3.07.2016

The Twilight Zone: Two


"This is a jungle, a monument built by nature honoring disuse, commemorating a few years of nature being left to its own devices. 

"But it's another kind of jungle, the kind that comes in the aftermath of man's battles against himself. Hardly an important battle, not a Gettysburg, or a Marne, or an Iwo Jima; more like one insignificant corner patch in the crazy quilt of combat. But it was enough to end the existence of this little city.


"It's been five years since a human being walked these streets. This is the first day of the sixth year, as man used to measure time. 

"The time: perhaps 100 years from now, or sooner — or perhaps it already happened 2 million years ago. The place: the signposts are in English so that we may read them more easily, but the place is the Twilight Zone." 


Season three of The Twilight Zone got started on September 15th, 1961 with this mini-masterpiece starring Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery. Not only a personal fave but also an illustrative example of everything the original TZ did better than anyone: build worlds and atmosphere with the barest of sets and props (in this case, even with the barest of dialogue), transmute existential lead into poetic gold, and dress up a familiar enough morality play in Cold War fashions.

Five years after an undetailed apocalypse, two surviving soldiers, a man and a woman possibly the last people on Earth - stumble into a small, deserted town independently of one another. 

We don't learn the names nor the cause for which they fought, only that they fought on opposite sides of it.
The woman arrives first.
A dress in a smashed display window tugs at her memory of life before the war.

She puts the dress out of her mind, though, when she discovers a mostly-intact restaurant, in which she forages for food. She finds a can of what appears to be still-edible chicken drumsticks of some kind, but before she can dig in, a shadow passes over her.


Without a word, she attacks him. Neither have weapons, but she hurls everything on the table at him - except the food, of course. He overpowers and knocks her unconscious. While devouring the chicken, his eye wanders to the calendar girl on the wall, and then back to her unconscious form.


It's a chilling moment. Is he a cannibal? A rapist? The questions hang in the air uncomfortably, even after he exits the restaurant after apparently deciding to leave her be. He wanders along the desolate street, eating the chicken and idly picking through the refuse.

Something about these reminders of the past leads him back to the restaurant.

He fills a pot with water and dumps it over her head. I don't know where he got the water. Nor do I in the scene immediately following this one in the barber shop. 

Who cares, of course. I love this composition, with her reflection in the crooked mirror peeking at him from the street.

Once she's awake, he slides the bucket of chicken-stuff over to her. The first words spoken in the episode happen around the nine minute mark:

"Here, invader: eat. Eat. The only reason I can see for our fighting is that your uniform is a different color than mine. Do you understand my language? I suppose not. Anyway, I repeat there's no longer any reason for us to fight. There are no longer any armies, only rags of various colors that were once uniforms like the two sets of rags we wear. There are no more boundaries, governments or noble causes, therefore no reason to fight."

A little flowery, sure. A buddy of mine can't hang with the Zone on account of all the flowery speeches. We see eye-to-eye on 98% of all other media. Me, I enjoy it, most of the time.

The man then directs his voice to the sky and proclaims in a booming voice:

"Hear ye! Hear ye! Know ye, by these present, that I do hereby declare peace upon the entire world!" 

She doesn't understand him, which he acknowledges again ("I'm afraid the only way I could convince you of my honorable intentions would be by force. And I am terribly, terribly sick of fighting.") He then leaves and heads to the barber shop. She follows, and after some coaxing, she washes her face while he shaves. 

They then set out to explore the town together, ending up outside a movie theater.
"Coming soon: Furlough Romance."

The discovery of two skeletons still clutching weapons (laser rifles of some sort) throws  shade upon their truce. As soon as the woman sees him heading towards one, she dashes to the other, and they reflexively stand-off. 


When they again pass the window with the dress on display the woman speaks her only line: "прекрасный." ("Beautiful.") He reaches into the window and takes the dress off the mannequin and tells her to put it on.  

She goes to the nearest building for privacy.
But perhaps the recruiting station of the invaded is not the best place for the invader to change out of uniform, either physically or metaphorically.

Instead of changing into the dress, she grabs her rifle, goes to the doorway, and fires two warning shots at the man. He stares at her incredulously, but she doesn't lower her weapon. Wearied, perhaps even heartbroken, he makes his way down the street and out of sight. She spends the night in the barber shop, occasionally looking over at the dress slumped over a chair.

The next morning she finds him just before he leaves town. He's switched out of his uniform and tells her to go away. "This is civilian territory! Go and take your war to more suitable companions." But when she steps out into full view, he sees she, too, has shed her uniform at last.

"прекрасный" he says.
And off they go.

"This has been a love story about two lonely people who found each other 
... in the Twilight Zone."


The Production Notes tab at the episode's wiki tells me that "Two" was filmed on the backlot of Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, which was falling apart due to mismanagement and disuse. "Very little set decoration was needed to create the illusion of an abandoned city." 

Also true: very little contextual information is needed to communicate its timeless message. It's certainly a Cold War tale, but if you took this episode on a time-traveling-tour, any era of humanity, from stone-throwing cavemen-and-women to ray gun rocketeers of the future, would find it immediately accessible. 

Here's a fun game for 2016. The uniforms are nondescript - the Man's army has some kind of noose or ankh motif on the sleeves while the Woman's has a vague Communist bloc look to it - but imagine if one was wearing a "Feel the Bern" button and the other "Make America Great Again." The message of overcoming tribal enmity after it's reached its annihilation apex is harder to access, isn't it? All the more proof to the episode's power. Imagine how many viewers in 1961 must have felt. Yet the truth is clear: dualism is a destructive lie.

Film School Rejects sums it up pretty well: "It’s a man and a woman, taking each other cautiously on the streets where we used to live. A mad scientist with a time machine never shows up. The moment doesn’t fade out to reveal it’s taking place inside the mind of an alien in a coma. It’s just these two people, learning to hold hands after holding up arms."


~

8 comments:

  1. Nice catch that the word Montgomery speaks are actually Russian.

    As to your friends problem with the Zone speechifying, I may suggest that what's going on there is that Serling is perhaps reaching back to a more older tradition of writing that goes as far back as the Shakespearean, perhaps even Greco-Roman tradition, in which such soliloquies were the standard, even the expected norm.

    Back then, it was held, if a play or story didn't have such speeches, the writing was felt to be lacking in some fundamental sense. Maybe all storytelling is a matter of perspective. Technically, that might explain why learning to read is still an "issue" even in the 21st century.

    Just thought of something, take that contemporary spin of this episode, and then introduce the problem of, say, a comic book, what then?

    ChrisC

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    1. In high school, when I first saw this episode, I had no idea what word Montgomery spoke, or that Bronson repeated at the end.

      I always wanted to buy one of those Everything You Ever Wondered about the Twilight Zone coffee table books. I still might, but the internet does okay for looking stuff up.

      I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "introduce the problem of a comic book."

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    2. What I originally meant about the comic book was, basically, what if the item that set things off between the two main characters had been a superhero comic book? What would be the implications of that?

      However, the more I think about it, the more I'm just reminded about a post-apocalypse film called "Crumbs", which takes place in a world where the burnt out remains of pop-culture have gone from being mere entertainments literal talismans that people believe contain special powers.

      It's a bit of a heady meditation on how people tend to treat pop-culture today, in fact.

      Some good reviews can be found here:

      http://moria.co.nz/sciencefiction/crumbs-2015.htm

      Here:

      http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=29032&reviewer=371

      And here:

      http://www.eyeforfilm.co.uk/review/crumbs-2015-film-review-by-rebecca-naughten

      The trailer for the film can be found here:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FJNybYaFHA

      This was just the train of thought that Serling's episode inadvertently sparked off in my head.

      ChrisC

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  2. Just going to show that some stories are timeless. Nice summation, bro!

    BRAD

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  3. I really love the bleak dystopia of this episode. Bronson and Montgomery lend considerable talent to their roles and make it one of the best TZ episodes ever.

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  4. Never seen this one, as my TZ-fu is incredibly weak. It sounds great, though. And with Montgomery and Bronson, how could it possibly miss?

    Please somebody save us from a future of "Make America Great Again" vs. "Feel The Bern." Ugh.

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    1. I hear you!!

      I'd take Landru over 2016, for fuck's sake.

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    2. Landru, Vaal . . . any o' them sonsabitches, really.

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