Film / THX 1138

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"The Future is here."

THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) would be a happy worker drone, if the pills he takes let him feel anything. He "lives" in a windowless industrial/commercial/dormitory along with other shaved-head people in a chemically induced haze until the day his roommate, LUH (Maggie McOmie), sabotages his daily dose of pills in order to make him feel. They both fall madly in love, but their bliss is short lived since the pills gave THX a vaunted steady hand in his industrial job, and without it they may be discovered.

Which, sadly, they are. Once arrested THX is sent to a strange White Void Room to receive "treatment" for his deviance. He recruits fellow inmates SRT (Don Pedro Colley) and SEN (Donald Pleasence) in an attempt to escape and rescue LUH. However, the escape won't be easy, and in their strange world, nothing is guaranteed.

This 1971 science fiction film was George Lucas' feature directorial debut, and started his rapid ascent in Hollywood. You may be more familiar with this film from the sound system company Lucas named in its honor, or from the fact that the number 1138 shows up everywhere in Star Wars and related products in reference to it. It is also a remake of his 1967 USC student film project, "Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB".


This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The original 1967 film is only 15 minutes long, and consists in its entirety of 1138 running through corridors as the controllers try and fail to stop him.
  • Affably Evil: The mechanical police apparently are programmed to be remarkably polite at all times. Even when arresting people and jabbing them with electric prods, they're always calmly insisting they're just there to help. In one scene, one of them even lets a group of curious kids handle his baton while warning them to be careful with it because it's heavy.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: Extending even to the characters' scalps.
  • Big Brother is Employing You: The residents work for the government.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The residents' lives are constantly monitored through CCTV cameras.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • THX makes it out of the confines, only to find a desert world and with no idea where to go next. Also, LUH 3417 was apparently terminated according to information presented on one of the terminals. The same terminal indicates that apparently she had a baby with THX, to which her name/number has now been transferred; which may or may not be a good thing, considering how children are raised in the city.
    • In the 1967 short he makes it out, but the voiceover has a government message telling his mate, YYO 7117, that she will need to apply for a new mate.
  • Bureaucratically Arranged Marriage: Implied with the arrangement of "roommates" although the drug-enforced platonic nature of these arrangements calls into question whether "marriage" is quite the proper word for it.
  • Confessional: The robotic confession booth, also known as a unichapel, is played on a tape. When SEN later sees the same picture in a room, he starts confessing to it as if it were in a booth.
  • Cool Car: The Lola T-70 Mk3 race cars used as police cruisers.
  • Cue the Sun: The ending.
  • Dystopia: Let's see... we have an antiseptic future that seems to have combined the most self-destructive tendencies of both socialism and capitalism. Religion is illegal except for worship of the Almighty State, and the residents are all constantly monitored and work for the government, in one capacity or another, and are expected to inform on their neighbors for crimes such as computer hacking or refusing to take their medication; at the same time, though, they are encouraged to work long hours, make money, and buy as much material property as they can. (We see THX himself buying a red thing at a store that sells nothing but different-colored things; he takes it home and promptly throws it down the garbage disposal, which is what you're apparently supposed to do with them.)
  • Early Installment Weirdness: For George Lucas movies; contrasted to his more well known Star Wars films, THX is a very bleak, down to earth, slow paced film.
  • Epiphanic Prison: There are no guards, nor is there any lock on the one door THX and his allies find. The prison depends entirely on the prisoners being too crazy or too afraid to leave.
  • The Evils of Free Will: Permeating the film, and considering THX had better work performance without all those pesky emotions...
  • Fascist, but Inefficient: Enforcement is actually pretty lax, and every operation that involves apprehending law-breakers comes with a budget and has to be shut down if that budget is greatly exceeded.
  • First Time in the Sun: A somewhat dark version in the ending.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: Released in the wake of the original Star Wars trilogy being remastered with added CGI. Some of the alterations are understandable: making some rooms bigger, adding more people, or generally giving the story a larger sense of scale. Others scenes are augmented with far less defensible uses of CGI, such as the car chase which now looks like it came from an actual animated movie, or most of the strange men on the outskirts of civilization being changed to primates. The addition of a seconds-brief changing room scene for the mechanical droid cops actually imbues them with humanity, instead of leaving them as sterile, hard authority figures.
  • Government Drug Enforcement: Usage of emotion-suppressing drugs are mandatory for the residents.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy:
    • The robotic police are not crazy, they just break down too easily.
    • The humans in charge of overall security end their chase of THX when it becomes too costly.
  • Hologram:
    • SRT, maybe. Considering he was in the White Void Room, he may just think he is.
    • The TV shows THX watches are projected holographicaly in the room.
  • Meaningful Name
  • Not So Remote: Criminals are sent to a prison that seems to be in the middle of nowhere. In actuality, narcotics in the convicts' rations limit their vision so that everything in the distance appears as empty whiteness. THX escapes this Cardboard Prison simply by walking far enough into the emptiness that he encounters a wall, which he follows to an exit.
  • The Outside World: Shown at the end.
  • Platonic Cave: The cave is the entire underground city, and the final scene where THX climbs the ladder and escapes into the sun is a clear reference to the "rough ascent" and transcendence as described in the allegory.
  • Pinball Gag: "TILT//" is seen right after the wipe-out of a mounted police officer that was pursuing THX.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: The final scene and end credits are accompanied by "Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen", the opening chorus from Johann Sebastian Bach's St Matthew Passion.
  • Shout-Out: Chewbacca's species name is first heard here. Doubles as Hilarious in Hindsight.
  • Stock Shout-Out: This film is the source of the "number 1138" Easter Egg seen in later George Lucas productions.
  • Thoughtcrime: What the confessional booths weed out.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: It is set in the year 2187.
  • Vocal Dissonance: The big, scary looking robot policemen wearing leather and helmets have kindly, old man voices.
  • We Have Reserves: People aren't considered people, but economic commodities to create wealth.
  • White Void Room: The place where "defectives" are taken for "treatment" of some unspecified kind.
  • X Days Since: The sign in THX's workplace noting the time since the last accident.
  • You Are Number 6: Everyone has a license plate name.
  • Zeerust: Strangely, the year 2187 has tech that looks a lot like the late 1960s or early 1970s.

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