Dusting Off... THX 1138
What is it?
Before Star Wars, at the beginning of the 1970s, George Lucas was a relatively unknown director scratching out a living making film shorts and ‘making of…’ documentaries, but that changed in 1971 when he got the opportunity to make his directorial debut for a feature film. Billed as ‘a love story set on location in the 21st century’, THX 1138 is a science fiction film set in a not too distant future where people are subjected to an ongoing course of ‘programming’ designed to make them happy. They are also given number sequences for names and monitored 24 hours a day.
However, the programming, which includes courses of prescribed psychoactive drugs, doesn’t always work and not everyone is as ‘happy’ as those in charge of this utopian society would like.
Describing these cases as ‘perverse exceptions’, the authorities control any misbehaviour through a system of surveillance and a sinister police force of robotic beings called ‘shell people’ who pursue, intercept and capture anyone who tries to escape.
Two such potential escapees are THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) and LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie). LUH replaces her work colleague’s drugs with harmless placebos and THX begins to feel emotions again, eventually realising her is falling in love with her. He plans to escape with LUH to the surface of the ‘superstructure’ where he thinks they can live in freedom, but it won’t be as easy as he thinks…
Why should I revisit?
If you look past all the cuddly Ewoks and camp, comedy robots, Star Wars is quite Orwellian in essence; a film about a ruthless, despotic tyrant trying to create a galaxy-wide utopian empire.
The subject of power structures – and the abuse of them – was obviously looming large in Lucas’ mind during the 70s and you can almost see THX 1198 as a more grown-up depiction of the same idea, only set a little further forward in time where the rebels have lost.
It’s a fascinating insight if nothing else, but it’s also a stylish, atmospheric thriller featuring a fantastic performance from Duvall and though its very ‘of its time’, it has enough flair and poise to make it a classis that still looks cool years later.
Who will enjoy it?
If you’re a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s early films you’ll love this movie, as will any Star Wars fans.