The concept of humans versus machines is an interesting topic that is getting more and more relevant each coming year. People’s desire to create complex and capable machines has lead to some great pluses in our civilization; the expanse that modern infrastructure requires can really only be accomplished with the help of machines. However, it has also lead to some staggering minuses; un-manned attack aircraft that now allow an attacker to strike without endangering his life – war has become a videogame. What’s worse is there are even worse things looming ahead if we continue on the current path. Honest labor will be a thing of the past, as “work” will just be pushing the right buttons at the right time and only minding if all the prescribed calculations agree. Dependency on machines will lead to forgetting what work, and the discipline to achieve something, had meant in the past. It is the willful handover of our own fate, for the sake of convenience, over to computers.
A certain film director, who is now famous for other works, envisioned such a future. George Lucas made his feature length debut with THX 1138, a film that shows the breakout from a technocratic prison. No coincidence that the story arc fits right along the path of anti-Zionism.
All references herein are to the 2004 Director’s Cut version of THX 1138, unless otherwise specified.
Less Than Human
The theme of a reduced human state is brought forth right in the film’s opening credits: the names, written in a simple font, scroll down on a black background. Next, the first shot of the film is white numbers on a black counter: a machine used to calculate. Then there is the first image of human characters in the film: it is the principle protagonist seen on a computer screen, further suggesting humans below their natural state and trapped in an artificial world.
This introductory sequence is a good representation of what we see next: a world run by calculations and absolute prescription. From food intake to drug intake, from work hours to leisure time, to human reproduction and even the characters’ names – THX 1138 is the main character’s name – are all design to herd and control the populace so as to exist in at a predetermined pace at the will of an unseen and unaccountable authority.
People’s activity is so limited that they do not even work in the old sense. The “workers” just sit at consoles and direct, or even just oversee, machines doing the work. This proves to be a vicious cycle as THX 1138 works in a lab that creates android police officers and it is these machines that will eventually chase him.
This means: people are reduced to creating their own enslavement!
Aldous Huxley, in his novel, Brave New World, put forth a situation where people are manipulated into being content with their enslavement. George Orwell, in perhaps the most famous dystopian novel, 1984, put forth a vision where people are frightened into their enslavement. Ray Bradbury, in Fahrenheit 451, also created a similar, though much tamer version of Orwell and Huxley’s scenarios. However, it may very well be tamer in that it is much earlier in the timeline of repression. First, only books are burned, Fahrenheit 451; then all information is strictly and brutally controlled, 1984; and lastly, people end up being as manufactured as the information available to them, Brave New World. Oddly, the books came out in reverse order of this progression.
With this film, George Lucas is offering his own version of the transition from brutal repression to total biological control and he creates a fascinating original work in his own right. His vision here is much bleaker than Huxley who offered his protagonists a large degree of fun with endless pleasures and wanton sex – life in Brave New World was a perfect example of how dangerous hedonism can be to the freedoms of people. Lucas offers no such thing to his characters and the story of THX 1138 seems, along the aforementioned order of scenarios, more like the logical continuation from 1984 as both fictional worlds share a pervasive callousness.
This element is perhaps best demonstrated when a warning flashes over the announcement at THX 1138’s factory that another work plant is experiencing a nuclear meltdown, but everyone here should just remain calm. We then see computer images of people scrambling to clear the area as fire consumes them in a fashion that seems much to uniform for a freak accident, but then again we are seeing fake images of engineered people. After the dust settles, the announcing voice states, “That accident over in Red Sector L destroyed another 63 personnel, giving them a total of 242 lost to our 195. Keep up the good work and prevent accidents. This shift is concluded.” The state considers its people to be, and treats them as, material assets that can be quickly manufactured to cover for losses and thus ensure the preservation of the state.
Also, the announcement of the accident came right after one about “illegal sexual activity” that was reported. Meaning that, despite all of its control, the state cannot fully contain human nature, and just like the accident demonstrates, it also cannot fully contain its own technology!
After the workday, THX 1138 goes to a confession booth with a familiar looking face, it can also be seen in the above poster. The image in the booth is a detail from Hans Memling’s Christ Giving His Blessing. The fact that the film’s version is only part of a larger (and color) original image fits right along the film’s themes: it is a controlled, reduced manipulation. Here, the symbolism is the now popular beliefs of Judeo-Christianity are a controlled manipulation, reduced, and corrupted version of the original Gnostic teachings of Christ. The face is presented on an artificially backlit screen, with an accompanying robotic voice spouting pre-recorded messages: “blessings of the state, blessings of the masses… buy and be happy.” It is a clever jab at both sides of the false paradigm of Judaic ideologies: Marxism (blind praise of the state) and Capitalism (blind praise of consumerism). Both sides submit, in their own way, to fate as dictated by an authority that deems itself above the law that it uses on the masses.
THX 1138 heads back home after his visit to the state-approved deity and starts to watch television in the form of holograms. He also uses a machine of some sort to pleasure himself while watching a holographic nude dancer – even the most straightforward hedonism is machine controlled!
THX 1138, a male, lives with LUH 3417, a female. Despite the fact that “living selection is computed,” LUH seems to want something more out her interactions with THX 1138. Their apartment, like the rest of the completely interior and artificially lit environment of the film, is bare on aesthetics. It is lit, but there seems to be no direct source of light. Their “companionship” is just the same, empty yet still in existence. This scene brings up the interesting notion that the state’s total domination is not yet complete. For one, if people are bred in labs with planned obsolescence and indoctrinated to be fully obedient, then how come they are not indoctrinated against all non-work related human interaction? The answer would be that this futuristic vision is not yet Zion, but very late in the Zionist campaign. The human condition still exists in the slaves as they still retain their social and compassionate drives, though they do not seem to fully understand them. Case in point, after THX and LUH have sex, the only consequences that they consider are if anyone finds out about it.
THX also refuses to take some of his prescribed pills that are served with every meal right on the tray, in effect, drugs have become part of the diet.
The next day at the plant, when THX is hooked up to his work console, there is a detection of improper levels of activity in his body and brain. This can only be due to him not taking his drugs and having his first real sexual experience constantly on his mind. Promptly, the authorities issue a “mind lock” on THX 1138. A tone plays from his headset, he halts completely and his eyes roll back, he is “locked.” THX had been overseeing the handling of some dangerous materials, but now as he is locked, something starts to go wrong. To be precise another meltdown nearly occurs. Once again, “illegal sexual activity” is linked to a meltdown. In broader terms, this is a symbol for people doing things out of their own will and thereby shaking the foundations of an oppressive authority or state. The state in the film only controls its subjects to the extent that a puppeteer controls marionettes, which are slowly becoming self-aware before the final controlling string latches onto their mind and thus wrangles them in forever.
Then, just in time to prevent a major accident, THX 1138’s mind lock is lifted and he is arrested. He wakes up obviously beaten and in a limbo-like space with no clear walls, just endless white. Earlier, when THX was watching television, he stopped on a program which was showing the beating of a man by police – the barely colored hologram with a black wall behind it resembled photographic negative of the scene here as THX wakes up on the ground, beaten, and with cops around him. This is interesting in that the state seems to be so determined to keep people from escaping that it doesn’t even offer escapist entertainment for its pitiful subjects – television is just what is going on in another part of the society, reality is fully contained to pre-determined boundaries. Imagination does not exist.
THX enjoys a brief reunion with LUH who had also been arrested, but the android police officers soon break it up, take LUH away and she is never seen again. THX is then set to be “reconfigured” – meaning chemically rebalanced according to the state’s prescriptions, as well as physically reminded of his slave status by being pushed around by cops with prods. Just like “teaching” cattle or goys.
The cops are interesting characters. Their almost featureless metal face, the same for each one, is a representation of the authority in this state – unseen yet all-powerful. This theme is also communicated in much of the environment’s lighting – light seems to be everywhere, but light sources are few to be seen. In the limbo, this artificial light is the only feature and there is still no source to be seen. The cops also wear jackboots, which is likely to be the film’s semi-obligatory “Nazi reference.” George Lucas went all out with this in the Star Wars movies with the Imperial Officers wearing grey uniforms and boots. It is a common trend to make antagonists seem just a bit more evil. The funny thing is that despite the many “Nazi” references, the emblem of the Galactic Empire was actually a six-pointed icon!
It is an interesting series of creative choices by George Lucas, and with lines of dialog in this film, such as “we need a unity” and “creative dissent,” I am leaning towards believing that Lucas is, on some level, aware of Aryanism, whether that is the word he uses to describe it or not. Worth noting is that Lucas was born into a family adherent to Christian Methodism, a large sect that is known for its charitable and missionary work, as well as the many open-air preachers throughout its history who would go to all sorts of communities to give sermons. It then doesn’t come as a surprise that Lucas also took up great interest in Buddhism, another heavily anti-materialist and anti-Talmudic philosophy. This mix of metaphysics factored into most of Lucas’s films, though they are inevitably shown more honestly in his earlier, lower-budget films, such as this one. In one scene where THX 1138 is talking with a character named SEN 5241, there is graffiti on the wall, which reads “OMM is a hologram,” which once again reflects the artificial nature of the state approved deity. It also suggests that idolatry by itself is pointless and that action must be taken to realize ideals, otherwise they’re just “holograms” or fake images used by authority to further repression.
SEN 5421 is a character whom THX 1138 had met earlier. SEN had shown interest in being roommates with THX who objected due to his newfound love interest with LUH. Whatever the case, friendship or romantic interest, SEN 5421 is effectively trying to start a compassionate relationship as THX and LUH have. It is this that lands all three of them in prison. This newfound state of awareness, about themselves and life, is also what compels them to try and break out.
The breaking out of this prison proves, ironically, easier done than said. There are no walls and the cops do not seem to appear on the scene unless there is some illegal activity detected. So, THX, SEN, and a new companion, SRT, simply walk around until they find a door. SRT claimed to know where a door is and actually leads them right to one. The three of them wind up in a large crowded hallway and SEN ends up separated and eventually recaptured. THX 1138 and SRT, however, make it to a parking garage and each drive off. SRT crashes and his fate is left a mystery.
THX 1138 speeds down a highway and into a tunnel with the cops in pursuit. It is here that the state’s calculations turn bluntly ineffective. There is a sum of 14000 credits allotted for the operation of recapturing the escaping prisoner, THX 1138, who eventually makes it to a large upward duct and as the cops close in, closer than they have been at any point during the whole chase, the police dispatcher announces that the budget allotment has been spent as well as it’s 5% additional cushion… thus, the police effectively let THX 1138 go. This may seem quite anti-climatic for fans of the Lone Wolf Archetype, but it is interesting to note that THX 1138’s main method of defiance ends up being his own willpower. The state had presumed that it had all of its subjects under such control that it didn’t consider that anyone could get as far as THX 1138 did. For all of the state’s monitoring and measuring of bodily activity to the very elaborate and pervasive security measures, there is hardly anything of the sort once THX gets into the car and starts to speed off. No one in charge imagined such a scenario, since everyone and everything is run by prescribed calculations.
The long tunnel chase sequence that ends in THX 1138 climbing out of a long, upward duct to the surface can be seen as a metaphorical birth as well as the literal escape. The tunnel could also be a symbolic tentacle and in the film’s final scene, THX 1138 finally manages to get out of its reach and ends up free.
THX 1138 on the large background of the setting Sun is the corresponding scene to the downward opening credits and the initial shot of THX on a computer screen: the start of the film was all artificial images and this last image is all natural.
The 2004 Director’s Cut DVD release included a number of computer graphics additions, including a richer color scheme and more complex landscapes of the vast underground society, but this last shot was not altered at all. George Lucas deliberately kept it free from CGI interference and it stresses that this is truly the film’s purest moment and it is a symbolic birth. The ending is also quite open ended, as we can only presume what happens to THX 1138, but this too plays out in the film’s favor: it is for audience to decide, therefore, unlike every other scene in the film, this scene has no elements of predetermined calculation, not even by the filmmaker. It is truly a “no fate” scene.
THX 1138 overcomes his artificial conditioning and since he doesn’t have any natural human conditioning, the image of him against the setting Sun can be seen as a reversion to Arya.
As with all intelligent films, there are many other, and often small, details that reinforce the main themes. At one point near the beginning of the film, one of the android cops walks into a closed door and the worker overseeing police operations notes a “malfunctioning officer.” This foreshadows the fact that the state’s technology is not quite so perfect and there are larger malfunctions to come – such as the explosion that kills 63 people!
THX 1138 has LUH 3417’s identification number memorized and as he looks it up during his escape, he finds out that the number now belongs to a fetus on a “growth chamber.” Like in George Orwell’s famous book, LUH has become a non-person: her body is gone and her name given to someone else, thus it is as if she never existed.
During the tunnel chase, one of the cops crashes and the shot cuts to a number labeled “Officers in Service,” which goes down by one. Everyone and everything is an asset of the state.
The chase ends in an empty, parking garage looking area that seems to not yet be completed. However, there are some people living here, though they are primitive and not very articulate. In the updated 2004 DVD version, George Lucas also added some simian-like creatures with computer graphics. These creatures and short people seem to be adept at climbing yet they have not escaped up the vent and the police do not seem to bother with them, thus these odd residents are likely to be brainwashed into their own way.
Out on the surface, as THX 1138 climbs out and stands before the setting Sun, Bach’s St Matthew Passion plays. In the lyrics, this piece covers the story of Christ as he is crucified and buried, this mirror the setting Sun, but also foreshadows the day still to come. Also, birds can be seen flying in this scene, showing that life independent of the controlled society still exists and THX 1138 is now part of it.