THX 1138When most of us think George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Duvall, we think Hollywood stardom, not B-movie anonymity. But most of us probably aren’t familiar with the film “THX 1138” either.

Released in 1971, “THX 1138” is a futuristic, ahead-of-its-time low-budget flick directed by Lucas, produced by Coppola of “The Godfather” fame, and starring Duvall. It could be argued that “THX-1138” served as the pioneer for the turn-of-the-millennium boom of futuristic sci-fi films such as “The Matrix”, “Blade Runner” and “I, Robot.”

Produced on a budget of $777,777.77 (Coppola’s lucky number was 7), “THX 1138” tells the story of a future where the population of an underground city is controlled by android police officers; mandatory drugs are used to maintain compliance and productivity; and sex is outlawed. Minus the android cops, it’s basically a pre-cursor to the 21st-century American public school system.

The townspeople all wear plain white clothes and have identification codes in place of names (which, as DeadSpin hilariously points out, was an idea that was way ahead of its time). Duvall stars as THX 1138, a factory worker with a female roommate, LUH 3417. LUH works as a surveillance monitor in a control center, keeping a watchful eye on the community (like Big Brother, but in this case, Big Sister).

The mandatory drug use suppresses any form of emotion and LUH decides to alter her medication while secretly altering that of THX’s as well. As a result, they experience emotions for the first time, fall in love, engage in sexual intercourse and conceive a child, all of which are illegal. Their forbidden love leads to imprisonment, which then leads to a daring escape of the city complete with attacking android robots and high-speed car chases.

The movie does a fine job of exploiting government oppression while at the same time providing a satirical glimpse into today’s society. In place of sex, people of the underground city are shown government-issued erotic images while using a machine to artificially masturbate. While sex is forbidden, the residents are encouraged to still have orgasms as a means of limiting distractions and increasing concentration and productivity while at work. Pretty pioneering stuff when you consider that modern research, like that noted by Adam and Eve, has found that “regular orgasms are good for you… orgasms reduce stress… they also boost the body’s immune system.”

Confessional booths in chapels show images of Jesus on a screen with generic, computer-controlled answers and advice for visitors. (Fast forward 40 years and we have a confessional app for smartphones. Can you say “visionary?”)

At home, each person’s medicine cabinet is monitored by cameras and a digitalized voice instructs people which pills to take and how many, a practice that is loosely—and not always accurately—performed today.

Unlike the majority of B-movies, “THX 1138” delves deeper below the surface into metaphorical social themes. It is a story of government oppression, of breaking free from your fears and anxiety, and about humans being trapped in a society even though the escape hatch is left wide open. When filming began, Lucas was just 24 years old living in southern California in the late 1960s. Given the circumstances of society in that time and place in the world, it’s easy to see how he arrived at such themes for his directorial debut.

The movie is actually an adaptation of a project Lucas worked on while in film school at USC. Like many low-budget projects, the film was not initially well-received and failed to generate revenue only to develop a cult following over time. The film was re-released in 1977 featuring previously edited scenes and a director’s cut was released in 2004. “THX 1138” is the only one of Lucas’ works to receive an “R” rating.

THX 1138 is a unique B-movie in that it supports a deep plot, explores social issues, and was the launching pad not only for Lucas but for the futuristic sci-fi flicks that dominate theaters today.