Friday, January 14, 2011

THX-1138 (1971)

Title: THX-1138 (1971)

Director: George Lucas

Cast: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasance


So I hadn’t written a proper review for THX-1138 and considering how its one of my favorite science fiction films ever and considering I recently gave it a re-watch, I decided to properly review it. After all, with the possible exception of the first Star Wars film, in my eyes THX-1138 is George Lucas’s finest day behind the camera. At the very least, this is George Lucas’s most relevant and thought provoking film.

Story centers around a character called THX-1138. He works in a factory constructing robots for the government. It is a highly stressful job because the slightest mistake can cause a chain reaction of explosions that can result in the death of many of his co-workers. But to avoid that tragedy, THX works under the effects of a mind numbing drug that every citizen is supposed to take. Problem comes when THX stops taking the drug and starts feeling the stress of every day life building up on him. Will he be able to escape the madness of society? The pressure of living in such a complex, consumption centered, burocratic and oppressive society is getting to THX, will he stand the pressure? Will he ever find a means to escape it all and be truly free?

THX looses it at his job

Some might think that such a subversive film is a rare thing coming from such a commercial director as George Lucas, but when you look at it, Lucas has always been a bit of a rebel. What is Star Wars if not the story of a group of rebels fighting against a totalitarian government? What are Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader if not the epitome of evil dictators? Aren’t Luke Skywalker and his friends the definition of true rebels? So it comes as no surprise to me that THX-1138 is so subversive a film, even coming from such a commercial a director as George Lucas. The difference between Star Wars and THX-1138 is that THX-1138 isn’t a film for kids. It isn’t sugar coated with jokes from R2-D2 and C3PO. THX-1138 is as serious a film as they come. The tone is one of bleakness and despair.

he world that THX inhabits is one devoid of emotions or life. Emotions are prohibited in this futuristic dystopia. Individualism is not encouraged, everyone must look and dress the same. Everyone shaves their heads bald, everyone dresses in white clothing. This is how the world would be if a totalitarian government completely took over. For some reason, some forms of government focus all their strengths in quieting the expression of the individual. Art forms a big part of self expression, as a result, art is banned in a totalitarian government. The only art that is acceptable is the one that the system gives you, the art that is approved by them. I have personally seen art expos shut down because they speak up against the government, so we are not that far away from the world that this film presents us with.

In fact, while watching the film I almost didn’t fell like I was watching a science fiction film. There is this scene in which THX is captured by the police and taken away to a room to be visually analyzed and studied. While they do this, faceless police men probe THX with electrical rods. Psychologically and physically torturing him. This film could easily become a representation of how many countries are living today; the scrutiny of the individual for example. We are being watched 24/7 by cameras. Wherever you go, you are in fact being watched. You go to the mall, the theater, the bank, you are being recorded without even knowing it. The websites you visit are monitored. Everything you type in an e-mail can be read if so desired. And if they chose to do so, you could be watched with the help of those nifty satellites that circle our planet. So privacy has gone out the window, and the proverbial words from Orwell’s 1984 have become oh so true. “Big Brother IS Watching you”. Make no mistakes about that.

But THX just wants to think on his own, make his own decisions, take control of his life. Feel what its like to be alive and alert and deciding his own destiny. This is the reason why he stops taking the government issued drugs. This drug intake is an obvious allusion at how the government deals with rebels in society. Those subversive individuals who don’t want to play by the rules are sometimes considered crazy by the rest of society. When the grand majority thinks one way, the one person thinking differently will be considered a nut job. And nut jobs are sent to the shrink were they will be prescribed a number of mind numbing drugs similar to the ones THX has to take on a daily basis on the film. The ultimate desire is to subdue, to quiet the individual. This drug theme can also be seen in Equilibrium (2005) where everyone has to take emotion suppressing drugs. THX is treated the same way when he is deemed uncontrollable by the system. He is sent to a looney bin with a bunch of bonafide crazies. Thing is that after a while amongst them, he realizes is not one of them, he knows he is not crazy and that he doesn’t belong. Once again, we are not so far away from the future depicted in THX-1138.

Realizing he is not crazy and that he doesn’t belong in an insane asylum, THX steals a race car and escapes in a thrilling extended chase sequence. If you get the recent dvd release, then this chase sequence is a bit more special then the theatrical release because Lucas tweaked it (as he often does with his films) to make it more exciting. Wee see more of THX driving at high speeds through the highway. As for Lucas’s new additions to the film, Im actually completely okay with it because it makes the film look all the better, it expands the THX-1138 universe. We see more of the factory where THX works in, we see more of the robots he builds. The city landscape is richer. It seems that George Lucas never really finishes his movies, apparently he will keep altering them till the day he dies, its part of the Lucas way I guess.

Robert Duvall and George Lucas go over a scene

Watching this movie can be a suffocating experience, you feel the grip of the system in every scene. THX is not a happy camper, the weight of society pushes down heavily on him. There is one amazing scene where he finally escapes the insane asylum in which THX comes face to face with literally thousands upon thousands of human beings walking up and down the road, almost to the point where he cant walk anywhere. They push and shove, on a big hurry to their destinations. THX is paralyzed by the over population. But what’s most crushing really is the grip that this totalitarian government has on its people. From the mind numbing drugs, to the constant monitoring, to the constant hammering of ideas through the media, through speaker phones on the streets urging you to be “productive” and to consume constantly. Through out the whole film you are constantly hearing a pre-recorded robotic message blurting out instructions as to how to behave all the time. Its no surprise that THX himself doesn’t say much, it’s the system that does most of the talking on this film; which says a lot about how personal freedom is displayed here, you almost cant think for yourself. Your thoughts are suppressed by the overpowering hammering of the systems ideas into your psyche. Kind of reminds me of when I get a media overload (yeah I bet you get those too) and don’t want to watch anything else being sold to me, so I go into this mode where I ignore all kinds of billboards and commercials entirely. Watching THX-1138 can be as soul crushing of an experience as watching 1984. Both films give us a look at a future that we hope will never come. Sadly, the truth is that it’s partially already here.

Rating: 5 out of 5

THX 1138 - The Director's Cut (Two-Disc Special Edition)THX 1138 (The George Lucas Director's Cut) [Blu-ray]Thx1138 [VHS]THX 1138 (The George Lucas Director's Cut)


Cal said...

A truly haunting film and your review picked up on many reasons why. Thanks for the great read!

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for reading!

NNN said...

video tribute for the THX lovers :

Anonymous said...

A good film, but it is not realistic at all, partly save for the condition in countries like North Korea

Franco Macabro said...

Not realistic? This is a science fiction film, realism is not required.

robotGEEK said...

Great one man. After Lucas released his Directors Cut of this on DVD, it quickly and easily became one of my favorite films. I loooooove this film, but nobody really gets it. lol. When I try to show it to someone, they're almost always bored and don't appreciate the experimental quality of it. I love it though. If you didn't already know, you'd never guess this was made by George Lucas. Amazing.


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