Original Air Date: March 11, 1960
Writer: Richard Matheson
Director: Ted Post
“Gerry, sometimes I’d like to escape, myself. Away from this turmoil… to some simpler existence.”
“A World of Difference” is a top notch, disorienting, meta-textual episode of The Twilight Zone. It explores the feeling of fraudulence and paranoia when being watched, as well as the desire for escapism. The cinematography in this episode was completed by Harkness Smith (George T. Clemens declined to participate) and his lens offers a compelling set of visuals as we seemingly break the fourth wall and step offscreen into a wholly different world. “A World of Difference” is a disorienting episode that forces us to question: what is the true reality?
“You’re looking at a tableau of reality, things of substance, of physical material: a desk, a window, a light. These things exist and have dimension. Now this is Arthur Curtis, age thirty-six, who also is real. He has flesh and blood, muscle and mind. But in just a moment we will see how thin a line separates that which we assume to be real with that manufactured inside of a mind.”
Arthur Curtis (played by Howard Duff who was married to Ida Lupino, the star and director of two Twilight Zone episodes) is a middle-class businessman who is planning a trip to San Francisco with his wife. He arrives at his office, talks to his secretary, and then discovers that his phone is not working. He turns toward the camera when he hears someone yell “cut!” Suddenly the ‘fourth wall’ of his office is blurred away and he discovers that his life is being filmed on a sound stage. Everyone on set refers to him as Gerald Raigan (“Arthur Curtis” is merely a character he is playing). He is an actor who has been struggling with mental health problems, alcoholism, and a nasty divorce (his evil beau is played by Eileen Ryan, widow of Leo Penn and mother of actor Sean Penn). Curtis insists he has no memory of this identity as Gerald Raigan.
Raigan’s agent says he is being dropped after losing the part of Arthur Curtis due to his apparent nervous breakdown, and Raigan’s soon to be ex-wife is hunting down his money. In desperation, Raigan flees back to the film set where his staged office is being torn down. He cries out to return to his former life when his secretary arrives from the beginning along with his wife with the plane tickets for their trip to San Francisco. Raigan/Curtis embraces his wife as the film set in the background begins to fade. Raigan has chosen the life of Arthur Curtis, never again to return to the pathetic shoes of Gerald Raigan. His plane takes off and disappears. Which was the true reality? Arthur Curtis or Gerald Raigan? We are only left to wonder.
“The modus operandi for the departure from life is usually a pine box of such and such dimensions, and this is the ultimate in reality. But there are other ways for a man to exit from life. Take the case of Arthur Curtis, age thirty-six. His departure was along a highway with an exit sign that reads, “This Way To Escape”. Arthur Curtis, en route to the Twilight Zone.”
As in the works of Greek tragedy, Arthur Curtis is a man held in the clutches of supernatural powers which bind him in an impossible situation. Through no fault of his own, his tragic downfall exposes him to another life that might have been his own. There is no fable or moral allegory in “A World of Difference.” Some things in The Twilight Zone are simply there to shock us out of our complacency, or at least to look at the world from a different point of view.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- Nathan Van Cleave’s score for this episode features an organ-like synthesizer.
- Harkness Smith completed the cinematography for this episode -George T. Clemens declined to work with Smith, though the visuals in the episode are stunning, particularly the shadow play and removal of Curtis’s wall.
- The entire scene at the beginning with Curtis in his office was shot in one take -the wall of his office was apparently on wheels and thus was able to ‘disappear’ in an easy way.