Cinephile or not, it is probably correct of me to assume that most people have heard of George Lucas. He is responsible for creating one of the most fantastic and immersive fictional universes to grace any medium ever. Of course, I’m talking about his Star Wars films, which he didn’t always direct, but is completely responsible for. There was a pre-Star Wars Lucas believe it or not. One of his films is American Graffiti, a look into youth culture of the 1970s. The film I want to discuss is the science fiction film that started it all: THX 1138.
Far off into the future, human beings are kept under control by a large amount of sedatives that block any sort of emotion or opinion, with love being the ultimate crime. THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) is just another mindless cog in the machine until his room mate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) stops taking her sedatives and tricks THX into stopping his sedation. As THX begins to think for himself and even fall in love with LUH, the government quickly catches on starting a labyrinthine game of cat and mouse through the darkest recesses of this future dystopia.
Does this movie sound familiar to the people who follow this blog? I’d say the reason it might is that the plot sounds very similar to Equilibrium. While the plot may be similar in more ways than one, THX 1138 is executed in a completely different way. The best way I can describe this film is by calling it a new wave science fiction film. THX 1138 was released in 1971 when the New Wave “style” finally made its way to American with the likes of The Graduate, so this film can definitely seen as taking a style that has travelled from Europe, Asia, and finally America and making it into something that wasn’t really seen before. The minimal set design and constant wandering of the characters with out a completely defined goal are characteristics that are seen in many New Wave movies that came before THX 1138.
This is a very different movie, especially from what you may have come to expect from George Lucas. This is in no way extravagant. The copy that I watched did have some computer generated enhancements that both helped some scenes and made others look ridiculous, but for the most part, the set design is pretty dry. I mean that in the best way possible, however. The coolest part of the movie takes place in a white room that seems to go on for all eternity. This perfectly describes the hopelessness and emptiness of a society without free thought. It’s a void of emotion and opinion where only those brave enough to dare to think for themselves are kept. It’s visually memorable and psychologically haunting.
The minimalism of THX 1138 is where it really succeeds as dystopian science fiction. I’m, personally, a huge fan of the genre and seeing a film, such as this, succeed in such a remarkable way is refreshing. This was before Lucas became so obsessed with creating outstanding blockbusters that mainly were used as money grabs. I’m in no way bashing the original Star Wars trilogy. They were outstanding homages to multiple genres and had outstanding characters and plot development, but then Jar Jar… No. THX 1138 is not flashy nor is it overt in its themes. Prepare to ponder this film long after it ends.
THX 1138 is a intellectually stimulating and visually remarkable example of science fiction film making. The plot takes its time and the setting is sure to make you uncomfortable and have you longing to return to your own comfortable paradise called your living room. I can say that this movie isn’t for everyone and the pace will surely throw some people off. To those who don’t mind a plot that moves deliberately slow and enjoy a film that is minimalistic in its style, than I’d highly suggest THX 1138.