THX 1138

THX 1138 (1971)

Notes: 88 minutes.

Robert Duval
Donald Pleasence
Maggie McOmie

Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas

Introduction: The film begins with images clouded in blue color. We see a downtrodden man being picked up by what looks to be a robot. We see people working side by side with white suits on. The whiteness is a theme used throughout the movie. We see people watching each person. It is a security system one might expect to see in a casino. We also immediately learn that it is illegal to have sex and that people will be “prosecuted for drug evasion.” This is a skewed law in that one is arrested for not taking the drugs provided. THX 1138 is the man that we follow. It is clear that he is human right away for he is making a mistake.

Robotic Confessional: THX 1138 makes his way into what looks like a phone booth but which we soon find to be a futuristic confessional. He is unable to finish a whole thought before the “listener” responds. It is quite eerie and the robot is unable to offer any support to this human besides asking him to “Work hard, increase production, avoid accidents, and be happy.” This is the best advice that the computer can offer THX 1138 so he heads home to his “mate.”

Home Life: This life does not seem to be too exciting. He watches TV only to find sex or meaningless violence interesting enough to spend his time on. It is an image of a robot policeman hitting a human with a rod. He is given pills by his mate, whom he does not seem to care for in the least. THX 1138 and LUH 3417 were denied a “birth born,” because they are restricted. He leaves have another “confessional,” which provides no support once again. THX 1138 confesses to us that “he thinks he is dying” and he ends up puking in the booth. This time the robot tells him, “let’s be thankful we have commerce, buy more, buy more now and be happy.” This provides a similar disturbing connection between ad campaigns and religion. He returns to his mate and they decide to mate, even though it is against the law.

Malfunctioning Robot: One of the officers that is obviously a robot starts to malfunction. This connects to the malfunction of THX 1138 and LUH 3417. Another man, SEN 2541 requests THX 1138 as a roommate. It is the computers that are supposed to pick the roommates so THX 1138 leaves upset and eventually reports the troublemaker to the authorities.

Escape from Rigid Life: LUH 3417 wants to leave with THX to live in the Super Structure. SEN programs LUH for something else. As THX walks down the hall to report the violation by SEN he hears “performance perfect is perfect performance” — a tacit idea in today’s work force that is directly inserted into the minds of this workforce. The computer is able to put a mind-lock on THX 1138 during which, he is unable to move as his fellow workers run from the radiation leakage. He is to be arrested and the police officer does just that. He speaks to him and tells him that “everything will be all right.” He is to be destroyed.

A Minute in Court: In a moment of talking over chaos, both the defense and the prosecution simultaneously argue their cases into microphones. The prosecutor states, “Economics must not dictate situations that are obviously religious.” The computer spits back a sentence immediately. THX 1138 is to be detained. During which time he is prodded with electrical poles by the robot police. Numbers are used for the police offers to communicate between each other. “Now the 521, and the 112, skip the 124, the 321, on to the 69.” Eerie machine sounds are in the background.

Getting Fixed: THX 1138 is inserted with tubes and other devices that do not look familiar. The computer states that he has many reusable parts, parts meaning organs. Creepily his body is being salvaged. He is placed in a huge white room and he is being manipulated by the computer and its controllers. LUH 3417 gets into THX 1138’s holding place and has sex with him, only to be interrupted by the robots, shocked, and carried away. He is taken to the asylum-like place. However, it is white just like every other part of the world that they live in. He is put next to SEN 2541, which does drive him a little crazy.

Walking: THX starts to walk with SEN 2541. They get so far away that it is impossible for them to see anything in any direction. The mise en scene keeps one guessing where they are going and where they are going to turn up next. The white background and white clothes makes the characters look like floating heads. THX 1138 says, “Look,” but when the camera looks, one can not see anything, and then suddenly a man starts walking toward them. He is a hologram that has decided to leave the computer system. Strangely, he is starving and eats the food that they have left. He shows them the way out.

Escaping: Nothing stops them from exiting the white enveloped world. They find a lot of people smashed together like rats in small hallways. The hologram always wanted to be “part of the real world” so he left. He shares this while they are in the area where all the fetuses are kept, presumably to grow into workers for the good of the community. They find their way into some sort of mainframe that fills up an entire warehouse. A voice keeps track of the expenditures that THX 1138 is costing the computer. THX finds a picture of the confessional priest, then a real one appears. He is forced to kill the priest in order to preserve his own freedom. THX 1138 finds out the truth about his roommate who is merely in a jar. Hologram says that they are “matching plates.” “Be efficient and be happy.” The computer is constantly trying to program the people who work for it. They escape in cars and are chased by the robot police. The chase endures until the budget constraints are placed on the robot police. They are taken off the case because the account to catch THX 1138 is overdrawn. He finally climbs up a large tube just in time to see the sun set on the surface. He looks around and says nothing.

THX 1138 is a strange monster movie. Through the majority of the movie, one is left wondering: who is the real monster? In the end it is clear that the all-controlling computer is the monster. Also, commercialism and economics are found to be monsters. The horror really strikes a person when the connection between religion and commerce is made on the screen when in reality this connection is accepted at least once a year: Christmas. This is a tough movie to finish, but if you do, and watch it a second time, then it is well worth it.

–Jake Nonis

Robot Films