A comparison of George Lucas’s screenplay THX1138 And Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise
To enhance readability in this short essay I will use the following two abbreviations for quotations from the two primary works cited: BB for the novelisation of the THX 1138 screenplay by Ben Bova and WN for Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise. In order to work out similarities in the lines of thought I performed a close reading on both texts. The plots of both texts are completely different; however, I believe that the thoughts, beliefs and fears of ‘cold-war-America’ expressed in both works - death, technology, capitalism opposing to communism, and the impact of media on society and the individual - will show great similarities.
The question of ‘who will die first’, raised by several times by main character Jack Gladney in the beginning of WN (15, 30), is irrelevant for main character THX-1138 in BB, as the human beings in the THX 1138 screenplay can be considered as ‘living dead’, who are buried alive beneath the surface of the earth for their entire lifetime and have never seen daylight. The inhabitants of this world have no private sphere and are constantly being monitored by other inhabitants who are functioning as parts of the ‘big bother’ network. Chrome police robots execute any given order by authority and tread the inhabitants like cattle using long electro shock sticks. How the underground society and the cites evolved in such a way and humans came to live like ants in cities under the surface of the earth is left open for the viewer’s speculation and is not revealed throughout the movie. ‘THX-1138’ is in fact just a code number that has been assigned to the main character after he had been produced in test-tube. In the dystopian society in BB the worst crime is the act of physical love-making, which in most cases leads to capital punishment of the offender. THX-1138 lives together with LUH-3417 in small sterile looking apartment without windows, very limited furniture, and hardly any personal belongings. In fact, they life live together but rather live side by side, hardly taking notice of one another before they fall in love, have sex and this way become outlaws.
Before they become intimate, LUH-3417 had secretly substituted THX-1138’s daily dose of drugs for dysfunctional pills. At first, THX-1138 feels pain after the drug withdrawal and confesses regularly to a Jesus-like picture of called OMM, which is in fact only a transmitted picture of a tape recording: “I share rooms with her. Our relationship is normal, conforming. We share nothing but space. What is she doing to me, I think I am dying” (BB, 27-28).
At the same time the omniscient supervisors are talking about LUH-3417 who had long been acting suspicious from their point of view. They are planning to catch her having sex in order to arrest her.
LUH-3417, as a natural-born, a product of a sex-act, is an atavism, a dangerous anomaly, a living time bomb ticking away in our society. Sooner or later her genetic heritage will make itself felt and she will seduce some otherwise decent citizen into committing the same crime that spawned her. (BB, 11)
After being off the soma-like drugs, THX-1138 cannot concentrate enough during his work shift at a nuclear production line and nearly causes a nuclear meltdown while handling with plutonium sticks. The camera-eye supervisors give orders to take him out of the line via disposing a ‘mind-lock’ on him, which means that his brain will be irritated via sound waves: “Inform the supervisor of Magnum Manipulator 94107 of procedure to mindlock 1 and make an arrest. Order mindlock for cell 94107; subject 1138 prefix THX” (BB, 52). By doing so, they do not think of the fact that they put the entire production and all other works at risk as THX-1138 is handling with unsecured plutonium sticks in that very moment. This scene quite shockingly points out for the viewer that he is in fact nothing more than a human drone in his world and that all supervisors are just take out orders without thinking of consequences. On a side note, the movie THX 1138 was awarded for its sound effects and noise sources. The idea that sound waves or neural impulses can have enormous impacts on the human body and mind is expressed in the closing chapter of WN, too: “This is the language of waves and radiation, or how the dead speak to the living” (326), and is depicted many more times throughout the novel.
Even sound can trick the mind. Just because you don’t hear a sound doesn’t mean it’s not there. Dogs can hear it. Other animals. And I’m sure there are sounds even dogs can’t hear. But they exist in the air, in waves. Maybe they never stop. High, high, high-pitched. Coming from somewhere. (WN, 23)
How do you know whether something is really what you want to do or just some kind of nerve impulse in the brain? Some minor little activity takes place somewhere in this unimportant place in one of the brain hemispheres […]. (WN, 45)
‘What if death is nothing but sound?’ ‘Electrical noise.’
‘You hear it forever. Sound all around you. How awful.’ ‘Uniform, white.’
‘Sometimes it sweeps over me’, she said. ‘Sometimes it insinuates itself into my mind, little by little. I try to talk to it. Not now, death.’ (WN, 198-99)
Another topic depicted in both works is mass-production and seemingly mindless consumption in western consumer societies. In BB the inhabitants of the underground cities constantly have to listen to the Jesus-like voice of OMM which inherits both capitalistic (“increasing production”) and communistic thoughts (“for the masses”).
You are a true believer. Blessings of the state, blessings of the masses. Thou art a subject of the divine. Created in the image of man, by the masses for the masses. Let us be thankful that we have an occupation to fill. Work hard, increase production; prevent accidents; and be happy. (BB, 21)
Tannoy announcements like the following are constantly put on air in public hallways and places of consumption in the world of THX-1138.
Remember! Only two more days to fulfil Consumption Quota 88. Don’t be caught underconsuming. Be the first in your unit to complete Consumption Quota 88. Buy now! (BB, 30)
For more enjoyment and greater efficiency, consumption is being standardized. We are sorry if you have inexperienced any temporary inconvenience. Place your identification badge in the reader and we will have units transferred to your account as soon as possible. (BB, 15)
The second chapter in WN is titled ‘the airborne toxic event’. Throughout the whole chapter the accident is depicted as a media event. The use of language to describe, manipulate and downplay the events on the media plays an important role.
‘They are calling it the black billowing cloud.’
‘Why is that good?’
‘It means they’re looking the thing more or less squarely in the eye. They are on top of the situation.’ (WN, 115)
1 Annotation: some words in italics have been emphasized by the author.