Although THX 118 (1971) and Logan’s Run (1976) take place in post-apocalyptic, technocratic societies, they are very different stories.
THX 118 explores a bleak future set in an accelerated technocracy where the state controls everything, yet it’s barely able to keep pace with itself. The state is a self-perpetuating process; an end in itself. The population has to be medically sedated to pacify their behaviour and maintain productivity. Emotional feelings, love and relationships, are socially deviant activities that must be eradicated. Physical needs are catered for at a functional level: sexual needs by holographic pornography and masturbatory-devices; spiritual needs by a state ‘religion’ and automated confessionals.
In Logan’s Run, which was released five years later, the city of the future resembles a sleek, modernist paradise where people enjoy material comfort and ample leisure time. Society is controlled by a centralised computer; the law is enforced by black clad “Sandmen”. The downside of this comfortable life is that citizens only have 30 years. On their “last day” they are ritually killed in a spectacle of death.
The stories take place in societies with opposing attitudes to sex — both societies abhor loving relationships. Children in both cultures are brought up by the state, not within a traditional family unit.
The systems are inflexible, unable to evolve; they fear any existential threat. Breaking the rules in THX 118 means being arrested by creepy looking robot policemen. Much of the production process in this claustrophobic world is geared around building these androids, instead of improving the lives of its citizens. The infantilising tone taken by the robot policemen suggests that they are there to help people who cannot look after themselves. Troublesome citizens have their medication boosted; uncooperative subjects are beaten, tortured, or sent to a re-education facility / mental asylum — everyone is under surveillance.
In Logan’s Run the “Sandmen” protect the system, and ensure the people obey the laws. Their humour reveals a disdain for those who break the rules — especially “runners”, people who refuse to show up for their “last day”. The Sandmen display an arrogant machismo, in this culture it’s normal to brag about hedonism and sexual promiscuity.
The main characters in THX 118 and Logan’s Run hope to connect with their humanity, even if they are not yet fully conscious of what that implies. To do that, they must escape from the closed society they inhabit. The story in THX 118 evades many questions about the outside world. It appears in the last shot, as a desert landscape; while much of Logan’s Run is spent outside the domed city.
The destruction of the domed city’s centralised computer ends with a love revolution that mimics the hippie awareness of 1970’s America. The difference in tone between the two films is most apparent in the resolution: Logan’s Run ends as a victorious celebration over the system; THX 118 sees the hero barely escape it.
To emphasise the functionally material nature of both societies, people have numbers in their names: Logan is Logan 5, and the main character in THX 118 is THX 118. Their names, like their humanity, have been reduced to the status of a machine designation.
What are these stories saying? They describe oppressive systems intent on crushing the human spirit, much like Orwell’s dystopian 1984 — although Logan’s Run is also influenced by Brave New World. Logan’s Run has an upside: a comfortable material and hedonistic lifestyle (which teenage moviegoers in 1970s America might have found alluring). In contrast, the environment of THX 118 is unremittingly bleak — there are no positives.
The culture in THX 118 is an accelerated society, which only functions if its population is medically sedated. Everything is focused on productivity and cost savings; eventually the search for THX 118 is called off because it’s gone over-budget. The story works as a warning, with the horrific elements dramatising the message.
Logan’s Run also offers a dystopian vision of the future, but with a sentimental, positive outcome.
In these stories, state oppression mirrors the kind of state control the West saw in communist systems prevalent in the 1970s. Those regimes were associated with: social repression, state propaganda, and brutal internal security organisations.
The stories warn us — this is what happens in closed, inflexible societies, places where democratic checks and balances no longer exist. THX 118 feels like a dystopian capitalist megalopolis, gone wrong; Logan’s Run is an attempt at utopia, which comes at an unacceptable price.
The victim in both these stories is the collective loss of humanity.