The brilliance behind George Lucas’ 1971 THX-1138 is how he creates a “subconsciously disorienting mood” which exposes us to old school special effects with expressive sound design amplifying the functionality of a dystopian society going down an attenuated hopelessly bleak path where all human emotion is oppressively regulated through none other than subversive technology. Lucas’ is giving us a glimpse of how the world could be and not necessarily showing us how things actually work in that world. It’s THE FUTURE!!!
A secluded society functioning underground without the companion of emotions, nature, beauty, the sun, and utter sensation of wonder has been skinned from humanity while working under the guise of a nuclear assembly line. And let’s not forget about the endless onslaught of propaganda that distracts them from their miserable existence. Which oddly feels like it resonates to today’s heavy usage of social media, data analysis in advertising, constant news coverage of what’s the latest “fearful” trend all while dismantling the line between reality and fantasy. Isn’t it obvious, the world is slowly inching its way through the waiting room of a psyche ward? However, if you’re not heavily medicated then I suppose there is some hope for you and your escape through the dizzying chaos of 2017 which is now 2018. Pat yourself on the back for surviving, you’ve survived another frustrating obstacle, but don’t take a break yet, get ready for the next wave of uncertainty to hit.
The precursor to THX-1138, Lucas’ short student film, ELECTRONIC LABYRINTH THX 1138 4EB (1967) proves to be jarring in it’s claustrophobic nature but also intriguingly enough was produced by Navy students in the Navy workshop of USC. All in all, the film follows a man escaping a futuristic labyrinth while under surveillance which eventually becomes the full feature length THX-1138.
Lucas’ got lucky being astutely strategic along with the aide of an advisor seizing an opportunity to teach Navy students about filmmaking while taking full advantage of the Navy’s resources of unlimited use of color film, lab processing costs, film equipment, and perhaps even access to certain locations. Amazing how things fall into place.
So as everyone has handed over the keys of their humanity to machines!!! EVERYONE. Especially when you hear the repetitive statement which more so feels like a brain-washy command…
“For better efficiency, consumption is standardized.”
Wait, does consumption feel like some form of mind locking slavery? In the Lucas universe it applies to all…
Okay, with exception of Robert DuVall who outstandingly hones his role as THX, while sticking it to the man by being a nonconformist and by the way, Walter Murch believes, THX is homonymous with SEX and his mate LUH with LOVE. Aww how sweet and the irony of being detained, and charged because you give in to your own bodily desires completely alters their lives but also gives them the opportunity to reclaim their lives. This story rules and I’m totally reminded why I admire sci-fi movies. And apparently, (I don’t know if this is an accurate fact or not) Lucas’ named the film after his San Francisco phone number. Genius.
With that being said…
The sound montage by Walter Murch is so sublime it’s practically a crime. If you decide to rewatch the film after reading this, pay extra close attention to the sound effects, the texture, the atmosphere, it’ll subtlety feel like you’re being sedated. Just let your head float on a pillowy cloud which I kind of equate to the sensation of experiencing a sound bath. Try it sometime. Just try it. And was anyone else laughing at the sequence of the Mark 8 student and instructor off screen analytical, monotone dialogue, while being oblivious to the torture of THX spasming out on the floor twitching and screaming like a dilapidated contortionist? The dialogue was so blasé and unsympathetic it was comedic.
“I just punched up one and I’m opening…”
“That’s it now, watch that reading, what the needle on five. This knob is loose.”
“Don’t let it get above 4.7”
“What if you put up a dual display?”
“That’s funny dissolution happens at 4.5.”
Some interesting things to point out in this world is the camera direction in how it’s up close, personal, and very accentuated in the white limbo room’s wide shot scenes, where THX and LUH are naked and getting poked and shocked like livestock being wrangled to their imminent death. Eeriness also lies in those long shots of THX walking through the corridors, the comedic elevator scene, or how about the naked hologram erotically dancing in the living room and of course the electronic glowing Jesus head in the closet which is actually a famous painting by a German painter, Hans Memling. And yet, these are all set pieces of the future and it’s disturbing to fathom now, but I can totally see those things becoming a futuristic trend maybe by 2137, especially when we’re currently on the precipice of toying with AI technology. Oh dear.
I have so many thoughts about this film and the possibilities of numerous theories and new insights especially since this was made in 1971 and we’re in 2018. You’re not always going to need the fancy CGI effects to tell an original story, but as long as the message pierces through all of that, then I suppose it’s really something the mind can play with and question while managing to be entertaining. I feel like so many films today fail to make us question things. Isn’t that a shame? The day we lose our curiosity and just accept whatever the status quo is is the day humanity surrenders to the one’s who dominate and execute their power by using the status quo as a bargaining chip. It becomes an infiltrated game of chess, ah yes the game of life, hijacked by the powers at be. Scary.
Ultimately, man creates a society where emotions are abusively controlled and individualism has been struck down like a dove from the sky. But you know, humans will always have the intrinsic impulse for freedom as long as they keep resisting and fighting the future, there will be a sense of purpose instead of being force-fed a faded idealism that’s meant to be construed as being “for the greater good”. Often times, it’s our perceptions that sway us to believe we’re doing the right thing, when the right thing can be so distortedly subjective leaving most in questionable waters, squealing for a life jacket. But don’t worry the chrome robot policemen will keep you safe as long as you don’t fuck with them and you take your meds, you’ll be just fine.
Alas, I suppose we should take solace in knowing:
Consumption has been standardized.
Let us be thankful we have an occupation to fill.
Prevent accidents, and be happy.