The Midnight Sun
|"The Midnight Sun"|
|The Twilight Zone episode|
|Episode no.||Season 3|
|Directed by||Anton Leader|
|Written by||Rod Serling|
|Featured music||Nathan Van Cleave|
|Original air date||November 17, 1961|
|“||The word that Mrs. Bronson is unable to put into the hot, still, sodden air is 'doomed,' because the people you've just seen have been handed a death sentence. One month ago, the Earth suddenly changed its elliptical orbit and in doing so began to follow a path which gradually, moment by moment, day by day, took it closer to the sun. And all of man's little devices to stir up the air are now no longer luxuries—they happen to be pitiful and panicky keys to survival. The time is five minutes to twelve, midnight. There is no more darkness. The place is New York City and this is the eve of the end, because even at midnight it's high noon, the hottest day in history, and you're about to spend it in the Twilight Zone.||”|
The Earth's orbit has been perturbed, causing Earth to slowly fall into the sun.
A prolific artist, Norma, and her landlady, Mrs. Bronson, are the last people in their New York apartment building. All their neighbors have either moved North, where it is cooler, or perished from the extremely high temperatures. At twenty minutes to midnight, it is 110 °F (43 °C) and sunny as high noon. Norma and Mrs. Bronson try to support each other as they watch life as they know it erode around them. The streets are deserted, water usage is limited to an hour a day, and their electricity is gradually being turned off. Food and water are scarce. A radio presenter announces that the police have been moved out of the city, and that citizens must defend themselves against looters, then angrily goes off script, joking that you can "fry eggs on your sidewalk and heat up soup in the oceans". The presenter is then forcibly taken off air.
As the temperature rises to 120 °F (49 °C), the two women grow weaker. Norma burns her hand on a windowsill. Mrs. Bronson becomes psychologically unstable, beseeching Norma to paint a picture of a cool subject, rather than Norma's usual paintings of the sun and burning cities, screaming, "Don't paint the sun anymore!". A looter enters the building through the roof access door, which Mrs. Bronson neglected to lock. They hide in Norma's apartment. The looter calls from outside, demanding entry. Norma threatens him with a cocked revolver, and they hear him walk away. Against Norma's pleas, Mrs. Bronson unlocks the door, and the stranger forces his way in, pulls the revolver from Norma and drinks their water. He calms down after seeing their distress and begs for their forgiveness, claiming that he is an honest man driven insane by the heat. He throws away the revolver and describes the recent death of his wife and newborn child from overheating and complications during labor. He begs for forgiveness until Norma acknowledges him with a nod; he then leaves the apartment building.
In an attempt to console Mrs. Bronson, Norma shows her an oil painting of a waterfall cascading into a lush pond. Mrs. Bronson deliriously claims that she can feel the coolness and delightfully splashes in the imaginary waters before dying from heat stroke. Norma sits in shock as the thermometer surges past 130 °F (54 °C) and shatters. The paint on Norma's oil paintings begins to melt before her eyes; she screams and collapses.
The scene cuts to the apartment at night with heavy snow outside the windows. The thermometer reads −10 °F (−23 °C). Norma has been bedridden with a high fever, Mrs. Bronson and a doctor have been tending to her. The Earth moving closer to the sun is revealed to be only a fever dream. In reality, the Earth is moving away from the sun, and the world is freezing to death.
|“||The poles of fear, the extremes of how the Earth might conceivably be doomed. Minor exercise in the care and feeding of a nightmare, respectfully submitted by all the thermometer-watchers in the Twilight Zone.||”|
The effect of the oil paintings melting was accomplished by painting the pictures in wax on the surface of a hotplate. Moreover, the episode was shot in the summer, on a set without air-conditioning, with the director actually turning up the heat on certain key scenes to create the necessary mood and appearance for the story.
Serling's original script featured two characters who did not appear in the completed episode: a police officer and a refrigerator repairman.
"I spent a lot of time with Buck Houghton, Twilight Zone's producer trying to reduce scripts, some by Rod, by one speaking part or two speaking parts because we were just about to start shooting the show and we were over budget. And Aubrey was really tough on this subject even if it were a small number of dollars." —Del Reisman quoted in Serling: The Rise And Twilight of Television's Last Angry Man.
- Whether explicitly nuclear or otherwise, the apocalypse was never far away [in the Twilight Zone]. "The Midnight Sun" was telecast on the day the U.S. consolidated its drive for "push-button warfare" with the first successful launching of a Minuteman missile from an underground silo. The episode substitutes a kink in the Earth's orbit—an analogue to what we currently call "the greenhouse effect"—for an atomic holocaust. Instead of blowing up, the planet is falling into the sun. Rape and pillage seem imminent, and even the pigment is boiling on the heroine-artist's canvases as the radio weatherman goes nuts on the air.
- The radio version of The Twilight Zone featured a modernized version of this episode starring Kim Fields.
- The Day the Earth Caught Fire, a 1961 British film with a similar premise
- "Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone: The Midnight Sun", adapted by Mark Kneece; 2008, Walker & Company
- Sander, Gordon F.:Serling: The Rise And Twilight of Television's Last Angry Man. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
- Zicree, Marc Scott: The Twilight Zone Companion. Sillman-James Press, 1982 (second edition)
- 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