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THX 1138 (1971) – Film: a Visual Medium

THX 1138 (1971)

Directed by George Lucas (Star Wars; American Graffiti). Sound designer and co-writer (with Lucas) Walter Murch (The Godfather; Apocalypse Now; The English Patient; The Unbearable Lightness of Being; etc.). Produced by Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather; The Godfather Part II; The Conversation; Apocalypse Now).

Starring Robert Duvall (The Twilight Zone; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Godfather; The Godfather Part II; MASH; True Grit; Network; The Conversation; Apocalypse Now), Donald Pleasence (Halloween; Escape from New York), Don Pedro Colley (The Dukes of Hazzard), Maggie McOmie (Young Goodman Brown; The Boston Strangler), Ian Wolfe (Rebel Without a Cause; Reds).

I thought it was funny that the company THX was involved with sound for this picture, THX 1138, until I realized that George Lucas founded the company, and its title is, in part, an homage to the film.

Before I continue, one note: I apologize in advance for the poor-quality pictures. I took shots of my screen, and as a result, reflections can be seen. Also, I in no way own the rights to these stills; I’m just using them to share some insight.

THX 1138 depicts a futuristic, white-washed, dystopian, brave-new-world-esque underground society characterized by conformity, desexualization, and order. Lucas and his associates phenomenally make use of costumes, locations, and blocking to accentuate the imposition of order. Lucas, who also edited the film, even returns to certain close-ups multiple times in order to establish a repetitive rhythm. These repetitive motifs reflect the repetitive nature of this fictional, systematic society: repetitive labor tasks, repetitive drug use, repetitive conditioning/brainwashing, and so on. (I apologize for the repetition of the word “repetitive.”)

Here, I’m presenting a carefully chosen collection of stills from the film which demonstrate the power of film as a visual medium. One advantage of films over novels is that images in films can often say much, much more than words can. Through masterful shot compositions, Lucas and his DP effectively establish a visual, all-encompassing uniformity. Duval’s character, THX 1138 (the titular character), aims to break free as an individual, but it is hard to stand out when all aspects of society are so heavily standardized.

The gallery:

In a way, these shots remind me of the housing complexes in The Hours (2002) and A Wrinkle in Time (2003), which both visually illustrate repetition and monotony.

A Wrinkle in Time:


Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 1.41.41 AM

The Hours:


Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 1.48.26 AM

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