"It's a strange life. Cybernetics, genetics, lasers and all those things. I guess I'll never understand any of that stuff."
Directed by George Lucas; Four words that have taken on a new meaning in the last decade. They didn't used to have a negative connotation, but since May, 1999, they're known to draw strong reactions, from eye rolls to aggravated groans to downright aggressiveness. Lucas had taken a hiatus from directing after Star Wars in 1977 and had moved more into producing and development. Then when it came time for him to create the prequels to Star Wars, he stepped back behind the camera, but this time he had the world at his disposal, and he no longer had to deal with adversity or people telling him no, and his myriad flaws as a director showed themselves.
In the late 60s, Lucas was coming out of USC as the wunderkind of his graduating class, and was interested in experimental films and, in particular, Japanese cinema. He took these influences and created his student film Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB which was told with no dialogue through images and sound. It caught the eye of Francis Ford Coppola who offered to executive produce a feature length version. The result is 1971's THX-1138, a film set in a dystopian future where people are forced to take pills to suppress their emotions in order to be more subservient, better workers and consummate consumers.
LUH (Maggie McOmie) is a worker who has stopped taking her pills and has begun to experience emotion for the first time. She begins swapping out the pills of her mate THX (Robert Duvall) for placebos, unbeknownst to him, so that he can experience the world the way she does. At first it has an adverse effect on him, causing him to lose concentration at work, question his faith and suffer a few meltdowns, but once the medication wears off, he's ready to get frisky with his lady friend. Unfortunately fornication is against the rules of society and they are now fugitives.
This is the essential plot of the film. It goes on to deal with THX being put on trial and being sentenced to be reprogrammed and incarcerated. One of LUH's co-workers SEN (Donald Pleasance) has apparently ratted her out and sent her off to be killed, but he is incarcerated with THX (I'm still not entirely sure why). THX and SEN try to escape, meeting up with SRT (Don Pedro Colley), a hologram, who knows how to get above ground, so this becomes their new goal. THX finds out that LUH was killed and her name was reassigned to a fetus, presumably their child, and with nothing else to keep him below ground, he fights to get above ground, ultimately succeeding.
The film clocks in just shy of 90 minutes but it is just this side of interminable. All the white gave me a headache and the ambient sounds and computer sounds got on my nerves after a while. The performances are fine, about as good can be expected in a Lucas film, they're serving the stylized whims of a director whose idea of directing actors is to just say things like "faster and more intense." It serves his purposes, but I don't really think that any of them are giving what I would call good performances.
One question that I have about the film that's never really addressed is the fact that every actor in the film except for SRT is white, and it's established that SRT is a hologram. All of the holograms that THX and LUH watch on their "television" are also black actors, so why are the whites real people and the blacks holograms? Maybe I'm just reading into this too much, but Lucas' history with stereotyping is well documented enough to raise the question here.
Unlike Death Race 2000, this film has so many commentaries going on that it's hard to understand who Lucas' target is. He attacks religion, consumerism, government, pharmaceuticals, technology, law enforcement, and authority in general. I know that it's not my place to tell George Lucas this, but I feel that without a point of attack, the overall commentary is lessened. If he had just gone after religion, or just gone after government, it would have had a stronger message. It still resonates, and it shows that the things that the rebels of the 70s were rebelling against never really change.
We'll always have those tenets of society to stick our middle fingers out at and comment on. Societal structure doesn't really change. The levels of power and influence of those in charge may increase, but they may also decrease, so any film that rebels against the establishment will always seem prescient. I don't know that it really speaks to George Lucas' talent as a visionary, so to speak. I don't think, and have never really thought that he was one. He's an idea man who has been savvy enough to surround himself with great actualizers and he's made some great films as a result.
When left to his own devices however, the result is a mixed bag at best.
Tomorrow's film will be James Whale's 1935 horror sequel The Bride of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester.