A man escapes from a future automated authoritarian world. [ THX 1138 credits: Dir: George Lucas/ Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Maggie McOmie/ 88 min/ SciFi-Fantasy, Drama/ Anti-Socialism, Government as Torturer, Government Enforced Morality, Individualism]
The future presented here is a bleak prospect in which drugged human slaves do the bidding of what is apparently a totalitarian techno-oligarchy. It isn’t a very happy place, contrary to the views of its current-day advocates in Congress.
The population is drugged, intimidated, soulless—and therefore manageable. In some ways, it’s different from current times only as a matter of degree. There is a channel on television where you can watch police beating someone, sort of like Cops; people are routinely prosecuted for illegal drug use and sexual activity; and the state has assumed the role of moral and religious leader.
In this milieu, a couple secretly wean themselves off of the state-mandated drug that keeps them, and everyone else, passive. It’s risky to do so because the state watches everyone constantly via surveillance cameras and other devices, and the penalty for avoidance of sedation is severe. They take that risk because they want to have normal lives with a full range of human experience and emotion undimmed by forced medication.
They manage to get off the medication, but before they can get out of this self-contained authoritarian city they are arrested. The man makes a run for it with the police in hot pursuit. What saves him in the end is simply the government’s limited budget. The police exceed their predetermined spending limit and the chase ends. That, of course, is the one thing in this film that is unbelievable. As anyone who has observed government in operation knows, spending limits are something like finish lines. They are to be exceeded at high speed while crowds of fellow bureaucrats cheer the spender on to as many profligate victory laps as he dares.
Sci-fi fans in particular will find THX 1138 worthwhile, if for no other reason than to see the directorial debut of George Lucas (later of Star Wars fame), who also wrote the story. That said, the experience of watching it is pretty bleak. The symbols and reality of state control are everywhere, and it’s a cold, sterile, monochrome world that only a Soviet architect could love. As they say in the film, “Blessings of the State. Blessings of the masses.”
“THX 1138 feels like a hypnotic dreamscape, so luminously stark, from its white-on-white abstract sets to the wide-eyed, bald, near catatonic residents of this world.”