Wednesday, 1 April 2009
Sci-Fi Spotlight #2: THX 1138
Fresh from experiencing Tarkovsky for the first time, the second film in my Sci-Fi Spotlight is from a director that I need no introduction to, one George Lucas. The funny thing is, watching THX 1138 caused me to question if this was actually the same Lucas I knew from the Star Wars films, as the only link between his blockbusting series and this near-avant-garde film is the sense of technical innovation. THX 1138 is something of a revelation as far as my perspective on Lucas is concerned, and it seems a shame that he has never returned to making this kind of film.
The story is very simple. In an unspecified future society where everyone is sedated to the level of emotionless consumer-drones, THX (Robert Duvall) neglects to take his prescribed drugs and begins to see the reality of his predicament. His room-mate LUH (Maggie McComie) has already broken free from her sedation, in fact she intentionally caused THX to miss his required dose, and as the two awake to emotion they fall in love and have sex; illegal activites in this society. They plan to attempt an escape, but are already being pursued by the beaureacratic system of government and its police droids.
Lucas unfolds this story using a very pared-down style, not attempting to draw the viewer in by conventional storytelling methods. Working with the now-legendary editor/sound designer Walter Murch he cuts together images and voices, often unsynchronised, in a nonlinear style. Lucas uses very few establishing shots and mostly close-ups, so the individual performances and character actions become the audience’s main guide through the story’s landscape.
While there is a simple story thread running through the film, THX 1138 is most effective and memorable for individual moments, sounds and images. In a scene where police droids beat THX with electric prods, for example, they repeat the mantra “everything will be alright” even as he cries out in pain. It is a powerful image of brutal and unfeeling authority, both disturbing and absurdly funny, and Lucas injects the film with many of these moments.
On his DVD commentary Lucas insists that everything in the film is metaphorical and refers specifically to the political situation in the late 1960s. He makes a good argument for this being the case, but I don’t think it’s necessary to identify these correlations to take anything of value from this story. Many of the images and ideas in THX 1138 are arguably even more relevant today than on the film’s 1971 release, and it seems to me a great example of science fiction’s timeless potential.
Next up, The Man Who Fell To Earth. David Bowie is an alien - I knew it!