Review of 'THX 1138'

thx_1138.jpg In a dystopian future/alternative reality the people of the earth use drugs to curtail all emotion and live as mindless workers, dressed identically and with shaven heads. The society is not so much ruled as monitored by workers from the masses themselves with sex confined to a physical, mechanical act with machines, without love. THX 1138's (Robert Duvall) companion LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) secretly changes his drugs and the two fall in love, having intercourse. The watchers find this puzzling, performing a series of unsuccessful experiments on them to see what it is they feel for each other. With the illusion of the walls surrounding them falling all around them the two must escape…

This is George Lucas' first feature length film that is decidedly different than the main stream Hollywood films he is now well known for but one that, for him, is extremely satisfying in that it was telling the story he wanted to tell in the way he wanted to tell it. So much outside of the system that this film was co-released by Warner Brothers and an independent studio set up by him and Francis Ford Coppola, “American Zoetrope”. It was never a huge success and Lucas indicates was always intended to be an ironic, humorous story, and one which he never particularly considered “Science Fiction”.

The film features an extremely young Robert Duvall in the leading role as the troubled THX 1138 who is an innocent caught up in events beyond his understanding. Maggie McOmie, who plays THX's companion/lover LUH was said to have had quite an attractive head of hair at the time of this film so shaving it off must have been a bit of a sacrifice for her. She plays off THX very well, obviously being very much aware of her actions and enjoying every minute of the rebellion. In the role of an observer SEN 5241, Donald Pleasence (also quite young here) is a simple product of the system, showing little understanding of what THX and LUH are up to, seeking a better roommate in THX. His character's idiosyncrasies and blindness are brought wonderfully to live, largely and naively reacting to THX and LUH.

This is a film where the situation is unusual but it is the characters that bring this reality home to the viewer which the three lead actors do incredibly well. The sets, for the most part are sparse in the extreme such as the examination area which is effectively a large white space. These minimalist surroundings really give a feeling of other-worldness and it's inhumanity – a dark vision of humanity.

Note that for those of a sensitive disposition there are several fairly explicit sex scenes as well as scenes of mild torture.

An interesting, if slightly disturbing picture from an early master Hollywood director. On first viewing THX 1138 is quite troubling but on subsequent viewings bearing in mind Lucas' assertion it should be humorous it puts another angle on the film and makes it a bit easier to take. Regardless, the visuals and story from THX 1138 will likely haunt viewers for a long time.

Enjoyable? Hum, perhaps not. I can't see fans of big Hollywood blockbusters particularly enjoying it with it's slow pacing and minimalist approach in both filmmaking and story. Interesting and compelling? Yes, definitely. Likely one more for alternative film fans…

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2020-05-23

Directed by: George Lucas

Studio: American Zoetrope

Year: 1971

Length: 88 minutes

Genre: Science Fiction

Other reviewed films by George Lucas: