Time Enough at Last
|"Time Enough at Last"|
|The Twilight Zone episode|
|Episode no.||Season 1
|Directed by||John Brahm|
|Written by||Teleplay by:
Based on the Short Story by:
|Featured music||Leith Stevens|
|Original air date||November 20, 1959|
"Time Enough at Last" is episode 8 of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone. The episode was adapted from a short story written by Lynn Venable (pen name of Marilyn Venable). The short story appeared in the January 1953 edition of the science fiction magazine If: Worlds of Science Fiction about seven years before the television episode first aired. "Time Enough at Last" became one of the most famous episodes of the original Twilight Zone, and has been frequently parodied since. It is "the story of a man who seeks salvation in the rubble of a ruined world" and tells of Henry Bemis //, played by Burgess Meredith, who loves books, yet is surrounded by those who would prevent him from reading them. The episode follows Bemis through the post apocalyptic world, touching on such social issues as anti-intellectualism, the dangers of reliance upon technology, and the difference between aloneness (solitude) and loneliness.
|“||Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He'll have a world all to himself...without anyone.||”|
Henpecked bank teller and avid bookworm Henry Bemis (Meredith) works at his window in a bank, while reading David Copperfield, which causes him to shortchange an annoyed customer. Bemis's angry boss, and later his nagging wife, both complain to him that he wastes far too much time reading "doggerel". As a cruel joke, his wife asks him to read poetry from one of his books to her; he eagerly obliges, only to find that she has inked over the text on every page, obscuring the words.
The next day, as usual, Henry takes his lunch break in the bank's vault, where his reading will not be disturbed. Moments after he sees a newspaper headline, which reads "H-Bomb Capable of Total Destruction", an enormous explosion outside the bank violently shakes the vault, knocking Bemis unconscious. After regaining consciousness and recovering the thick glasses required for him to see, Bemis emerges from the vault to find the bank demolished and everyone in it dead. Leaving the bank, he sees that the entire city has been destroyed, and realizes that a nuclear war has devastated the Earth, but that his being in the vault has saved him.
Finding himself totally alone in a shattered world with food to last him a lifetime but no one to share it with, Bemis succumbs to despair. As he prepares to commit suicide using a revolver he has found, Bemis sees the ruins of the public library in the distance. Investigating, he finds that the books are still intact and readable; all the books he could ever hope for are his for the reading, and (as he gazes upon a huge fallen face of a clock) learns that he has all the time in the world to read them without interruption.
His despair gone, Bemis contentedly sorts the books he looks forward to reading for years to come. Just as he bends down to pick up the first book, he stumbles, and his glasses fall off and shatter. In shock, he picks up the broken remains of the glasses he is virtually blind without, and says, "That's not fair. That's not fair at all. There was time now. There was all the time I wanted...! That's not fair!", and bursts into tears, surrounded by books he now can never read.
|“||The best laid plans of mice and men...and Henry Bemis...the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself. Mr. Henry Bemis...in the Twilight Zone.||”|
"Time Enough at Last" was one of the first episodes written for The Twilight Zone. It introduced Burgess Meredith to the series; he went on to star in three more episodes, being introduced as "no stranger to The Twilight Zone" in promotional spots for season two's "The Obsolete Man". He also narrated for the 1983 film Twilight Zone: The Movie, which made reference to "Time Enough at Last" during its opening sequence, with the characters discussing the episode in detail.
Footage of the exterior steps of the library was filmed several months after production had been completed. These steps can also be seen on the exterior of an Eloi public building in MGM's 1960 version of The Time Machine. John Brahm was awarded a Directors Guild award for his work on the episode. The book that Bemis was reading in the vault and that flips open when the bomb explodes is A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus by Washington Irving.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a theme park ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney California Adventure Park, has a replica of Henry Bemis' broken glasses in the lobby. It is noted that, while they are indeed reading glasses, Burgess Meredith wears them the entire episode to make Bemis look more bookish.
Although the overriding message may seem to be "careful what you wish for", there are other themes throughout the episode as well. Paramount among these is the question of solitude versus loneliness, as embodied by Bemis's moment of near-suicide; the portrayal of societal attitudes towards books also speaks to the contemporary decline of traditional literature and how, given enough time, reading may become a relic of the past. At the same time, the ending "punishes Bemis for his antisocial behavior, and his greatest desire is thwarted."
Rod Serling's conclusion alludes to the Scots language poem "To a Mouse" (for which Of Mice and Men was also named) in the conclusion. The original quote is, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an men / Gang aft agley" (translation: "Often go awry"). Thus, as Serling says, Bemis has become "just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself".
Although it is implied that nuclear warfare has destroyed humanity, film critic Andrew Sarris notes that the episode's necessarily unrealistic format may have been what allowed its production to commence:
|“||Much of the implacable seriousness of The Twilight Zone is seemingly keyed by the clipped, dour delivery of Serling himself and the interlocutor. He never encourages us to laugh, or even smile, even when the plot twist is at least darkly funny. For example, in 'Time Enough at Last' ... The H-bomb is still lurking in the background of the bookworm's 'accident.' The point is that the bomb could never have gone off on network television were the plot couched in a more realistic format.||”|
In the era of the Internet and eBooks, the irony depicted in "Time Enough at Last" has an information age counterpart according to Weston Ochse of Storytellers Unplugged. As Ochse points out, when Bemis becomes the last person on Earth, he finally has time to read, with all his books at his fingertips and the only impediment is technology when his medium for accessing them—his glasses— breaks. In a hypothetical world where all books are published electronically, Ochse observes, readers would be "only a lightning strike, a faulty switch, a sleepy workman or a natural disaster away from becoming Henry Bemis at the end of the world"—that is, a power outage has the potential to give them time to read, yet like Bemis, they too would lose their medium for accessing their books—namely the computer. This analogy has been taken further by those who suggest that today's technology-dependent world, where books have become passé (cf. Bradbury's "The Pedestrian"), could render an outage both a liberator and an executioner: As the gateway to both work and entertainment (be it a computer, video games or television), removing electricity from the equation presents Henry Bemis' heaven but modern society's hell.
The Twilight Zone often explored similar themes throughout its run. "Time Enough at Last" has strong thematic ties to a number of other episodes in the series, starting with that of isolation, first explored in the series pilot, "Where Is Everybody?" and also a prominent theme in the episode "The Lonely". In a plot very similar to that of "Time", "The Mind and the Matter" tells of a man who uses his mind to erase humanity, only to find that existence without other people is unbearable. The notion of being an outsider, lost in a sea of conformity, was one of the most common themes of the series.
Other thematic elements can be found throughout the series, as well. "The Obsolete Man" takes the episode's literary subtext — the notion that reading may eventually be considered "obsolete" — to an extreme: The state has declared books obsolete and a librarian (also played by Meredith) finds himself on trial for his own obsolescence. This notion, akin to Bradbury's "The Pedestrian", is also alluded to in "Number 12 Looks Just Like You", in which a perfect and equal world contradictorily considers works like those of Shakespeare "smut".
"Time Enough at Last" was a ratings success in its initial airing and "became an instant classic". It "remains one of the best-remembered and best-loved episodes of The Twilight Zone" according to Marc Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion. When a poll asked readers of Twilight Zone Magazine which episode of the series they remembered the most, "Time Enough at Last" was the most frequent response, with "To Serve Man" coming in a distant second. Indeed, in TV Land's presentation of TV Guide's "100 Most Memorable Moments in Television", "Time Enough at Last" was ranked at #25. In an interview years later, Serling himself cited the episode as being one of his two favorites from the entire series. (The other episode was "The Invaders", with Agnes Moorehead.)
Elements of American popular culture frequently pay homage to "Time Enough at Last". In Twilight Zone: The Movie, Albert Brooks recounts the episode to Dan Aykroyd as they drive along an empty stretch of highway. "This thing freaked me out when I was 7 years old," says Brooks' character adding, "I bought another pair of glasses just in case that would happen." There are also notable television spoofs of the episode. These include The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius ("Return of the Nanobots"); SpongeBob SquarePants; The Drew Carey Show ("Y2K You're OK"); Family Guy (at the end of the season 2 episode "Wasted Talent"); Futurama (during an episode of "The Scary Door" [a Twilight Zone-style TV show that airs in the year 3000] on "A Head in the Polls"); Stephen Colbert's A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! (in the DVD's second alternative ending); and The Simpsons (on the season 14 episode "Strong Arms of the Ma"). In an episode of The Simpsons, a postman is accidentally trapped under a car in front of the Simpson house, he intends to read The Twilight Zone Magazine but discovers that his glasses were broken in the accident and says "That's not fair!" while the Twilight Zone main-theme is heard in the background. The comic book version of The Simpsons, Simpsons Comics, also published a story called 'The Last Fat Man', based partially on 'Time Enough at Last' and actually has a short scene where Homer Simpson shoos a bespectacled man who is reading a book out of a nuclear bunker so he can eat in it, unintentionally taking shelter in it. Adding to it, the "Treehouse of Horror VIII" segment "The HΩmega Man" features Homer, who accidentally survives by hiding in a nuclear bunker and comes out to discover that he is apparently the last person alive. The PC game Fallout Tactics includes a librarian in a desolate world who wants the player to find his missing glasses so he can read his books. The Pixar movie WALL-E, which takes place in a desolate future, also contains a scene in which a pair of broken glasses can be seen in the foreground. The sitcom Two and a Half Men made references to it when the character Alan has a nervous breakdown in a bookstore. NBC's Revolution (TV series) episode 12 "Ghosts" has Jim Hudson's character who goes by the name of Henry Bemis. Henry (Jim) has become the town librarian, until Miles convinces him to help the rebels and go back to his real name. In the episode "Airport 2010", Modern Family references the episode when the screen on Jay' s electronic reader gets broken. Jay pours the broken glass to the floor while saying "Not fair. It's not fair".
The episode's title was borrowed by a song on The Fall's 1992 album Code: Selfish, and a 2004 independent film about a man who tries to escape an office building. The film's naming was quite intentional; its official website even listed the webmaster's e-mail alias as "rodserling".
"Time Enough at Last" has been released in numerous formats over the years. In 1988 it was available on VHS as part of a Twilight Zone collector's edition. Two releases were made in 1998 and 1999, as part of a more widely available two-episodes-per-tape release scheme. Although similar individual multi-episode DVDs were released, it is now exclusively available as part of The Twilight Zone – The Definitive Edition, the first volume of which was released December 24, 2004. Included is an audio-only interview with Burgess Meredith as well as the clip of The Drew Carey Show's parody of the episode.
The episode has also been released on non-traditional media. For instance, the story which inspired it has been released in eBook and MP3 form, capitalizing on the success of the episode. In 2005, "Time" became one of the first Twilight Zone episodes offered for download via Google Video, and later on sites such as Amazon.com.
Along with other Twilight Zone episodes, "Time Enough at Last" has been adapted to formats other than television since its original publishing and broadcast. In 2003, the Falcon Picture Group produced a series of radio dramas based on the series—stating, "In the 1950s many radio series were turned into television series – so why not the reverse?"—which were broadcast on about 200 stations through the USA; "Time" was included in volume six.
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