THX 1138: Directors Cut
(directed by George Lucas, 1970/2012)
***** (out of 5)
> In 1970 when I was 14 years fresh, the original theatrical release of THX 1138 left an indelibly deep impression on me. I always considered it one of the most singular and visionary movies I’d ever seen in a lifetime of worshipping at the altar of the silver screen- easily one of my favorite science fiction films. The theatrical film is a remake of a short student film Lucas made at UCLA that was so impressive he found a studio to back him in his first directorial effort. Much of it flew right over my head in that first thrilling viewing, but I saw the film several times thereafter, (mostly in bits and pieces, significantly edited and defanged by TV,) and still, each repeated viewing revealed hidden riches I had overlooked.
. THX 1138 is a bleak vision of a rigidly homogenized and highly controlled future dystopia. It is also the “identity” of the main character compellingly played by a youthful and compelling Robert Duvall. He is an everyman, a working drone who labors making the robotic police who control, enforce and micromanage every aspect of his society. It’s dangerous work, in an environment that brings to mind the laborers in METROPOLIS, who are no more than cogs in the machinery, and just as disposable. The populace of this hellish futureworld is identically clothed, and all their heads are shaved bald. They are encouraged to buy “dendrites”- symbolic products of no obvious use, and immediately dispose of them when they get home. Several times a day they are force-fed mind-altering drugs to keep them sexless, focused on work and not questioning their lives. They are watched over by a druidic class that administer regular citizen video confessionals, presided over by a classical representation of Jesus, spouting platitudes we would expect from Big Brother. Intercourse is outlawed, but masturbatory machines take care of sexual needs to a wall-sized video feed of undulating nude dancers. This ‘director’s cut’ package restores some footage cut from the original release, and contains new shots of THX in his high-pressure workplace, as well as revealing this startling new detail. (On TV, only a portion of the screen is shown, to omit the offending detail, the shot suddenly becoming high contrast and grainy.) All citizens are paired with a platonic partner so they can spy on each other. THX has “LUH”, a woman who has secretly stopped taking her meds, and as a result, is beginning to feel strange new emotions like… desire? And… love? LUH begins to sabotage her partner’s drug regime, and before long, he too begins to have an unexpected awakening. Without the drugs THX can no longer safely operate his station at work, and near disaster results. He begins a clandestine sexual affair with LUH filled with the natural discovery of repressed human emotion. But when they are discovered, THX is arrested and imprisoned in an enveloping white void that appears boundless and LUH’s fate is worse.
. In this second part of the film, THX is accosted by SEN, Donald Pleasance at his most oily and obsequious, in the best performance of his career after Blowfeld. The infinite void becomes horribly oppressive, and THX nearly loses his mind.
. The third part of this is unique film is a reimagining of his original student film. THX begins walking to test the boundaries of his prison, and SEN appoints himself to the “reconnaissance mission”. Eventually, they meet a tall entertainment hologram (the “wise fool along the road”) and he helps them find the way out. From here, it’s basically an extended chase sequence where they scramble to be free while pursued by relentless technocrats and their robotic henchmen.
. And the ending? …Have I ever experienced a more blissful and exhilarating final frame of a film? Let me think… No.
. This is one of the only DVD’s that I ever watched a second time to hear the director’s play-by-play analysis, and I must say it was fascinating. It gave me a real window into just how much of a genius George Lucas really is. In explaining his intent at every turn, I saw that even as a very young man, Lucas knew exactly what he was doing. Though imagination and intuition plays a role in his genius, every moment is carefully considered on a myriad of subtle levels. He and screenwriter Walter Mirch offer unexpected insights at every turn, and as a result- I imagine I will enjoy it even more if I live long enough to get around to it again.
> Haven’t seen THX 1138? Well, it’s not for everyone, but if you are serious about your love of films, if you love classic sci-fi and appreciate the vision of George Lucas, you owe yourselves this treat.
© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.