Directed by John Brahm
Written by Rod Serling (based on a short story by Lynn Venable)
Starring: Burgess Meredith
Airdate: November 20, 1959
Few TV shows tapped into Cold War paranoia like Rod Serling’s anthology series The Twilight Zone (1959-64). One episode in particular, “Time Enough At Last,” left a deep mark on the collective unconscious.
“Time Enough At Last” blew people’s minds when it aired. It was a dour speculation on nuclear war and its ramifications.
Burgess Meredith stars as confirmed bookworm Harry Bemis, a man who simply wants more time to read. A bored bank teller, Harry secretly absorbs novels during his downtime. Meanwhile his wife orders him to get out and socialize more. In a cruel move, she scribbles over his beloved book of poetry. The next day Harry sneaks off to finish David Copperfield in the bank vault. Then a hydrogen bomb explodes outside and Harry’s the lone survivor.
“Time Enough At Last” is a dark take on Rip Van Winkle, a story about an idler who wakes up to find the world he once knew no longer exists. Walking through the wreckage, Harry comes upon the ruins of a library and explodes in glee to find all the books are still intact. And then . . . I won’t reveal the ending.
Meredith does a great job of generating empathy for his character. You really feel awful when he’s the victim of the cruelest twist of fate in TV history.
And I like the episode’s viewpoint on the role of books in society. Yes, if I was the lone survivor of some disaster, having books would help ease the loneliness. Still, as great as books are, they can never substitute for real human contact. One cannot live on books alone.
Writer Weston Ochse suggested that as books disappear into the digital realm, the end of electricity would mean the end of books, adding yet another modern twist to the episode. Those I-phones would fail.
The story also speaks to how the system deprives people of the time to sit down and read. How many times do you hear someone say, “I would read more if I only had the time.”
So go watch “Time Enough At Last” and ponder what you would do. What would you do?