Existential Flungness in a Twilight Zone Episode

The first ten minutes of this Twilight Zone episode is Rod Serling channeling Beckett, Kafka, and Sartre. It’s very cool. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode is not on YouTube. I know the ending, though, and will tell you what it is after you watch the clip:

Okay, here’s the spoiler:

They are dolls in a barrel, and they are waiting to be distributed to poor children at Christmas time. The dolls were flung in the barrel by random donators (and there just aren’t many people walking past the barrel and giving). Isn’t that a great way to set up an absurd existentialist parable? Here are some additional thoughts on this:

  • The dolls are flung into their barrel from “they know not where.” When they look up they see only a lamp light.
  • If there is some external meaning to their predicament—some gods above the dolls—there’s no telling what those gods’ purposes might be. The gods aren’t talking to the dolls. They are silent and not showing their faces into the barrel.
  • The dolls are experiencing radical contingency, and still have to figure out what to do with themselves. They are, quite literally, cast upon their own very limited resources, and with little external information, and yet they must nevertheless try to make sense of their lives. In other words, even though the dolls can’t get at the truth and reality of things, still they must choose how to live now.
  • Ironically—tragically?—what their own self-chosen life-meanings are may have little relation to truth or reality. In other words, these dolls might live out their existences completely divorced from truth and reality, and yet still function in their world under the terms and sensibilities that they have (arbitrarily?) decided upon. It’s kind of like generating a self-referential language game that makes sense to you, in your radical contingency, even though it may not make any sense to others (in their radical contingency). What is truth in such a world? What is reality?
  • Presumably the dolls would perk up and be happy if a child took on the character of a god, reached down, and raptured them into his or her embrace. A raptured doll would now have a purpose in accord with its nature. But on further reflection, why would a doll be happy to lose its individual purposes—its existential freedom—to the purposes of a god? And why would a doll prefer truth and reality in exchange for its own freedom? Wouldn’t discovering what the reality is  close the doll’s range of imaginative life construction?
  • Is existence in a world not ultimately comprehensible, and apart from a god’s transcendent purposes, a prison—or is it the requirement for freedom?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Existential Flungness in a Twilight Zone Episode

  1. Pingback: Thinking about Nietzsche: does truth matter? « Prometheus Unbound

  2. MP Uppal says:

    Regarding the Twilight Zone condition, the way I have understood it, I would like to state that the situation need not be that pessimistic. Dolls represent all of us thrown into the world-which is the existential ‘givens’. In any given situation if we are conscious then we are free. There is no undiluted freedom for man in this world. Sartre likens consciousness to Godliness. For me freedom is being conscious of the possibility of doing one’s best in whichever role one chooses to play regardless of the outcome.

    On the other hand in Orwell’s 1984’s totalitarian regime, masses confront unending Twilight Zone .The truth in the real sense of the word does not exist at all. Truth is what the Oligarchy projects before the masses. One of the innovative slogans ‘War is Peace’,is a psychological masterpiece to hoodwink the masses. War hysteria is generated to keep the people under continuous physical and mental pressure and to make them expend their energies to meet their minimal needs on account of made up perennial shortages. So hugely stressed they are, that they are totally unconscious of their situation thus fodder for perpetual subjugation.

  3. Absurdist says:

    And now, let’s examine the episode’s title, freely adapted from Pirandello and Sartre. That will pretty much tell you all you need to know.

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