Directed by John Brahm and written by Lynn Venable, “Time Enough at Last” is a quintessential and timely episode of The Twilight Zone. Yes, it’s very pertinent to our age. Sure, I could be talking about the coronavirus (or, more specifically, the isolation we’re all expected to experience to combat the virus). However, this episode was highly relevant even before then. We are all as frustrated as Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) sometimes, aren’t we? We’re basically always alone, yet always surrounded? Well, okay, maybe I’m speaking for myself here, but I doubt it. You see, every day there are people who spend time in isolation or a private fantasy life. Maybe they’re not all reading books exactly, but they’re engaging in some form of distraction from the doldrums of life.
You see people looking at their phones, playing video games. watching movies, arguing with strangers on the internet (and often people with fake or exaggerated profiles). Yes, this can all tie into music and literature, too, or anything people do that has a fantasy element. While we shouldn’t be ashamed of all things — they are part of who we are —, there is something to taking a step back and examining just what we’re doing. At first, it may seem Bemis is just moderately frustrated, but he really is a tragic character from the start. Life is constantly hounding him and he can’t find the proper escape. However, when the whole world seems to be over, he can only turn to escape as, well, an escape.
This The Twilight Zone episode beckons us to ask, “What happens when that escape is gone?” That question is brought up in the most literal way. It also (apparently) challenges us to examine the world as it actually is, at least when we’re overwhelmed. While it certainly doesn’t vilify Bemis and his pursuit of distractive literacy, we do learn that it makes him somewhat unrealistic, placing him at risk of actually losing his job and his marriage. While we may fault the banking profession and Bemis’s wife (Jacqueline deWit), Henry is forced to also face the stark reality that reality and fantasy don’t always mix (at least part of my interpretation of this story).
How This Ties Into the Coronavirus Pandemic
It’s a “No duh” thing to say, but life is complicated. Although a massive explosion hasn’t wiped everyone out, we are all now expected to spend time in distractive isolation. Thankfully, many of us do have the ability to connect to others. However, what about the Henry Bemis’s out there who pretty much have nobody? Will their loneliness become more pronounced than ever, even in an age where we can (theoretically) be better-connected than ever? This is really a question for us all to grapple with, and there’s no sign that we’ll do it flawlessly. Best case scenario? Things won’t go as badly as one can imagine (a grim outlook, I know, but that’s the reality).
Like Henry Bemis in The Twilight Zone. we are also all at the mercy of our cultural, political, and economic systems. While that has always been the case, there’s arguably never been a saner time to put some of the distractive toys away and actually pay attention to what is going on. That is, of course, an ironic thing. Just like Bemis, we would all be better off if we could save the world and prevent a greater disaster, yet we are seemingly powerless to truly do anything to address the crises at hand. All that being said, Bemis was onto something when he locked himself in the bank vault to read his books. Underground bunkers may not be necessary yet, but who knows? There’s always tomorrow.
What are your thoughts on The Twilight Zone and Henry Bemis? Do you identify with Henry Bemis?