Twilight Zone Sn1 Ep9 “Perchance to Dream”

Original Airdate: November 27, 1959

I believe that an aspect of “Twilight Zone” that makes it such a powerful and strong storytelling device is that it isn’t tied down to a central narrative.  The show is free to move throughout various genres and stories, jump precariously from a seemingly standard story to a grand plot device that at the time would have been novel.  “Perchance to Dream” contains one such element that has been milked excessively in “Nightmare in Elm Street” films, “Bad Dreams,” and even more obscure fare like “Dreamscape,” namely what kills you in dreams might result in death in waking life.

While I can’t say for certain that “Twilight Zone” was the first to use this in the visual medium, it does seem a likely possibility.  There is another great, now well-worn, trick used in this episode and it is visually cued exceptionally well; when has sleep overtaken the protagonist?  While this trick has been done to death in the “Elm Street” films, so much so that it is terribly predictable, here it is used sparingly and for maximum effect.

I highly enjoyed the use of the psychotherapist and positioning this agent as a questioning voice, instead of a doubting voice of authority as they are presented in modern day films and shows.  John Larch (“The Amityville Horror,” 1979) is excellent as Dr. Eliot Rathmann who casts no judgements on the story that Edward Hall (Richard Conte, “The Godfather”) spins, instead he only asks guiding questions that seek to expose possible answers to Hall’s dilemma.

Conte is also fantastic in his portrayal of a sleep-deprived man on the border of paranoia and mania.  For him, to fall asleep is tantamount to a death sentence for in his dreams he is hunted by a woman who seeks to thrill him to such an extent that his frail heart will fail in real-life.  The story builds and becomes more surreal.  We have to ask ourselves is the voice of the narrator to be trusted?  How and when can and do we know?  Ultimately, do we want to know?

Rathmann is positioned as an antithesis, yet not an aggressive, challenging one, instead it is a gentle, guiding one.  Rathmann, however, is not just a counterpoint, he also serves a grand literary purpose that allows for the complete unfolding of Hall’s story in a natural way, thus letting us to surrender to the flow of the tale and endure interruptions without abrasion.  It all works.

The story spun in “Perchance to Dream” is an exciting story, one that keeps us guessing until the end.  We may predict the ultimate ending, for Hall either dies or he doesn’t, but getting there is the journey worth-taking.  A fabulous tale of paranoia and sleep-deprivation that begs the question: how powerful are our dreams really?  The zig-zagging nature of the sojourn makes this a bizarre tale and one of my favorites.  Penned by Charles Beaumont this time out “Perchance to Dream” dares to go to dangerous, thrilling places and asks us to come along for the ride.

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