THX 1138 (1971), or Whatever Happened To THX 1137?

25 11 2009

Can you imagine a world without George Lucas? I imagine there are some people who try to envision that scenario every day, but it’s not easy. George Lucas has changed the face of cinema forever, and while it’s debatable whether we’re much better off for it, I think it’s important to acknowledge all that he’s done. American Graffiti, Star Wars, Indiana Jones… okay, that’s pretty much it, but Star Wars is big enough for 10 movies. His influence is undeniable in the annals of the modern day mainstream action or sci-fi film, and he’s world renowned for his innovations in make-up, special effects, and sound design. But long before any of that, Lucas was just a struggling nobody, looking to make a buck off one of the ideas he had in film school. THX 1138 is George Lucas’s debut as a filmmaker, and it showcases what might have been if he had directed more than 6 movies in a 40 year long career. It’s daring, insightful, and, for all it’s faults, it’s entertaining, the real mark of a Lucas film.

It’s, yet again, THE FUTURE!!! Man has screwed himself yet again by creating a society where emotions are strictly controlled and obstructive rules crush originality and individualism. Underground, they work and toil in total seclusion, away from the possibilities and wonder of nature and the beauty of the sun. One of these poor dopes of the future is named THX 1138, and he works in a nuclear production line of some sort, and his life is misery. He does the same thing day in and day out, and his entire life is controlled by the drugs he is indoctrinated into taking and the propaganda that plays on the overhead 24 hours a day. It’s a depressing outlook for him, and it seems he’ll spend the rest of his life in a boring jumpsuit doing the same activity over and over until he dies, until one day his female roommate decides to stop taking her meds. Her entire life changes, and she decides that THX needs to feel this as well, so she starts feeding him placebos to ween him off the emotion-dampening meds. When he finally awakens from his self-imposed coma, he begins to have real zest and desire again. He and his roommate begin talking of escaping the underground to go live away from the oppressive society, as well as their baser desires for one another (i.e. they have dirty 70s sex off-screen). But almost immediately after all this coitus and crazy talk, they’re arrested for their heinous crimes against the state. Thus begins THX’s breaking away from the status quo. After his arrest, he begins a transformation that will see him through the labyrinth of underground tunnels all the way to his escape. He cannot handle the underground society and needs freedom. But what will the government be willing to do to keep him from seeing that freedom he craves?

Robert Duvall IS THX 1138. What a total shift from everything he’s ever done. Take a moment to look at his filmography. Go ahead. No, seriously, go look.

Go.

Hmm…

You back yet? Okay, did you see any other sci-fi films? And those TV shows from the 60s don’t count! This is Duvall as you’ve never seen him before; he’s fit, he’s young, and he’s ready to stop taking his future meds!!! THX is Lucas’s ultimate symbol of artistic expression, and his vision of how the artist should react in modern Hollywood when demands are made of their work. Duvall slyly understands this, and makes the character something that anyone can relate to, by reminding American audiences of their innate desire for freedom. It’s a good move, and it works well in this case.

Lucas, on somewhat of a shoestring budget, crafts a rather terrifying future that we are forced to consider. It’s not overpowering, and it’s not even that original, but Lucas does one thing well despite it all, and that is make the movie look good. The effects have a lot of thought put into them, and they border on the disorienting. Lucas’s dystopia is filled with disembodied voices commanding many things from its inhabitants, so there is a lot of chatter in the air that you’ll have to get used to. The city looks pretty good for ’71, and the sets are depressingly claustrophobic, which I’m sure was the desired effect. My favorite set piece though is the Sanctioned Deity. It’s Hans Memling’s Christ Giving His Blessing, and it’s had a particular resonance with me. Here’s the image:

Christ Giving His Blessing

Christ Giving His Blessing

Kinda freaky, huh? Jesus, Caucasian for some reason, staring at you like he wants to eat you. It weirds me out a little bit, I won’t lie.

So if you want to watch a movie with your family this Thanksgiving with Donald Pleasence as a vengeful techie reciting speeches from Richard Nixon, Robert Duvall as a guy who just wants to roll around in the grass and get laid, and George Lucas with a passion you’ve never seen him with before, THX 1138 is your best bet, you upstanding family man, you. It’s not very long, the message isn’t very crisp, and the final sequence can get a little repetitive, but it’s decent entertainment that has something to say, and there’s never really enough of that nowadays. It makes me want to see more of this guy’s filmography, but unfortunately I think I’ve seen the rest of his films about 5000 times over by now. Oh, well. Check this out if you want something new and technically innovative for its time. I give THX 1138 7 1/2 disarming Jesus portraits out of 10.

Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving! Give me a good recommendation, and I will watch it! Goregirl gave me a fantastic one, but I still need more movies to see before the end of the year!

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3 responses

26 11 2009
Jason

Speaking of young, 1970s Robert Duvall, you should review Network from 1976. One of my favorite satires ever.

7 09 2011
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17 08 2015
brian

Local Hero

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