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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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.