Saturday, August 22, 2015

Zones and Bets

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You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension - a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

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A few weeks ago I posted a summary of a story I remembered reading many years ago. The story is called The Monkey’s Paw and it illustrated the old adage: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Whilst writing about that story, an episode of The Twilight Zone, The Silence, came to mind. I’m still not sure why the one story made me think of the other, who knows how synapses function, but it obviously remained in the memory from many years ago, lying dormant, awaiting a stimulus that would bring it forth again.  (I may have been reading too much Stephen King).

I used to love watching the Twilight Zone, including the re-runs.  Remember these? . . . . 
“Time Enough at Last” with Burgess Meredith;
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” with William Shatner;
“Eye of the Beholder” with Donna Douglas;
“The Invaders” with Agnes Moorehead;
“It’s a Good Life” with Billy Mumy;
“Walking Distance” with Gig Young . . .

So many more I could cite.
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Some comments about The Silence and the story by Chekov on which it was based:
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As Zoners (I made that up, it's like Star Trek fanatics being called Trekkies), will know, each episode is introduced and concluded by TZ creator and writer, Rod Serling.

Here is the opening narration to The Silence:

The note that this man is carrying across a club room is in the form of a proposed wager, but it's the kind of wager that comes without precedent. It stands alone in the annals of bet-making as the strangest game of chance ever offered by one man to another. In just a moment, we'll see the terms of the wager and what young Mr. Tennyson does about it. And in the process, we'll witness all parties spin a wheel of chance in a very bizarre casino called the Twilight Zone.

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A summary of the story, from Wikipedia:

Colonel Archie Taylor, a gruff aristocrat, has difficulty enjoying his men's club because of the constant chatter of fellow member Jamie Tennyson. Just as irritating is the content, which usually concludes with a transparent attempt to curry investors.

In an effort to shut Tennyson up, Taylor proposes a wager: he bets $500,000* that Tennyson cannot remain silent for one year. If Tennyson accepts the wager, he will be enclosed in the club's game room, in which a small glass-walled apartment has been erected. There, Tennyson will be monitored by microphones so that he cannot speak without detection. Any requests he makes will be made in writing, and any member may come to visit him at any time. Tennyson is offended but agrees. He requests that Taylor put a check on deposit in his name. This measure is refused by all in the club as the Colonel has a strong standing of honor and credit within the club. "My courage against your credit" is then accepted by both.

Though he had assumed Tennyson would be successful for only a few weeks, Taylor is astonished by how long the younger man is able to go without speaking. After nine months, Taylor gets nervous and offers Tennyson $1,000 to leave immediately. Tennyson points to the calendar and writes a note in reply: "Three months to go / The bet stands!"

Taylor counters by bringing up the subject of Tennyson's wife. Though Tennyson has sent several notes requesting that she visit, his wife has never responded. Taylor mentions that she has been seen around town in the company of other young men. Over the remaining months, Taylor continues to bring Tennyson gossip about his wife until Tennyson seems ready to break. Taylor offers him $5,000 to leave the room, but when he isn't actually shown any money, the latter sees through the loophole and refuses to give up.**

The fateful evening arrives. Tennyson emerges to the congratulations of his fellow club members and silently approaches Taylor for the money. The embarrassed Taylor admits that he had lost his fortune a decade ago and has been scrambling to maintain the charade ever since—all in vain now, due to Tennyson's triumph. Actually, Taylor was offering more than he could afford just in hope that Tennyson would call the bet off. He praises Tennyson's resolve and character and then announces his decision to resign from the club.

The distraught Tennyson scribbles furiously on a sheet of paper. The other men tell him that the year is over and he can now speak. Taylor reads the note aloud: "I knew that I would not be able to keep my part of the bargain, so one year ago I had the nerves to my vocal cords severed!" Tennyson displays the scar on his throat from the operation, which he has concealed for the past 12 months under scarves and turtlenecks.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Silence_(The_Twilight_Zone)

* About $4m in 2014 terms, according to IMDB

** I dispute that he doesn't accept because no money is shown.  He wouldn't have accepted anyway.

Franchot Tone as Colonel Archie Taylor

Liam Sullivan as Jamie Tennyson

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See some clips from the episode, plus the final scenes, by clicking on:

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Closing narration:

Mr. Jamie Tennyson, who almost won a bet, but who discovered somewhat belatedly that gambling can be a most unproductive pursuit, even with loaded dice, marked cards, or, as in his case, some severed vocal chords. For somewhere beyond him, a wheel was turned, and his number came up black thirteen. If you don't believe it, ask the croupier, the very special one who handles roulette - in The Twilight Zone.
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As mentioned, The Silence is based on an 1889 short story by Anton Chekhov called The Bet.

A summary of that story:

As the story opens, the banker recalls the occasion of the bet fifteen years before. Guests at the party that he was hosting that day fell into a discussion of capital punishment; the banker argued that capital punishment is more humane than life imprisonment, while the young lawyer disagreed, insisting that he would choose life in prison rather than death. They agree to a bet of two million rubles that the lawyer cannot spend fifteen years in solitary confinement. The bet was on, and the lawyer cast himself into isolation for fifteen years.

The man spends his time in confinement reading books, writing, playing piano, studying, drinking wine, and educating himself. We find him continuously growing throughout the story. We see various phases in his term of imprisonment over the years. At first, the lawyer suffered from severe loneliness and depression. But soon began studying vigorously. He begins with languages and other related subjects. Then, a mix of science, literature, philosophy and other seemingly random subjects. He ends up reading some six hundred volumes in the course of four years. Then, the Gospel followed by theology and histories of religion. In the final two years, the imprisoned lawyer read immensely on chemistry, medicine and philosophy, and sometimes works of Byron or Shakespeare.

In the meantime, the banker's fortune declines and he realizes that if he loses, paying off the bet will leave him bankrupt.

The day before the fifteen-year period concludes, the banker resolves to kill the lawyer so as to not owe him the money. On his way to do so, however, the banker finds a note written by the lawyer. The note declares that in his time in confinement he has learned to despise material goods as fleeting things and he believes that knowledge is worth more than money. To this end he elects to renounce the reward of the bet. The banker was moved and shocked to his bones after reading the note, kisses the strange man on the head and leaves the lodge weeping, relieved not to have to kill anyone. The prison warden later reports that the lawyer has left the guest house, thus losing the bet and unwittingly saving his own life.
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Anyone who wants to read the Chekhov story can do so by clicking on:
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Chekhov:


Oops, wrong one.

Anton Chekhov



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