George Lucas’ THX 1138, screening this week at 5th Avenue Cinema, is a 1970s dystopian science fiction film about a highly controlled underground city. The story here is one of an unhappy nature. Man has moved underground, is overpopulated and is under the control of big government. Every citizen is on drugs at all times. To be sober and drug free in this world is a crime. Video surveillance watches the populace 24/7 and monitors everyone on everything, down to their own thoughts. Video surveillance observes the populace constantly. Everything is monitored, even their own thoughts.
In this futuristic hell of a world, human life as we know it no longer exists. The differences between men and women are virtually destroyed by the State, allowing only unisex haircuts and uniform wardrobes to mask all gender differences. The sole motive of this city is to work, produce goods and ultimately, to consume.
Even sex is banned because it is thought to be a distraction from production. Sexual needs are fulfilled individually with what I can only describe as a masturbation machine. This world has no God—only a production deity known as OMM 0910. They have no love, and essentially no hope.
One day a woman of this dystopia, LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) decides to stop taking her medication and realizes—what a shocker—that she is in love with her roommate, THX 1138 (Robert Duvall). LUH decides to take him off his drugs, and he then begins to reciprocate the same feelings toward her.
The two begin a passionate and sexual relationship, even though it is forbidden. Once discovered, they must go on a journey for freedom, love and independence.
The symbolism Lucas incorporates throughout the film is both powerful and revolutionary. Everything in the film is white, from costumes to the characters themselves—all of which add to the pristine and sterile environment of the underground city. The whiteness represents the overall premise of the movie, which is essentially a future devoid of nature. Materialism replaces naturalism, which diminishes freedom by the driven order.
Lucas establishes the tone of the film through characters who are flat, monotonous and mechanical. The character THX 1138 however, is the embodiment of nature and, as the movie progresses, so too does his connection to the natural world. His sexual encounter with LUH 3417 is the first that motivates him to seek out the organic. He uses his natural abilities to overcome his weaknesses and to escape the underground city. By the end, THX 1138 learns to embrace nature, and above all learns that the sterilized collective that is so glorified in his society is in truth the epitome of humanity’s downfall.
THX 1138 is an emotional and powerful story of one man’s desire to disassociate from the domination forced on him. This is one of the forgotten classics of dystopian fiction, and should be rightfully recognized as a groundbreaking film for apocalyptic motion pictures.