George Lucas adapted this, his first film, from a short he made at University. THX 1138, LUH 3417, and SEN 5241 attempt to escape from a futuristic society located beneath the surface of the Earth. The society has outlawed sex, with drugs used to control the people. THX 1138 stops taking the drugs, and gets LUH 3417 pregnant. They are both thrown in jail where they meet SEN 5241 and start to plan their escape.
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The majority of the science fiction films during the sixties and seventies focused on media, television in particular, serving as a ritual function with a negative viewpoint. In THX 1138, through the mechanism of linking television and individuals, we can observe society gradually being stripped of humanity as technology disrupts reality and the media invades our environment. The film focuses on society’s dependence on technology while depicting conflicting situations through film techniques which are centered around abstract art. By utilizing this style, the form itself presents a sense of a captivated environment and serves to engulf the viewer.
Throughout the film we observe how society is governed by omnipotent technical efficiencies. People reproduce and breed new humans in a systematic, sterile manner which is based on environmental efficiency. Their manner of communication, intercoms, is impersonal. People are seen confessing their inner-beliefs to a mechanical, distant computer recording machine and society is shown living under the authority of robot-like police officers. As a result, not only is this idea of people becoming totally mechanical present, but with it comes the obliteration of all human, sensitive values.
The film presents an ever presence of consumerism, how religion is void of truth, and how love is an end in itself. One primary offense in the technological society is drug evasion (not abuse), where people misuse technology. This gives the viewer an indication that technology governs and possibly controls all aspects of society. Though the idea/concept of love is non-existent, we witness the woman taking THX’s drugs in order for him to release his sadistic behavior and feel love. As THX and the woman become more intimate, the camera zooms closer to the characters. In addition, the scenes when they actually demonstrate passion differs from the rest of the film with color, composition, and the presentation of the mise-en-scene.
As we see the closeups on these characters, the imperfection of humanity is suggested due to the darkness of their skin, and the roughness of their hair. After the two persons have a sexual encounter, the woman mentions, “they are watching us,” indicating the filmmakers intentions of explaining how technology has dominated and controlled society to the degree that we are always being watched. We also observe similar images through the television monitors, where two men sit and watch THX, but give no reference toward the person. This example illustrates how a culture is dependent upon media for interpretations of experience.
In addition to expressing his views on how technology is destroying humanity, George Lucas provides the audience with one of the most historical, intriguing scenes in cinema. During the “white scenes,” we can note how Lucas draws attention to the intellectuals of society and possessing freedom to do as they please. THX is shown “taken out” of society in this white background. He is presented alone in limitless space since we cannot distinguish the exact location due to the abstract composition. This mechanism attempts to remove the viewer as well as the character from the known world and reflects the intellectual activity in society with different purposes and usually eliminated from mainstream society.
Towards the end of the film, we see how THX is struggling with his own sense of freedom and what he wants and moreover what the technical machines tell him to do. These situations create ambivalence and force him to make a decision to comply with society or rebel. While he is attempting to escape, we hear the machine police officers say, “we won’t harm you, we only want to help you.” The irony here is that they really think they are going to help him, just like the attitudes of certain societal institutions, thinking they can help individuals. The final scene results in a graphic and tragic ending. After escaping the officers, THX climbs up a ladder and we see him entering a new environment, which appears to be engulfed by a vivid sun. This ending is a strong indication from the filmmaker to show that nature still exists beyond all of technology. The ending becomes tragic because it presents us with the question, “is the individual capable of living outside society?” As we see the sun setting and THX becoming out of focus, we can get an indication that he is just going to end up going back down the ladder. The irony in this ending is that the individual is not free within society, but cannot be free without societal limitations.