likely not be so fond of it.

1 comment:

Randall Landers said...

I think the most disturbing thing to me is in the natal unit wherein we see the new LUH.

All in all, several visually striking scenes. The crowded passageway always reminds me of STAR TREK's "Mark of Gideon."