It doesn't get much colder than this ...
When I was teaching middle school Religion I would show a Twilight Zone episode every three weeks or so. To my surprise and delight I found that students just loved these old school shows in black and white with an accessible but often "subversive" undercurrent or message. On more than one occasion, the story-line was so complex or just plain fascinating that we were able to have great Socratic seminars on an episode ("Number 12 Looks Just Like You" generated some great discussion - especially with the girls).
Here are two episodes that my former students loved and I will use again in teaching, say, World History when it comes to the Second World War and after.
In "The Mirror," Peter Falk is great as a Castro-like revolutionary who seizes power in a former Spanish colony. To ensure the purity of the Revolution and his own safety and maintenance of power, Ramos Clemente orders the executions of hundreds of people. Typical of the type, right? Yes, but the twist is that the former dictator of the country, one General de Cruz, "gifts" Clemente a mirror telling him that it will allow him to see his enemies. The mirror turns out to convince Clemente that all of his trusted Comrades who fought by his side in the glorious revolution are his real enemies. Thus a great slaughter is unleashed.
The Obsolete Man
From an authoritarian personality we move to a totalitarian system. "The Obsolete Man" concerns a man deemed "obsolete" by the state: his "function" was librarian, but since books no longer exist, he has no purpose and he is scheduled for termination. Some great dialogue and a defense of human dignity. Great plot twist as one expects from Serling.
It gets to the heart of totalitarian paradox: when one surrenders his humanity to the System for safety's sake (or ideological conviction), that very System becomes homicidal, fratricidal and eventually self-imploding (an eventuality that Orwell didn't see but History did -- see the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 or 1989). Or, from the Old Testament: Moloch consumes its own children.
Sample Questions for each episode (the episode was viewed after spending time with a reading that had a similar theme or issue, so the questions are not solely related to the episode).
Questions for "The Mirror"
“The Mirror” (The Twilight Zone) & C.S. Lewis’ “The Fall of Man”
Introduction. In Lewis’ “The Fall of Man,” we are told that God chose not to stop Adam and Eve from sinning nor did He let the first sin (original sin) have no consequences. Instead, God chose to let sin and evil exist and to slowly help us to overcome sin. One thing sin helps us to realize is that our actions are important – they have consequences for good or evil.
In this Twilight Zone episode, we meet a man, Ramos Clemente, who has overthrown an evil dictator, General de Cruz. Will Clemente create peace and freedom for the people or will be no different than General de Cruz? Let's take a look in the mirror.
Directions. Watch the episode and answer the questions.
- How can a screaming mob make a man drunk?
- Is rebellion enough to make someone free?
- What do the people want for General de Cruz?
- Does Clemente (whose name in Spanish means “gracious” or “merciful”!) want justice for the general? If not, what does Clemente want? If so, what kind of justice does he seek [hint: look at the C.S. Lewis handout...]?
- The deposed general [removed from the presidency of his country] tells Clemente and his comrades that “You are me … we are all the same breed.” What does he mean? Is it true?
- General de Cruz tells Clemente that he gives him the gift of __________. Is it a gift or a curse?
- Why does Clemente trust what he sees in the mirror? Would you trust the mirror?
- Speaking of the death of his friends (whom he killed!), Clemente admits he felt nothing in killing them. Why does he feel nothing?
- Is it true that when a man has power (lots and lots of power), he has no friends? Why would anyone then want power?
- Fr. Tomas tells Clemente that all tyrants have one true enemy. Who is Clemente's real enemy?
Questions for "The Obsolete Man"
“The Obsolete Man” (The Twilight Zone, Season 2)
The Judgment of Men versus the Judgment of God
Edict: an official order. Obsolete: out of date; old and no longer needed; replaced by something else. Assassin: a killer who kills someone for political or religious reasons. Anachronism: something that belongs to one time period but not another; for example, a picture of Jesus with an ipod. Liquidation: a way of saying to kill some without saying it directly. Vengeance: punishing someone for what they’ve done
That night the Lord commanded Gideon, “Get up and attack the camp; I am giving you victory over it. But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah. You will hear what they are saying, and then you will have the courage to attack.” So Gideon and his servant Purah went down to the edge of the enemy camp. The Midianites, the Amalekites, and the desert tribesmen were spread out in the valley like a swarm of locusts, and they had as many camels as there are grains of sand on the seashore.
When Gideon arrived, he heard a man telling a friend about a dream. He was saying, “I dreamed that a loaf of barley bread rolled into our camp and hit a tent. The tent collapsed and lay flat on the ground.”
His friend replied, “It's the sword of the Israelite, Gideon son of Joash! It can't mean anything else! God has given him victory over Midian and our whole army!”
When Gideon heard about the man's dream and what it meant, he fell to his knees and worshiped the Lord. Then he went back to the Israelite camp and said, “Get up! The Lord is giving you victory over the Midianite army!”
- from Judges 7
In this Twilight Zone episode, we meet Mr. Romney Wordsworth, a man who does something that is not considered “useful”: he is a librarian. He is on trial for his very life. He is being judged by his country, but countries too are judged by God.
Directions. Watch the episode and answer the questions.
- What is Mr. Wordsworth’s profession?
- Can a person become “obsolete”?
- What does Mr. Wordsworth say about what happens to his ideas after he's dead?
- What does the “jury” decide about Romney Wordsworth?
- Why does Mr. Wordsworth lock the door?
- What does the Chancellor say the problem was with Hitler and Stalin?
- Has the Chancellor underestimated Mr. Wordsworth?
- How does Mr. Wordsworth spend his time while before midnight?
- How does the Chancellor spend his time?
- In whose name does Wordsworth let the Chancellor out?
- How do things end for the Chancellor?
- What is one of the lessons of this episode?
- THEME: Happiness. Compare and contrast how God versus this future State care about human happiness...
- THEME: Human Weakness. Compare and contrast how God versus this future State treat human weakness...
- Do you think the future shown in this episode is likely to happen?