Monday, May 23, 2011

Nothing In The Dark - The Twilight Zone

A still photograph from the episode of The Twilight Zone
Nothing In The Dark 1962

There was an old woman who lived in a room, and like all of us, was frightened of the dark, but who discovered in a minute last fragment of her life that there was nothing in the dark that wasn't there when the lights were on.  Object lesson for the more frightened amongst us, in or out of The Twilight Zone - Rod Serling

Wanda Dunn, the elderly woman (played by Gladys Cooper), lives in an old abandoned building that has been ordered to be demolished.  She has victimized herself by the fear of "Mr. Death" and has not left the room in many years.  She is tormented by the fear of dying and daily lives a vivid nightmare, that "Mr. Death" is waiting for her outside.

One day, she hears loud gunshot sounds right outside of her door. She is frightened by the sound and opens the door just a crack and peeks out fearfully. There is a young man (played by Robert Redford), laying wounded on the ground, and claims that he is a police officer by the name of Harold Beldon.  He begs her to help him as he is bleeding, and is in need of a doctor.

She explains to him that she cannot open the door as she has a firm belief that "death" is out there and ready to take her if she leaves the comfort of her room and steps outside. The door is what separates her to her doom. She somehow knows the officer is there to claim her as everyone outside is suspect.

After much convincing by the wounded officer, she opens the door and brings him inside. She spends several days nursing him to better health while she expresses to him her fears of "Mr. Death".

She believes "Mr. Death" is out there and everywhere and he shows up knocking at her door. One week he knocked and claimed he was from the gas company, after that he knocked on her door again, claiming he was a contractor hired by the city.  But she knows it's "him", so she refuses to open the door.

Her fear began many years ago, while she was riding on a bus. Sitting in front of her was an old woman knitting. Then a young man got on, and even though there were empty seats, he sat down beside her. The man did not speak at all, but his presence upset the old woman. She noticed that the young man touched the old woman's hand after picking up the yarn that had fallen on the floor. The young man got off, but when the bus reached the end of the line she was dead.

Now she believes to see the young man everywhere. Every time someone she knows dies, he seems to always be there. He shows up disguised like an ordinary person.  A person you would not notice unless you were "watching".

The old woman tells the officer, "I would rather live in the dark, than to not live at all".

One last time there is a knock on the door. She refuses to open, but the wounded officer convinces her that there is nothing to fear. When she finally goes to the door, a contractor, with an evicting order, forces himself inside, knocking her down.

She begs Harold for help, but the contractor does not see Harold at all. Wanda looks in the mirror, but sees the bed empty where Harold is lying, but not Harold himself.  She realizes that Harold, is in fact "Death", and has come to take her with him.

After the contractor leaves, Death explains to her that he set her up that way so that she would stop fearing and go with him peacefully.  She thinks he has tricked and betrayed her trust.  He convinces her that he is gentle and that her life will end, but at the same time begin.

He says, "Mother, give me your hand." She is finally convinced to touch him.  "You see. No shock.  No engulfment.  No tearing asunder.  What you feared would come like an explosion is like a whisper.  What you thought was the end is the beginning."

She is standing beside her body laying on the bed and the old woman and Death walk together through the doorway, out of the darkness and into the sunlight.

Stunningly filmed to express the light and the dark, interpreting life and death, this is one of my favorite episodes of the collection of The Twilight Zone, by the mastermind Rod Serling. Directed by Lamont Johnson, it is a testament and a reminder of death and a world beyond our control.

The episode also reminds us that death is not worth being preoccupied with as it only results in a life not worth living.  

Rod Serling - Creator of The Twilight Zone


  1. i think the woman might have been insane. But on the other hand she did not know what was on the other side, or what death was like. nobody knows whats on the other side, nobody knows if its paradise,heaven, hell,darkness, or a new begginig. All that we know is that whatever is on the other side its different or the opposte of life.

  2. Leticia, you have written about one of my favorite episodes. But this one in particular is so well performed with only two actors. Great job on your synopsis!

    Rick Jacobson

  3. I have watched this episode when my mom allowed me to stay up late with her; thank you for jogging up a sweet memory for me. Then again Twilight Zone usually scared the crap out of me after I watched it.

  4. Hin Lee thanks for your comment. It is true a lot of these episodes can cause spine chills, especially as a child.