In the 25th century, an autocratic regime mandates that emotions are suppressed via mandatory medication and presides over a population of shaven-headed, drugged, hollow-eyed humans.
THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) is imprisoned – charged with “drug evasion and sexual perversion” – following an illegal affair with his female roommate, LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) during which LUH 3417 became pregnant.
THX 1138 eventually manages to escape with fellow prisoner SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasence) and learns that LUH 3417 has been terminated and that her name has been reassigned to foetus 66691.
Already distressed and completely disillusioned with the world around him, this discovery causes THX 1138 to try to find a way out of the underground structure which houses the entire society whilst he is being chased by the same seven-foot-tall robotic cops he used to manufacture in his job as a magnesium manipulator at the factory.
He does manage to escape in a very cool car (in reality, a Lola T70 Mark III) when – in a Project Manager’s worst nightmare – the pursuit of THX is called off by the Big Computer because the project has gone over budget.
Striking with its minimalist eerie Orwellian setting and primarily white imagery (actors dressed in white filmed against white backgrounds), THX 1138 perfectly depicts its cold, dehumanised and paranoid world.
None of the big scenes were shot on sets. The miles and miles of white corridors – lustrous and translucent as tooth enamel – are real places; banks, hospitals, yet-to-be-used Bay Area Rapid Transit tunnels in San Francisco and institutional buildings.
Whilst the film was neither a critical nor financial success upon its initial release, it gained a steady cult following and was rediscovered when Lucas became a household name after the success of Star Wars six years later.
This superb movie was an expanded version of a prize-winning film which Lucas made as a student in the 60s, called Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB. He shot it on a shoestring budget and edited it in the attic of his house in Mill Valley.
George Lucas has consistently paid homage to his directorial debut with references in many of his subsequent films: The number plate of Paul Le Mat’s Deuce Coupe in American Graffiti (1973) is ‘THX 1138’; Han Solo and Luke Skywalker transfer Chewbacca from Cell Block 1138 in Star Wars (1977); in Attack Of The Clones the tiny LED on the back of the clone trooper helmets reads ‘1138’; and in The Phantom Menace (1999) ‘1138’ appears on the back of a battle droid destroyed by Jar Jar Binks.
Don Pedro Colley
Gary Alan Marsh
Eugene I. Stillman
Raymond J. Walsh
Johnny Weissmuller Jr