Play It Again – THX 1138

Play It Again – THX 1138. Starring Robert Duvall, Maggie McOmie, and Donald Pleasence. Directed by George Lucas. Rated PG. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!). 

This month, we’re checking out some sci-fi spectaculars.

There’s much to admire in George Lucas’ debut feature THX 1138, based on a prize-winning short the director made at the University of Southern California. The ideas at the core of this minimalist sci-fi about technician THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) and his roommate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie), who fall in love against the backdrop of an oppressive future society, are genuinely scary in their realism.

In Lucas’ dystopian vision, people are controlled by an omniscient government through the use of mind-altering medication and indoctrination, suppressing all emotions. They work long shifts either in a dangerous job involving radiation or in the control centre monitoring society, seek atonement and guidance from an automated confession booth called OMM 0910, and are fed porn and violence as entertainment.

When LUH becomes disillusioned with her job, she begins to reduce hers and THX’s daily drug doses and the two discover feelings of love and sexual desire for one another, culminating in the couple making love. For this illegal act LUH and THX are arrested, with THX being remanded in prison before plotting an escape with fellow prisoners SEN 5421 (Donald Pleasence) and SRT (Don Pedro Colley). It’s only when THX’s escape swings into motion that the film really picks up speed, and despite the extremely short running time of 86 minutes, the opening half an hour really demands your attention to detail, dragging ever so slightly to get to the action.

While THX 1138 was not a commercial success upon its release in 1971, it has since gone on to become a cult classic, with critical reviews applauding the movie’s technical merit. If Lucas’ intent was to create an almost claustrophobic viewing experience, he has succeeded, and despite the implausibility of his future vision, the message of the struggle and basic human desires of the central characters shines through the sterile and controlling world they are enslaved in. Strictly for sci-fi nuts and Lucas fans, THX 1138 is an at times tedious exploration of a dystopian society that sheds more light on Lucas’ future projects than it does on the actual future.


THX 1138 is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix PLAY

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