Wednesday, March 21, 2007



"A pretentious regurgitation of worn-out sci-fi clichés by a novice filmmaker who had yet to find his way." -- William Arnold, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER


THX-1138, LUH-3417, and SEN-5241 live in a futuristic society located beneath the surface of the Earth which has outlawed all interpersonal human relationships, The machines that run everything use drugs to keep the population’s emotions under control. THX stops taking his medication, develops true feelings for his lover, and makes a run for the surface.


Most of the present day interest generated by THX-1138 is the fact that it was the directorial debut of George Lucas. Yes, that’s the same George Lucas who gave us both Jar Jar Binks and 1978’s Star Wars Holiday Special (And, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re either too young to know about it or you’ve been blessed by God to never have seen it.) THX-1138 is his freshman effort and it shows a little.

To be fair though, a lot of people, myself included, like this movie. The acting is decent, the writing is acceptable, and, if nothing else, it's got Donald Pleasence in it. Not to mention, for a glorified student film, it makes pretty good use of its budget. Which from the looks of things must have been about $5. This is most evident in the set design. Like so many other low budget movies, THX-1138 portrays a future that looks an awful lot like the basement of a factory or power plant. If sci-fi B-movies are any real indication, mankind has a lot of long white corridors and overhead pipes to look forward to.

Fortunately, the low budget actually adds to the impersonal feel of the society the film wants to portray. All of the rooms have very little furniture with no decorations or photos, nothing at all with a personal touch. All of the citizens are forced to shave their heads and wear the same white uniform, in effect becoming the same person. Emotional extremes, including sexual desire, are suppressed by enforced medication. And, in tried and true sci-fi fashion, the main occupation of the humans seems to be in assembling the very robotic police who keep them under control. The future world we're given in THX-1138 is one in which everything is “fair” and “equal” from a materialistic standpoint; but apparently at the cost of individual identity.

THX-1138 never really gets too specific about what brought humanity to this sad situation. There are some vague references to some above-ground disaster, but for the most part, the movie is obscure enough so that the viewer can insert whatever socio-political boogie man they feel inclined to. It does, however, take some time to point out some of the "tools" society uses to keep mankind in a controlled state. There's the government controlled commerce, of course, and the government sponsored entertainment. And of particular interest to us, there is a scene in the movie where THX steps into a phone booth to call the main control center in order to make a confession of his sins. Ah yes, organized religion is also a tool for control of the masses.

I think it's fair to say that plenty of people do view religion as nothing more than a means of social control. And, only a fool would make the claim that, over the centuries, there haven't been numerous examples of people using religion to do just that. But, that's not really the issue. Nobody intelligent makes the claim that the misuse of religion in and of itself proves religion is a bad thing. (Okay, some daytime talk show hosts do claim that, but nobody really takes them seriously but nighttime talk show hosts anyway.) No, the misuse of religion is just one more proof that some human beings will use any means whatsoever to get what they want.

The better question is whether or not there is something ingrained in organized religion itself that inherently demands the surrender of your individual identity; does organized religion demand absolute control over it's adherents. Sure, some of them like the ancient Egyptians did, but oddly enough, they're not around anymore. What about the ones that are still around, though; what about mine?

You know, if you just skim over things, it doesn't look too good. Look at the close of the 19th chapter of the gospel of Matthew, for example. The apostles are thinking about the “unfairness” of their current situation and it’s Peter who speaks up. (Who else?) "Look, Jesus" he says, "we left everything and followed you. What do we get, Lord? How about a little something for the effort?"

In his usual style, Jesus answers with a parable. It's the well known reading about the wealthy landowner who hires groups of workers at different intervals throughout the day, but still pays them all the same wages once the work is done. Which doesn't seem quite fair, either to the workers in the story who toiled since early morning, or to the apostles listening to Jesus tell the story. It really seems like Jesus is telling us that individual effort doesn't matter and we should just shut up, do as we're told, and accept what we get. Just what is it He wants us to get out of this story? It’s obvious we’re supposed to think the landowner is in the right, but how?

I think the key to the parable may actually be in the first few verses. Before the landowner ever pays anyone a single denarius, he first has to go to the marketplace and offer them work. And remember, none of these people had jobs before he showed up. He then keeps going back to collect more and more workers. In the end, the emphasis in the story is not whether everyone did the same job, but rather who responded to the call to come work at all.

And what does this have to do with control and the loss of individuality? Well, let's use an easy example. Christianity (and pretty much all of the other major religions) claims as a moral absolute that the poor be cared for. That's one of the non-negotiable things we're called to respond too. But HOW we're supposed to respond isn't given too much detail. How do we define who is poor? Do we help them through charity, enterprise, or the government? Do we give with no expectation or do we require some commitment in exchange for the aid? There's a lot of leeway given to our individual response, and that's really smart, because it ensures that somebody somewhere is covering all the bases for the task required.

I would have to say the call to respond in a unique and individual manner is one of the great strengths of Christianity and it's why people with completely opposing social philosophies can still join hands in church and call each other brother. The extinguishing of the individual would actually be one of the most crippling things the Church could ever do. It couldn't sustain the society of THX-1138 and it can't sustain ours.


You know, Mr. Lucas can keep saying things in interviews like he’s a Buddhist-Methodist (whatever that is), but we can see where these ideas are coming from George. In his book, Mythmaker: The Life and Work of George Lucas, John Baxter writes “Without the… upper-middle-class Methodist values he absorbed during his upbringing…, the Star Wars films, the Indiana Jones series, even the more eccentric THX-1138, let alone American Graffiti, would have been very different. Indeed, they might not have existed at all.”

So don’t worry, George, when all is said and done, God still loves you. And He'll probably forgive you for that Holiday Special. As for Jar Jar, though, well, there's always Purgatory.


dadwithnoisykids said...

I found your site after wandering around in the St. Blogs Parish list - I recently joined it. I had to stop reading your posts because I woke our baby up. Keep up the good work.

God bless.

dadwithnoisykids said...

may we suggest movies to review?

EegahInc said...

I think it's fair to say that if I'll watch some of these, I'll watch just about anything. I'm happy to take suggestions as long as they're among the less-than-major releases.

D. G. D. Davidson said...

Being a later comer to the site, I just discovered this review. Very good.

I've not seen this, but the basic plot reminds me of the novel The Giver, which post-dates it. These ideas are cliches, but they keep coming up anyway, sometimes with success: The Giver, after all, won a Newberry. Of course, that could just mean the Newberry judges don't read much science fiction.

EegahInc said...

No, there's nothing terribly original here, but the execution is good. At least the original version I saw. It's a Lucas film, so he recently released an enhanced version with some CGI monkeys or something added to it. I haven't watched it.

I actually don't mind revisiting themes over and over as long as the take on it is interesting. One of my favorite things way back in art school was to see how 25 different people drew the same thing. I always learned a new way to look at something. (New not necessarily being the same thing as good in many cases.)