THX 1138 (1971) George Orwell Lucas Science Fiction Dystopian Future

thx 1138 (1971) george lucas sci-fi movie poster robot android film

Oh I do love a good dystopian future portrayed in film. THX 1138 is one of my all time favourites. Having caught it sometime in the late 80’s. Randomly switching the telly on after returning from a night on the tiles. Oblivious to its director being that bearded guy who blew my mind with his spectacular space romp as a kid. Just sat, fuzzy headed on the sofa. Transfixed by this white claustrophobic contained city! What the hell was I watching? No internet to search out what this film with the baldies was. Lucky I did know two of the actors. Still it was some years before I got to watch it again and discover it was directed by George Lucas.

thx 1138 (1971) robert duvall work station android building

Just like the contrast with the opening sequence of the Buck Rogers episode Tragedy On Saturn, THX 1138 is set in the 25th century. Whereas Buck is prancing around heroically saving the universe, our “hero”, the title named, THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) is mindlessly trapped in an emotionless society. A vastly populated city controlled with a mandatory cocktail of mind-altering drugs to dispense with any hidden human emotion. Love, passion and especially sexual intercourse and reproduction are extremely prohibited. Drugs suppress desire and the mundane boring captive-like existence doesn’t help increase motivation.

thx 1138 (1971) robert duvall sen 5241 (donald pleasence) srt don pedro colley

Everyone is bald, maybe to stop the spread of lice in this prison like environment but possibly to help contain sexual desire. Everyone looks the same. All citizens dressed in identical white robes. No diversity, no individualism. The population is watched constantly. Video monitors and audio recordings continually observed, surveyed and controlled. An android army of chrome faced black clad cops enforce discipline with softly spoken words and an electric cattle prod.

robots android police thx 1138 (1971)

In a strange and perverted twist, it’s the citizens of this city that do the observing. Their day job is surveillance. To watch, catalogue and report back any misdemeanors, errors, divergent. THX 1138 job is even worse. Working long hour shifts inside a nuclear facility building their oppressors, the android police force. With nuclear rods and isotopes the hazards of mistakes are catastrophic.

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

thx 1138 (1971) robert duvall luh 3417 (maggie mcomie) embrace lovingthx 1138 (1971) robert duvall luh 3417 (maggie mcomie) loving

THX 1138 needs a break. The chance to feel human emotion, human touch. His appointed female roommate, LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) is in a similar position. Secretly they both stop taking their medication. Returning human emotion starts to reappear as they start to fall in love. Passion, desire and innocent like love. The cameras look on! Sexual frustration and voyeuristic sexual tendency watch on from behind monitors. SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasence) and others, observe, record.

thx 1138 (1971) big brother monitor video screens watchingthx 1138 (1971) robert duvall sen 5241 (donald pleasence)

What will THX 1138 do? Can he escape this controlled, inhumane and dystopian city?  With androids ready to apprehend and big brother watching your every movement. Who can you trust, where can you go? What actually is out there? Come join THX 1138 on his intense journey through this state controlled society.

Some voyeuristic observations….

  • THX 1138 started life as George Lucas’s short 1967 University film Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB. Later in 1971 Lucas reworked the film as a theatrical feature. This is where the razors came out!
  • Good old George just loves to go back and fiddle like The Emperor Ming! “I like to play with things a while…. before annihilation!” Whereas I’m not a fan of the Star Wars re-edits, tinkers and CGI awful additions. THX 1138 CGI digital restoration on the whole works for me (except the shell dwellers at the end which look terrible). With digital units and displays looking crisp and the added crowd and worker sequences adding more size and depth to the industrial complex.

thx 1138 (1971) robert duvall android police chrome

  • Fits in well with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World as a triple bill of a depressing future. I do think the more futuristic looking THX 1338 distances itself from those two classic pieces of science fiction literature.
  • Talking of Nineteen Eighty Four. Guess who connects the 1956 film version and THX 1138? Yep Donald Pleasence. Surprising how many science fiction films he has appeared in.

thx 1138 (1971) confessional booth jesus forgive robert duvall

  • Lookout for the automation of the religious soulless confession booths with an imagine of Christ giving his blessing with recorded repeated messages. Adds a cult like quality to the film.
  • Neat little short documentary called Going Bald featuring the reactions to the actors having their heads shaved. Lucas –I felt very sorry, bad, thinking what have I done but I got over it quicker than they did” hehe

thx 1138 (1971) motorbike cop android police chrome

The dystopian, post apocalyptic future world is created and realised with incredible detail. It’s claustrophobic, scary, mechanical and completely void of emotion. Yet the film is filled with personal emotional minimalist scenes. The close up camera work on freckled faces, showing every blemish, mark, wrinkle, makes for a very intimate view. Ultimately making the characters vulnerable and extremely human.

It couldn’t be further removed from George Lucas’s Star Wars but strangely you can feel Star Wars dotted right through the film. Little ideas that get recycled in 1977, sounds, visuals etc. Not direct but subliminal. Saying that some of it could of been added in with his fiddling back in 2004.

thx 1138 (1971) robert duvall escalator science fiction lucas

Well with my unhairy head human form being of the baldy persuasion I think I would fit in very well ….. especially like the idea of watching a holographic dancing naked african lady whilst my very own “relief” machine goes to work. Oh! did I say that out loud!?

And on that bombshell I’ll duck on out of here. Let me know your thoughts on this one if you wanna. Many thanks for popping on in…….. Mikey Wolf

To sing us out here is Gangstarr – “You Know My Steez” homaging the film in the music video.

PS Yep how could I have done a whole month of science fiction films and didn’t feature George Lucas’s Star Wars Trilogy?  Well would you know that the good man Jay over at Cinema Essentials has done sterling work on all three. I can’t recommend enough, pop on over, have a read and say hello.

Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) (1977)
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)


11 thoughts on “THX 1138 (1971) George Orwell Lucas Science Fiction Dystopian Future

    • Don’t worry I see where your coming from. I can’t say the same because it meant so much as a wee little boy but I am so impressed with THX. Not saying your older than me but I think the next gen up don’t have the same obsessed Star Wars connection. My 58 year old good friend is like “can’t see what all the fuss is about” lol

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great write-up. This is definitely something I’m interested in checking out.

    Thanks also for the enthusiastic recommendation, that’s really appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m positive you will really like it Jay. Please pop back if you do see it and let me know. Or do one of your superb articles. No worries on the links. Respects due on those most excellent in depth looks at SW. (ps I will get to Return to Jedi soon)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Saw this as a kid on late-nite TV (CBS aired it first, I believe) and was totally floored even though some subject matter was above my pay grade (I think I got five bucks allowance a week). A few years and viewings later, boy, did I get this and how. It’s a film that does grow on you, but I’m not a fan of the revised edition’s shell dwellers or ALL THOSE EXPENSIVE CARS Lucas added in, lol. I guess those Lolas were considered high-end appeasers for those who could buy them, lol.

    That said, I do wish the re-version’s DVD had both cuts for comparison’s sake. You do get Lucas’ original short film and a doc of the actors getting their haircuts in an unusual setting, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a shame the original version isn’t in the box set. Would be amazing to, like you say, compare them. I think like the star wars films, he likes to nuke the old versions. Shame. I do prefer this fiddle with over the SW ones. With the exception of the the end, the rest bulks and cleans it up. … That bald doc with the strange and different settings for the hairdresser to wreak carnage on his victims is fun. The poor girls looked pretty shaken though! Very unique looking film. I love it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I actually like the new edition, minus (I agree) the monkeys/creatures at the end … CGI was horrible! Anyhow, I think Star Wars kinda ruined Lucas … THX and American Graffiti were excellent small-scale productions, so it is too bad that he never returned to his roots.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I hadn’t thought about that before, you so right. Shame he couldn’t of managed some small projects in between SW. I wonder what we could of had instead of the prequel trilogy? Anything would of been better. Though I guess he would of been judged whatever he did! Cursed by your own creation!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review 🙂 How does it feel to cross another Moviedrome movie off your list that you have seen – in your Moviedrome post you implied something about achieving the goal of seeing all of the films in the guide 🙂 Speaking of Orwellian films, did you ever see Terry Gilliam’s Brazil? 🙂 It is basically what you get when you blend absurdist humor with elements of Orwell and Kafka. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha yes I’d already included this one in my ticked off Moviedrome list but I do need to revisit my post and have another tally up as I’m sure a few more have sneaked in. Must be near on the halfway point. Yes Sir I’d like to have seen then all one day. Just sooo many other films as well. It’s an achievable and enjoyable challenge.
      “blend absurdist humor with elements of Orwell and Kafka” That sums up Brazil very nicely there John. Well done

      Liked by 1 person

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