THX-1138 (1971) IMDb

Extent

Review refers to the 2004 version.

Categorization

Dystopian SF.

Subject

By turning the little dial to project us ahead in time, we’re able to be with Buck and his friends in the wonderful world of the future, a world that sees a lot of our scientific and mechanical dreams come true! You know, there’s nothing supernatural or mystic about Buck, he’s just an ordinary, normal human being who keeps his wits about him!

Well, not quite. In a far-future underground city, a woman manipulates the medication of the man with whom she has been assigned to share space. The man assembles androids in a factory, a dangerous task which is further complicated by the sudden influx of strong emotion.

Commentary

The first time I thought it was a rather silly generic dystopia, with a typical Hollywood quest and car chase as the major interest. The second time I saw it was with captions. The very cryptic background dialogue adds a whole new dimension, even if parts of it are improvised. The world of THX is eclectic, still somewhat silly—real humans are motivated by emotions to do any work—and not very clever, but nonetheless one of the darkest pieces of science fiction ever put on film, significant humour notwithstanding.

Here, totalitarianism with features from all major political ideologies has merged with Catholic emblems and capitalism to create a materially productive society, watched over by androids reminiscent of the techno-utopian “benevolent” police force in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). The language is horribly mutated, allowing snatches of bland shrink talk to stand alone, mocking meaning. Holographic television offers four purified pleasures: Sex, violence, intellectual nonsense or laugh track nonsense, take your pick. The implied leaders of society are never near. The monitoring middle class is a bunch of humanly fallible engineers, and the outside world is probably unliveable. It all seems self-corrupting, like some rational deviation from our modern society, created to sustain life on an irradiated planet but gradually undermined by structural flaws until it all turned out horrifically irrational.

I love the opening, rewriting the thundering start of the old serial Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. The rest of the film annihilates that obsolete optimism, starting with the reverse-flow credit meme which I think is from Kiss Me Deadly (1955), used better here: A vast technological revolution was more immediate than the 1930s could guess, hence “Buck Rogers in the 20th Century”, and could be abused so completely that the “ordinary, normal human” lost even the pathetic speck of power he had left after the second phase of the industrial revolution.

References here: Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Star Wars (1977), DT Eightron (1998).

fiction moving picture