The Old Man in the Cave
|"The Old Man in the Cave"|
|The Twilight Zone episode|
|Episode no.||Season 5
|Directed by||Alan Crosland Jr.|
|Written by||Rod Serling, adapted from Henry Slesar's short story, "The Old Man"|
|Featured music||Stock; most cues from "And When the Sky Was Opened" by Leonard Rosenman|
|Original air date||November 8, 1963|
"The Old Man in the Cave" is a half-hour episode of the original version of The Twilight Zone. It is set in a post-apocalyptic 1974, ten years after a nuclear holocaust in the United States. The episode is a cautionary tale about humanity's greed and the danger of questioning one's faith in forces greater than oneself.
"What you're looking at is a legacy that man left to himself. A decade previous he pushed his buttons and a nightmarish moment later woke up to find that he had set the clock back a thousand years. His engines, his medicines, his science were buried in a mass tomb, covered over by the biggest gravedigger of them all- a bomb. And this is the earth 10 years later, a fragment of what was once a home, a remnant of what was once a race. The year is 1974 and this is the twilight zone."
In a sparsely populated town, ten years after a nuclear war has devastated the US, the townspeople have discovered a supply of canned food. However, they are waiting for Mr. Goldsmith to return with a message from the mysterious and unseen "old man in the cave" who will tell them whether the food is contaminated with radiation. Some of the townsfolk want to take their chances and eat the food, but they refrain from doing so after seeing the disastrous harvest yielded when they failed to take the old man's advice about which farming areas were contaminated. When Mr. Goldsmith, the town's leader, returns, he informs them that the old man has declared the food contaminated and that it should be destroyed.
Shortly thereafter, a group of soldiers enter the town, led by Major French, and clash with Goldsmith as they try to establish their authority. The soldiers may or may not be representatives of the US government; Goldsmith claims that wandering packs of self-styled military men have previously intruded on the town and tried to establish authority—all unsuccessfully. French, meanwhile, reveals that there are maybe 500 people left alive between Buffalo, New York and Atlanta, Georgia, and also talks of small, isolated primitive societies on the shores of Lake Erie and in "what used to be" Chicago. He claims his job is to organize the region so that society can be re-built. However, Goldsmith believes that French and his men simply want to strip the town of its food.
A clash of wills ensues and, frustrated by Goldsmith's quiet and steadfast refusal to bend, French tries to dispel the townspeople's strange beliefs about the seemingly infallible old man in the cave and take control of the area. French tempts the townspeople with some of the food Goldsmith claimed was contaminated and many throw caution to the wind and partake. Everyone except Goldsmith eventually consumes the food and drink and Goldsmith falls into disfavor among the townspeople. After being bullied and threatened with his life, Goldsmith finally opens the cave door and it is ultimately revealed that in reality, the townsfolk have been listening to a computer the whole time. In a fit of rage at being deceived, the people of the town destroy the computer. However, as Mr. Goldsmith had insisted, the "old man" was correct; without an authority figure to tell them which foods are safe, the entire human population of the town (including the soldiers) die horribly — except for the lone survivor, Mr. Goldsmith.
In the post-apocalyptic world presented in the episode, humanity has destroyed itself, but does so again through "greed, desire and faithlessness". It is thus a warning not to ignore faith, which often serves an important purpose in society. The events in the episode show that myths and beliefs are often based on fact or necessity, as is the case with the "old man" who, despite being a computer, was ultimately keeping his "followers" alive. According to Valerie Barr of Hofstra University, it also "turns the usual notion of overreliance on technology on its head" by suggesting an interdependence with machines when it is revealed that a man-made computer has been keeping the townspeople alive. A suggested learning plan accompanying this episode for the SyFy Channel's participation in Cable in the Classroom provides a platform for exploring ideas about war, faith, and the question of whether humans control computers or vice-versa.
Film critic Andrew Sarris noted in his review of "Time Enough at Last" that, at the time The Twilight Zone was produced, depicting an atom bomb explosion or its aftermath on network television would likely have been prohibited if it had been "couched in a more realistic format". Hence, in both this episode and "The Shelter", Serling makes a point of noting that the story is intended to be fictional, particularly given both are set in the United States.
- DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-136-0
- Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9703310-9-0
- Warren, Jason. "Twilight Zone: 'Time Enough at Last'". Scifilm — TV Files. http://www.scifilm.org/tv/tz/twilightzone1-8.html. Accessed 20 July 2006.
- Barr, Valerie. "Movies Involving Computers (or raising interesting issues for a computer ethics course)". http://www.cs.hofstra.edu/~vbarr/movies.html. Modified 8 January 1999. Accessed 30 July 2006.
- Blass, Laurie and Elder, Pam. "LESSON PLAN". Twilight Zone: Cable in the Classroom. http://www.scifi.com/cableintheclassroom/twilightzone/tz.109.html. Accessed 30 July 2006.
- Sarris, Andrew. Rod Serling: Viewed From Beyond the Twilight Zone.