The Twilight Zone was notoriously known for reflecting social and political issues in an entertaining and imaginative allegories. Debuting in 1959 and airing until 1964, this anthological series often left viewers contemplating their own thoughts through the stories creator Rod Serling painted out for them. One episode in particular, directed by Douglas Heyes, was notorious for the impact it left on viewers. Airing on November 11th, 1960 and running at 25 minutes and 14 seconds, Eye of the Beholder made a dramatic impact on viewers due to its intensely eerie nature and topsy turvy world.
Eye of the Beholder was a science fiction story about a woman, Janet Tyler, or Patient 307 as she is referred to, who underwent 11 injections and failed surgeries to look like a normal member of society. Although we do not see her face because it is bandaged up, or anyone else’s face due to being hidden in the shadows for the majority of the episode, we can infer through her dialogue and the comments made by her, the doctors, and the nurses that she is heinously hideous. When Ms Tyler’s face is finally revealed, we see that she is in our society’s standards, stunning. However, the doctors and nurses all gasped in shock, disbelief, and horror and said the injections did not work. We then see the faces of the doctor and nurses, who are, in our society’s standards,horribly disfigured. Nevertheless, in this topsy turvy world, the swine faced doctors and nurses who would be disfigured to the viewers at home were the norm and beauty of society, and Janet Tyler, as stunning as she looked to the audience, was considered horribly disfigured. After Janet realizes the injections did not work, she breaks down but accepts defeat and joins another “disfigured” man in their society and retreats with him to a community for disfigured people while the swine faced doctors and nurses watch in pity.
This episode was meant to reach a very wide audience, those of which feel the need to conform to society which is almost anyone. As previously stated, creator Rod Serling used his stories to reflect problems in society that he wished to address. When this show aired in 1960, a time of segregation, sexism, and general close-mindedness, our actual society had a habit of ostracizing those who did not conform to the societal norms and ideals.
Whether that be in looks, sexuality, gender, race, etc… the early 1960s was not known for their acceptance. The fear of McCarthyism was also lingering in the air during this time for Senator McCarthy, known for false accusations of communists and treason, stopped serving in 1956, only a couple years before this episode aired. Consequently, when this episode did air, it made a dramatic impact on viewers who were living in a time where it was not okay to be different or speak out against society without being ridiculed.
It just so happens that one of the most powerful scenes is one of the shortest in this episode. In the fourth scene, it is just the doctor and the nurse conversing about Janet. We still have yet to see the faces of anyone, for the camera cuts off their heads or keeps them in the shadows. This adds to the wonder and confusion of this episode, for we are now judging everyone strictly on how they are acting and what they are saying. There is no music and minimal props and set design throughout the scene as well, making their dialogue even more conspicuous.The doctor is visibly stressed and sitting down, camera above him and he is close to the light while the nurse is still standing in the dark above him. The nurse begins to tell him to not get personally involved in the sad and helpless situation that is Janet’s physical condition.
The doctor then stands up and heads towards the window, now facing the light. The nurse now becomes a metaphor for society and how most people think, and him turning her back towards her and facing the light shows him beginning to turn his back on society and starting to question and reject it, thus becoming enlightened. Every time the doctor starts to critically think out loud, the camera goes from a medium shot to a medium close up of the back of his head. He then begins to talk about how he sees Janet’s “real face” or her actual self. This scene was after Janet broke down to the doctor, questioning who says what is attractive and normal, and saying a powerful quote “This state is not God.” This clearly affected the doctor and got him thinking and realizing that she is a human being. Earlier in this scene, the nurse refers to Janet as “Patient 307” rather than her own name. This shows how society can easily dehumanize people when we do not deem them functioning members of society, for there is nothing more demeaning then being referred to as a number as we have seen in terrible
times such as the Holocaust referring to the concentration camp members. The nurse, remaining in the dark, says “It’s easier for me to think of her as human when her face is covered up”.
When the doctor explains that he saw her “real face, the face of a real self, it’s a good face, it’s a human face” It shows that he now sees her as a person rather than just a case, sadly how most people view her in their society. He then starts questioning his society more, as he walks from the window to a well lit area, yet the viewers still do not see his face, continuing to judge him just on his words. The lighting throughout this whole scene is a direct reflection of how enlightened he is becoming while he is asking questions like “What is the dimensional difference between beauty and something repellent?” While again, the nurse still a metaphor and reflection for both our society and theirs, remains in the dark, unenlightened.
The doctor keeps asking questions facing the light until the nurse stops him and tells him to think about what he is saying. He stops, and turns to face the dark. He steps into the dark and stops questioning, in fear of committing treason. He gives up, stops asking questions, puts his arms on the nurse and stays in the dark with her. That shows how even if people do try and question society, fear usually stops them and they remain in society and remain left in the dark, embracing society although in secrecy they do not understand it. It shows that at the end of the day most people would rather stay in a society they do not understand than question it or defy it and be ostracized themselves. The doctor becomes a metaphor for a stage in life that most people go through, only to continue on confused and disappointed.
This entire episode was extremely effective in relaying the message it needed to convey. Serling and Heyes created a flawless allegory with a strong message needed for its time. In a time of intolerance for numerous people, they showed just how ignorant it can be to blindly follow the masses. The ruler was depicted almost Hitler-esque, barking to the people from a high podium on the television sets giving them ridiculous commands to conform, which they were. The use of irony in this episode also helped to show how utterly ridiculous it is to blindly follow society and ostracize those who do not. Seeing the swine-like faces of the people who were considered attractive showed how people will literally listen to anything as long as the majority thinks the same way.
They also bring up many crucial questions about society and image and create a major sense of sympathy and maybe even empathy for Janet Tyler, without even seeing her face yet and just simply listening to her talk about how she just wants to be normal, a struggle a lot of people especially during the early 1960s could identify with. They also show that even though she did not end up conforming to society, she still has the opportunity to be happy, for she leaves hand in hand with a gentleman to take her away to a community of their kind. The use of lighting and shadows also played a key role throughout this episode, creating a clear sense of when someone is becoming enlightened through questioning conformity, and the camera angles often depicted status roles in society, for the camera is almost always looking down on Janet and up at the doctor, until the doctor and nurses.
Although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it does not stop society from dehumanizing those who do not fit in to whatever it is the norms are, just as the doctors and nurses who were a metaphor for society throughout the episode showed. This episode was effective in depicting the message that we do not need to conform to society, and to never blindly follow anyone. We are society and we can change it, and the only way to change society and help people like Janet is to question it.