“This Way To Escape”: The Exit Avenues of The Twilight Zone
I know the fifth dimension can be a confusing place. But sometimes I hear from fans who don’t even seem to know what the heck happened in a particular episode of The Twilight Zone.
I bring this up because every now and then I hear an alternative theory about Season 1’s “A World of Difference” by Richard Matheson. In it, we meet a man (played by Howard Duff) who’s acting in a movie — only he doesn’t see it that way.
In the opening scene, he’s astonished to discover a film crew next to his business office. (It’s very cleverly filmed, as I discuss in this post.) He insists that he’s not this Gerald Raigan they keep telling him he is. No, he insists, he’s a man named Arthur Curtis — and he has no idea who any of them are!
That earns him some strange looks. Curtis is the part he’s playing in the movie, so everyone around him thinks he’s gone crazy. The bulk of the episode shows him frantically trying to prove that his wife and his agent are wrong — that he really is Arthur, not Gerald (or Jerry, as he’s usually referred to in the episode).
Once we see how unhappy Jerry’s personal life is, though (his ex-wife, Nora — played by Sean Penn’s mother, Eileen Ryan — angrily vows to “bleed” him dry or have him jailed), it all makes sense. He really is Gerald, but his mind has snapped. He’s assumed the identity of Arthur, who has a nice job, a supportive secretary, and a loving wife.
That’s how I see it, and I think most fans agree. But as I mentioned in a previous post, there are some who find all this confusing. They aren’t sure which part is real. Is he really Jerry, and he only thinks he’s Arthur? Or is he Arthur, and he somehow — through some inter-dimensional strangeness — intersected with this Jerry persona?
I don’t get that idea at all. To me, at least, this isn’t a situation like we have with “The New Exhibit”, where the story can work either way. I know the Zone can be a disorienting place (by design!), but the story only makes sense if the Jerry identity is real and the Arthur one is make-believe.
His agent, Brinkley (played by David White), tries to make this clear to him. He points out how Arthur is described as being “happily married”:
Brinkley: “The only information you have about Arthur Curtis is written in the script.”
Brinkley: “Jerry, sometimes I’d like to escape myself. Away from this turmoil to some simpler existence.”
Jerry: “You’re telling me that this is a delusion? That I’m really Gerald Raigan? A drunken…”
Brinkley: “Gerald Raigan, a sweet, unhappy man. Burdened with that harpy. Jerry Raigan. Trying to find a little happiness, that’s all.”
And let’s face it — the idea that he’s really Jerry and not Arthur fits in a lot better with the Serling-verse. From Martin Sloane in “Walking Distance” to Joey Crown in “A Passage for Trumpet” to Gart Williams in “A Stop at Willoughby”, the search for “a little happiness” can sometimes drive a person to take drastic steps.
The difference on The Twilight Zone is that, for better or for worse, it works. Martin and Joey both get a new perspective on life. They come through their crises fairly unscathed. For Gart, though, it’s a different story altogether. He’s really gone, in the most permanent way we can be.
Jerry’s gone, too, though in a much more mysterious sense. As Rod Serling says in the outro:
The modus operandi for the departure from life is usually a pine box of such and such dimensions, and this is the ultimate in reality. But there are other ways for a man to exit from life. Take the case of Arthur Curtis, age 36. His departure was along a highway with an exit sign that reads, “This Way To Escape”. Arthur Curtis, en route … to the Twilight Zone.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!