Film made by director George_Lucas in 1970, starring Robert Duvall, Maggie McOmie, and Donald Pleasance. It tells the story of one man's struggle against dehumanization in an underground city in the future.
THX 1138 was Lucas' first feature film, but was based on an earlier short film he made as a student at USC called THX 1138:4EB. The earlier film told the same basic story, but with very little dialog or exposition, and with almost no character development. Lucas, and writers Walter Murch and Ben Bova, expanded the story and characters of the original film into a script more suitable for a feature length film.
THX 1138 takes place in an underground city in the unspecified future. The protagonist is THX 1138, played by Robert Duvall. Sex is forbidden, and the residents are kept subdued with mandatory drugs. They are monitored constantly, and worship the picture of a man called OOM. The basic scenario is reminiscent of George Orwell's novel 1984.
The residents of the city are also patrolled by mechanical policemen. THX's job is to construct these policemen. THX's roommate is a woman, LUH 3417, who falls in love with THX. She has stopped taking her required drugs, in violation of the law, and secretly replaces THX's drugs with placebos. Free from the drugs THX falls in love with LUH and they have sex, also in violation of the law.
Without the drugs to stabilize his nerves he fails at his work, which is very delicate, and attracts the attention of the authorities. Meanwhile, one of LUH's supervisors, SEN 4251 (played by Donald Pleasance) develops a crush on THX, and connives to become his roommate. He requests to see LUH after hours, against procedure. LUH and THX become suspicious and report him. SEN's quarters are searched and he is imprisoned.
THX is later arrested and imprisoned in an endless white room. LUH is deposited there, and she informs him that she is pregnant, and they have sex. LUH is then removed by the robot policemen, and THX is moved to another part of the white room with other inmates, including SEN.
Several of the inmates have been there for many years, and debate endlessly about how to escape. After several days there, THX regains his strength and finally just walks away from the others. SEN nervously follows. Eventually they meet another man who claims to be a hologram. While it is never fully explained, it seems that he escaped the world of hologram television simply by stepping out into the real world.
THX, SEN, and the hologram find a door and step out of the white room into the city. In an elongated chase scene, THX, SEN, and the hologram evade the police. They lose SEN, who is captured. THX and the hologram come to a control room where they ask the computer to find LUH. They discover that she has been killed and recycled into a fetus.
THX and the hologram each steal a car, and escape from the police, who follow on motorcycles. The hologram crashes his car, and it's unclear if he has actually died. THX continues to the outskirts of the city until the car breaks down. He continues on foot, climbing up a long ladder through the outer shell of the city. At this point the police give up the chase because the operation has run out of funding. THX escapes, emerging from the underground city into the rising sun.
While THX 1138 is by far Lucas' most un-commercial film, and much less entertaining that any of his later films, it still explores the core themes which dominate his work. His work often deals with a character who must make a pivotal choice, and take action, to change his life, or society. In Star_Wars, Luke Skywalker chooses to leave Tatooine. In American_Graffiti, Curt Henderson chooses to leave Modesto, California. In THX 1138, THX chooses to leave the cocoon of the city.
While the older philosopher prisoners debate about the nature of the white room, THX simply leaves. While his journey is not without peril, in fact he loses all of his companions, including LUH and their unborn child, in the world of George_Lucas he must ultimately succeed. The passion and commitment of simple humanity is superior to the mechanical bureaucracy of the city (or the Empire). THX can persevere in his quest because he believes in his cause; the policemen cannot succeed in capturing him because they are only machines, and their main concern is bringing the project in under budget.
While THX 1138 is certainly Lucas?' least popular film, and the style and tone make it difficult and tedious for some viewers, it is a significant marker in his career. Aside from being his first foray into feature films, it is also the first clear example his major themes and stories. While the financial failure of the film would push him to develop more commercial story telling and film making techniques, the issues he explores in THX 1138 are the same ones he would continue to address is his later films.
The cinematic sound systems company THX Ltd. is owned by Lucasfilm, and is presumably named after this film.
didn't minor references to THX1138 turn up in a couple of his later films? A car's number plate in American Graffiti, or the like?