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Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Twilight Zone: Eye of the Beholder

I promised a follow up to my Twilight Zone run down a while ago, and after a long procrastination I present one of the all time greats, Eye of the Beholder.

The episode opens in a hospital with a lady whose face is entirely bandaged, and we learn is undergoing some sort of treatment for what we assume to be a hideous, ostracising deformity. But it becomes apparent we cannot see the faces of the doctor and the nurses either, theirs in silhouette or their bodies turned away. The cinematography and mise-en-scene used to achieve this is some of the finest in any of the series of the Twilight Zone, the lighting perfectly utilised to obscure faces in darkness, and low angles employed deftly to create an ominous sense of concealment. That we do not see a face until the end of the episode is stylistically and thematically intertwined, and without spoiling anything, it has to the greatest reveal in the show's history. The problem with reviewing this episode is precisely that I refuse to give away the ending, but I shall nonetheless expand on the themes it touches.

As you might have guessed, the episode is built around philosophical principle 101: 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder', an ageless principle which is relevant as ever today, but so resonant in contemporary America when both the fear and discursive necessity of conforming or being 'normal' was prevalent in society. Elsewhere in the episode we see television screens with a Stalin or Hitler-esque dictator ranting to the people about the need to conform within a state, and the bandaged woman's doctor frequently refers to her deformity in reference to the state and the measures taken over people with her condition. There are disturbing echoes of ethnic cleansing, genocide, and ghettoisation, and the episode becomes an indictment of the way in which discrimination is in many cases state sponsored, and marginalisation sanctioned in pursuit of an oppressive conformist state model. It is Serling at his very best; moral, political, but subtle and clever without being heavy handed. It is the combination of these elements that makes the best Twilight Zone episodes, and compels me to watch them years after they are supposed to have dated.