Set in the 25th century, the story of THX 1138 takes place entirely inside a vast, technologically advanced civilization constructed under the Earth's surface. This gleaming white dystopia is chock-full of a population of humans who are forced by their government to shave their heads, wear all white clothes and consume a daily regimen of sedative capsules to keep them in line. Mindless production and consumption are the norm, while sex, love and emotion are forbidden.
The main character, a man named THX 1138, holds down a job as an assembly line worker who helps build the nuclear-powered robot police that control the society. His roommate, a beautiful woman named LUH 3417, becomes disenchanted with the prison-like existence. So, she rebels against the system and stops taking her meds. LUH then replaces THX's capsules with placebos, and when the sedatives wear off, the two share a few tender, passionate moments and have sex, which allows their humanity to show for the first time in their lives.
The powers that be, who monitor the entire population via omnipresent video cameras and medical sensors, quickly find out, and the duo is charged with drug evasion and sexual perversion. (The only form of sexual release permitted is administered by a machine that is synched-up with a hologram of a naked dancer.) Deemed incurable, THX and LUH are whisked away to detention inside a vast, white void, where they await their final sentence. They encounter another screw-up there named SEN 5241, a computer programmer who had previously taken a shine to THX.
Seems SEN had been cast into the void for illegally tampering with the computer system to assign himself to replace LUH as THX's roommate. Amid an assortment of disturbed miscreants in the void, LUH delivers a bit of shocking news to THX, while a plan is hatched that sets the extended chase scenes of the movie in motion. This action is aided by another malcontent named SRT 5752, an actor who appears as a hologram in the repetitively vapid entertainment programs which run the course from comedy to sex to violence.
Since I don't like spoilers, that's all of the plot I'll give away. Overall, though, I can say the main theme involves the attempt to escape oppression and the comfort of familiarity to experience the ultimate freedom. On an aesthetic note, the super basic dialog, visuals and plot make THX 1138 is an utter classic of icy cool minimalism. Also, the movie's innovative electronic sound design and techno-laced graphics peppered throughout foreshadowed an explosion of electronica music and album covers of the 1990s by a good quarter of a century.
Public Impact: THX 1138 was the first feature-length movie written and directed by George Lucas of Star Wars fame. Filmed in 1969, released in 1971 and based on a student film he made a bit earlier, this feature bombed at the box office, but gradually found its audience as it turned into a late-night TV cult classic. I remember watching THX 1138 as a little kid in the early '70s and it tweaked me like nothing else since the Twilight Zone.
THX 1138 was available on VHS and laser disc for many years in the '80s and '90s, and finally got a deluxe 2-DVD treatment in 2004 with a ton of bonus features. This set replaced the original version of the film with a director's cut that included numerous CGI enhancements, which, of course, angered purists. Too bad George didn't include both versions. Despite that, as the omnipresent bureaucratic deity in the movie intones, "Buyâ€¦and be happy."