Lucas shows us a promising vision of the future in the form of a trailer for a ‘Buck Rogers’ serial before launching us into a dystopian nightmare. While the atmosphere is certainly darker and more depressing than the ‘Star Wars’ saga, the gorgeous visuals and direct writing are reflective of the style that Lucas would develop and refine over his career. Unlike the ‘Star Wars’ prequels, where characters are compressed into purpose and express emotion/intention verbosely, ‘THX 1138’ strictly follows the idea of “show, don’t tell”. ‘THX 1138’ takes a lot of clear influence from dystopian fiction novels such as ‘1984’ and ‘Brave New World’, but takes that influence and molds it into something far more cinematic.
An overwhelming white emptiness consumes the screen over the duration of the film as THX 1138 (the name of the main character, as people in this future society have been de-humanized and commodified, stripped of an actual name and given an arbitrary letter and number designation) is consumed and ripped apart by a society that cares more for mass production than it does for people. It may be a horrifying vision of the future but it is ultimately reflective of a deep love for humanity. By the end of the film, as THX 1138 exits the underground city and stands in the glowing rays of a setting sun, we are reminded that there is always hope.
‘THX 1138’ is a devastatingly ugly yet ultimately beautiful film by a young George Lucas. While it is not Lucas’s masterpiece (that goes to the ‘Star Wars’ prequels as a whole), ‘THX 1138’ accomplishes in 1.5 hours what most directors spend a lifetime trying to achieve: true beauty.