THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971)

Lucas’s first feature, based on an idea by Matthew Robbins which became a story by Lucas and then a script by Lucas and sound editor Walter Murch – it remakes and extends his student film THX 1138 4EB (1967). It was produced under the umbrella of Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope and Warner Bros.

The film is a dystopia where peoeple have letters and numbers as names, little more than registration numbers. THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) works with radioactive materials, but his mandatory drugs are being replaced by placebos by his mate, LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie). This allows his sexual desire to return and they have sex. Drug evasion and copulation are both illegal, and they are arrested. THX faces brain washing, and ends up in an all-white cell limbo with SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasence) – who ironically enough had been trying to become THX’s roommate (why, I’m not sure). The two escape and go on the run – SEN is recaptured, but THX reaches ground level and watches the sunset.

This is perhaps the most depressing Lucas material – the most deliberately depressing Lucas material, and the film was initially rejigged by the studio. The limited release saw a small but not significant profit, and a restored late-1970s re-release did little better. Naturally the DVD is a director’s cut, with added CGI crowd and world building, and the odd extra shot. Some of these make more links between THX and SEN. THX does escape, but SEN does not, and the pregnant LUH seems to be dead. There is a bird or two in shot at the end, but the sun is setting, suggesting the end of times.

The banning of sex and the imposition of sedatives are dystopian stand-bys, but the item that doesn’t convince is the insistence on consumption – aside from the consumption or ingestion of drugs. No one seems to own anything – the apartments are virtually bare aside from masturbation machines and holograms. But the satire of the cost of policing – which allows THX eventual escape – is still relevant today.


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