When one hears of George Lucas, most minds are drawn to titles such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones. But those pieces were not Lucas’ first venture into filmmaking. That honor belongs to THX 1138, a dystopian film Lucas first created in 1967, later to develop into a fully-fledged film in 1971.
THX 1138 tells the story of a human named, or titled, THX 1138. He is a member of society where drugs are used to sedate emotions to the point of non-existence. His “mate” (more of a living partner) switches his drugs one evening and soon he is caught up in a sexual act, something incredibly dangerous a society with no passions. Within a day, he is exposed and arrested, confined to a vast room of white while scientists experiment with his brain. Eventually he and two others manage to escape their confinement and flee, but only THX manages to escape.
Lucas attempts to tackle many different issues from the modern world. Perhaps the most apparent is the loss of individuality. THX doesn’t have a name in the same way most of us would consider. It isn’t an identity, but rather a form of identification. There is no inequality because everyone is the same. Without emotions, without drive, people absent mindedly go about their everyday lives with no concern for anything other than sedation and the next carefully computed command they will receive. The depersonalization of society is very apparent with how standard it is to talk to recordings. THX finds satisfaction in an audio tape recording of someone’s voice being played through a portrait of Jesus although the voice offers no true help or even consolation. Through the loss of identity, there is a great loss of humanity. Without emotions, the world they live in is stagnant. There is no discovery, just the mere progress through a day of work and then going home.
But where does the need for no emotions come from? It comes from the cold, hard rationality of the society they are living in. In a cross between Huxley’s Brave New World and Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the populous is driven to advanced consumerism in a manner of precision. “Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy. And be happy.” This state of economic science drives calculation into every action. Costs are put on everything. There is even a budget set on the pursuit of THX as he attempts to escape (it is ultimately the only reason why he succeeds). In courts of law, when people are found guilty of avoiding sedation, they are either sentenced to death or rehabilitated based on their economic value. Perhaps the most sickening is the use of humans in death. Upon death, organs are recycled into the bodies of infants. Because there is no sex, the only new children come out of the old body parts of someone who died.
Lucas is warning us strongly of the push towards efficiency. In our world, commonly we make sacrifices so that something can be more efficient or more economically beneficial: we pay smaller wages, reduce safety levels, and hire uneducated people. With each passing generation, things seem to get more and more calculated, steps towards the world of THX 1138. It is a mechanization of humanity, the removal of individuality so that all can be confined within the great machine of economic progress.