I had heard many positive things about THX 1138 prior to viewing it, particularly its technical achievements. Given this, I expected the film to be visually amazing but lacking in narrative. I am here to tell you that THX 1138 is far more than fancy cinematic magic and is definitely an enjoyable film. I know it is a brave statement to make, but I find the film to be equally as good as Star Wars, if not better. It represents a moment in independent American filmmaking that relied on directorial vision over producer's demands and it certainly reflects artistic vision as something of greater importance than inherent financial success. In the vein of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, THX 1138 combines minimalist artistry and dystopian lyricism to make a film that stands alone as a work that has clearly inspired many of its predecessors.
As stated, the film is clearly inspired by Plato and as such, the narrative follows a society that literally exists underground. The people, more insect-like than human, follow the orders of speakers, robot police officers and a print screen image of Jesus. From the onset things appear to be forever entrenched in logical oppression, until a couple identified as THX (Robert Duvall) and LUH (Maggie McOnie) engage in solicit sexual activity that is for non-reproductive purposes. This causes the couple to become political dissidents within their society, leading to their detainment in a stark border-less white world. THX is separated from LUH and makes it his quest to rejoin her. THX then joins with another member of the community named SRT (Don Pedro Colley), a former holographic actor who finds his job meaningless and seeks something new. Together they attempt to find LUH while also escaping the city. The duo quickly discovers that LUH has been captured and sent to organ donation, which leads to a bizarre sequence in which THX breaks down upon the discover of a fetal version of LUH. Ultimately, THX is separated from SRT and continues his escape from the city, climbing towards the surface as the government pursues him. Realizing that it is costing more money to chase THX than is allowed the government calls off the chase moments before he reaches the surface. The film closes in the final moments with THX looking off into a large a blistering sunset that leaves his future uncertain.
I could elaborate on the obvious critiques here as they relate to bureaucracy and fascist ideologies, but it has been done, and to be honest it is rather obvious in the film. Instead I want to touch upon how truly important this film is to American independent cinema. Sure, it is not the iconic film that Easy Rider became, but it is the only production released by the powerhouse that was American Zoetrope. Led by the burgeoning director Francis Ford Copolla the group included the young genius of George Lucas and editor Walter Murch, the two whose names are most closely associated with THX 1138. They, as a group, took an image from their days as college filmmakers and created a fully realized film that is magical, critical and enjoyable. It is an intimate fully realized film from a very famous director. In fact, I would argue that were THX 1138 never made, the world would never have received Star Wars down the line. This film represents an incredibly significant moment in filmmaking and it is well worth watching for that, the enjoyability is just an added bonus.
I recommend this film highly and there is an excellent two-disc version that covers the American Zoetrope years in great length. Any film scholar will benefit from this viewing.