It’s Not the Same Old Story

SPOILER ALERT (if you haven’t yet viewed Twilight Zone episode “The Invaders”

In the Twilight Zone episode “The Invaders”, actress Agnes Moorehead portrays a woman alone in an isolated farmhouse reacting to a miniature flying saucer that landed on her house. The inhabitants look like toy robots, small and wearing space suits. Moorehead is frightened, and hunts down and kills the invaders as they also try to put her out of action with their energy-beam weapons. In the final scene we hear the surviving occupant of the space craft, speaking English, reporting on the radio that the invasion should be called off, the planet is inhabited by giants, and there is no way the invasion would be successful. As the camera pans on the damaged saucer, we see the logo of the U.S. Air Force Space Probe.

While this theme of surprising the reader/viewer with the discovery that the small aliens are actually the humans has been used elsewhere, I must admit I didn’t see it coming until that final scene. Things are not as they appear. What seems to be a rural farmhouse and a human resident turn out to be their parallels on a larger scale. To some degree, this concept is used in many stories, perhaps most. The reader/viewer is lead down a particular path based on false understandings of reality, until the truth is revealed in the denoument.

As a story, beyond the gimmick and twist at the end, there is a moral component to be thought through. Why did the woman’s reaction of curiosity and fear lead to destruction? Why were the humans armed and willing to react to danger with violence? This is the way of solving problems as seen in westerns, space operas, and mystery/adventures. Captain Kirk always has his phasor and photon torpedo, ready to violate the Prime Directive to save his own skin. Does this reflect real life, or is real life a reflection of the stories absorbed? Is Art a reflection of society or is society transformed by Art? Perhaps both…

On another level, I find it interesting to note that I viewed the episode from 1961 using technology a half-century more advanced than was used in the production. And my viewing was informed by knowledge of the story conventions of sci-fi that have developed since then. From a technical viewpoint, it is refreshing to enjoy science fiction without all the computer graphics and sound effects, yet my modern experiences cause me to see the invaders as little more than barely-animated toys in their poorly designed space-suits. I enjoy reading older fiction, but can’t escape the fact that I know more than the author about how their future evolved to our present. That knowledge flavors the reading/viewing of the story.

As Heraclitus says that you can’t step into the same river twice, so you can’t read/view the same story the author created.

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