“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.”

Jerry: “No.”

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!

 

About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 09/10/2020, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. His episode COULD have also been titled “Person Or Persons Unknown”…..”I am Arthur Curtis, and I will PROVE IT! I don’t know ANY of you!” So he exercises his “Escape Clause” with his loving movie wife, before reality can catch up with him! Next stop, Willoughby! (Stay here, DISASTER! Leave here, PARADISE!) Ooh, tough choice here!

  2. I agree with your interpretation, Paul. His escape route seems plausible, at least in the fifth dimension. Along the ways of one of my favorite actor episodes, “The Trouble with Templeton.” For his sake, I hope no one on the other side sent him back.

    • Yes, Templeton is such a nice episode. An underrated favorite of mine. I need to write about that one soon. That was a beneficial escape for sure …

      • I look forward to your post on that. “Underrated favorite” is exactly right. Maybe the pool reminds us of “The Bewitchin’ Pool” (which I actually kinda like…)

  3. Kind of reminds me of Barbara Jean, in The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine, wanting to escape back into her younger, glory days.. and in that inimitable Twilight Zone type of way, succeeds.

  4. Another excellent posting! Have you considered (or already done) a posting on commonly misunderstood TZ endings? There is “New Exhibit,” as you point out; also “Valley of the Shadow,” which seems to mystify some people. And then there is the case of “#12 Looks Just Like You,” which many viewers for some reason seem to believe has a happy ending (!).

  5. bibliomike2020

    I need to rewatch these episodes… I’m afraid I don’t remember any of them that well. But I was so struck by the title of your post. It made me think some enterprising game-maker out there should design a Twilight Zone themed escape room! It would have to be accessible to a general audience, but recognizing “easter eggs” around the room from various TZ episodes might help accelerate the escape. It would be fun to play… once we all escape from the pandemic!

  6. This episode made go crazy for him too . I felt bad that he knew who he was but no one else did , they thought he was someone else . Good episode but what a nightmare

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