5 Characters in Search of an Exit
I consider The Twilight Zone (TWZ) as a legitimate vehicle for transmitting the Faith. The seeds of the Gospel can be found in strange places. They are each in their own way a morality tale. Some of them touch on the supernatural directly, others focus on fantasy, science fiction, psychological thriller, macabre and they almost always end with an unexpected twist.
The original Twilight Zone series ran on television in a stretch from 1959-1964 which is way before my time. There is always a TWZ marathon during New Years. I have spent a few New Years Eve sipping Martinellis and watching with my kids when they were in grade school. I was struck by how they responded with such an interest and they were genuinely entertained. This speaks to the classic, universal. basic human truths to which many of these stories point.
Five Characters in Search of an Exit (Season 3, Episode 14) Synopsis
The Twilight Zone episode, 'Five Characters in search of an Exit' serves as an excellent and entertaining allegory of the fallen world where we are prone to escapism and a nagging innate desire for a qualitatively higher life.
It begins with Rod Serling’s opening narration, “Clown, hobo, ballet dancer, bagpiper, and an Army major—a collection of question marks. Five improbable entities stuck together into a pit of darkness. No logic, no reason, no explanation; just a prolonged nightmare in which fear, loneliness, and the explainable walk hand in hand through the shadows. In a moment, we'll start collecting clues as to the whys, the whats, and the wheres. We will not end the nightmare, we'll only explain it—because this is the Twilight Zone".
These five characters find themselves in a mysterious world-a cylindrical container and the clues they discover have to do with their true identity. The army major points out that it makes no sense. The world they were in did not fit their individual purpose or calling, “An army major belongs in battle, a ballet dancer belongs in the ballet, a clown belongs in a circus". They seem to have a superficial outward identity but they lack purpose and meaning because they have to knowledge of who they are and why there are there.
Each character has a different attitude about their plight. After they each speculate on how they got there and why they are there the clown, who represents the typical nihilist, keeps singing a jingo, “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here”. The most recent arrival, the army major insists that there has to be a way out. The others tell him that they have tried everything and that there is no use. In despair, he finally cries out “We are in hell!”. The hobo asks the ballet dancer girl to dance for them. This was their only distraction or from of escapism.
The major says, “Some part of our life has been cut away from us and we have to get it back!” He comes up with a plan and together they stand on each other’s shoulders and then one climbs over them to the top. After a few failed attempts the major, using his sword as a grappling hook, reaches the rim and falls over. The episode ends when a child finds the major laying in the snow and he puts him back in the container.
The twist is that the five characters turned out to be children’s toy dolls donated in a Christmas barrel for needy children. It closes with a tear in the eye of the inanimate ballet dancer and the closing narrative, “Just a barrel, a dark depository where are kept the counterfeit, make-believe pieces of plaster and cloth, wrought in a distorted image of human life. But this added, hopeful note: perhaps they are unloved only for the moment. In the arms of children, there can be nothing but love. A clown, a tramp, a bagpipe player, a ballet dancer, and a major. Tonight's cast of players on the odd stage—known as—The Twilight Zone.”
Don’t we all have an odd feeling that we don’t belong, that we are stuck in a world where we know we can never reach our full potential? Doesn’t it seem that we can never be fulfilled? We were created for something more and yet this is all there is. We find ourselves on a ball in the middle of nowhere spinning in circles as we rotate around a giant fireball. So many people in our culture are characters in search of a story and consequently in search of an exit.
In our post-Christian culture, without knowing the plan or the narrative we get tired and depressed. We desperately look for a way out. We are given so many theories, so many explanations, so many words and yet we still feel unsatisfied. The deep down yearning for something more is not a bad thing. It is only bad when we attempt the break out or the escape on our own terms and not in accordance with God’s will.
The truth is we are in a fallen world, an exile from Eden, a valley of tears. There has been a life that has been cut away from us and we are left with a God-shaped hole inside. We know that we are meant for something more and we desperately desire to be happy. Only God can fill this hole within and only in Christ will we be satisfied.
The life that we have to get back is given to us in the sacraments. This is called participating in divine life or sanctifying grace. But if we don’t have the plan or the story, we are left frustrated and confused. We are meant to be in a super-real world yet we find ourselves stuck in a sub-real dystopia. This is an excellent set up for explaining the fallen world, our need for grace and our need to participate in divine life to reach our truest identity as adopted sons and daughters of God. Ultimately we long for a super-abundant life in heaven.