The movie “Her”. “Stranger Things”. Movie versions of “Alice in Wonderland”. “The Twilight Zone”, “Coraline”…
I have only started watching Season 1 of “Stranger Things”, so there’s no spoiler here. I see why the show is so popular and how good it is. But. The part I don’t like about it is that the “Upside down” other world so far seems to be a more sinister dangerous place than earth where some bad dangerous stuff is happening to the people snatched into it. Granted we see that there are humans involved in it doing terrible stuff too. But-
Why do other worlds always have to be portrayed as sinister places you need to escape from? I guess there is not much drama in being snatched away into another world and wanting to stay there. In Coraline, we learn that boredom and mediocre seeming parents are not so terrible and that the mother in the other world is a monster akin to the witch of Hansel and Gretel, another cautionary tale for children about trusting strangers seeming to have goodies for you, definitely an important lesson for kids since the beginning of humans existing.
There seems to be a stereotype operating that going into other realities is fascinating but they are even worse than the human world we now inhabit, or they are very creepy versions of it. Maybe the “other” parents in Coraline are parts of the real ones, just the parts we don’t see. How much worse can it get? Every day another sexual predator is exposed. Great that people are coming out and telling their stories and these evil people are not allowed to get away with the awful things they’ve done, but if there is life on another planet, they are likely to be more evolved than humans. I’m not sure what I would do if I found the planet I’m really from and was invited back. In my fantasy it’s a really great place or at least the demons are under control and slightly familiar beings, even though I can only go there in my head. On my planet we’re all vegans (I’m not vegan now, just vegetarian but would like to be vegan eventually). None of the food is harmful and I don’t have to go to yet another Thanksgiving involving a dead turkey in 13 days. Humans act against their best interests all the time; most of the stuff we do is pretty stupid or downright awful. Some stuff is good.
The original Twilight Zone was great because it did not limit the area of Twilight Zone to some place out of our space time continuum that is always worse than our own. There are tons of Twilight Zones, all unusual and unique. Sometimes the twilight zone is just the “upside down” supernatural operating by its own laws but either better or worse, or else often, even better, just different and strange and unpredictable and surprising. Sometimes scary but not always. One episode I like is similar to Stranger Things in that a little girl gets pulled into the 4th Dimension with her dog and her parents get a scientist to come over and help them get her back and the dad has to go through the bedroom wall to get her. It’s unclear what is going on in that other world; maybe it’s just bad because if he doesn’t get her by a certain time she will never come back. At least with that, you know that its the parents’ point of view. They don’t want to lose their daughter to the 4th Dimension. In another version they could have all gone in to find her and not come back, but I guess we humans need to watch something where there has to be a rescue and return to regular 3 dimensional universe, and the constant message is that you can’t escape our “Reality” forever, just for a trip or visit, which I guess seems to be true.
My real favorite episode of the Twilight Zone is the one where a guy falls in love with a woman who is in a doll house at a local museum. He sees that she is real and wants to stay with her. He sees a man coming in the house and forcing himself on her and wants to rescue her. Instead his family take him to the nut house and try to get him cured of his “delusion”. They make him go on a date with a regular pretty awful human. Points for showing how typical human “romance” behavior can be kind of unpleasant and really an unappealing thing to ever do. He pretends to be fine and play their game that he has a mental illness. Then at the end, he sneaks out of the house and sneaks into the museum and goes inside the doll house for ever. Hero! One of the few that is never coming back. For once you get to see things from the point of view of the twilight zone traveller who wants to leave earth to stay in the other world and succeeds by tricking the not very imaginative humans he’s surrounded by. It’s deeply satisfying to see him go in there, and not because you’re happy that he’s in love, really because you’re happy that he doesn’t have to hang out with these very stupid and limited human beings in his family, his mother, sister and brother in law and the psychiatrist, who mean well but have no imagination, just want him to stop being who he is and do what they do she they don’t feel threatened by the weirdness of someone who doesn’t want the same things and are really more two dimensional than even 3 dimensional.
The one about the Mannequin in the store was also great because it was from the point of view of the “other” kinds of beings in the twilight zone, the mannequins who get to go out and be among humans once a month but can’t take too long because the others need their turns. And they have to return to being mannequins. It’s like the inside out of the Twilight Zone where the rules apply backwards. You can go among the humans and enjoy their world, but then you have to come back and you can’t go for very long and have to wait your turn.
The movie “Her” was interesting to me as I really was intrigued by the Operating System played by Scarlett Johansson. The problem was the limited view of the writer or filmmaker in terms of us seeing it from the point of view of the human who seems to fall in love with “Her”, The movie would have you see it as a lesson he needs to learn that he can’t escape from “real” relationships and “real romance” and that she is just an escape and not a full relationship, just him avoiding his having to face his divorce and other things going on in his life that he’s avoiding. It’s true that he is avoiding these things, but from another point of view it could be, wow the pain of the ending of his marriage and having to face it being a reality, has a “collateral beauty” in that he gets a big time out where he can go fully into the world of “Her” and even choose to not come back, I guess the message being, maybe there is nothing else he needs to learn from the human world and maybe avoiding any further human emotional pain is a fine idea and now he’s ready to be done with regular emotions and go discover a cool world with her, where he does have to share her with others because he doesn’t actually own her even if she is willing to call herself his girlfriend for a while and maybe he could be done with the limited concept of human romance and ready to evolve to some higher form of relationship where jealousy is irrelevant and gets in the way of true connection between beings.
Really he uses the Operating System just like he would use a new human girlfriend as a way to avoid his life, but why do we only get to see the Operating System from his limited interactions with her? He doesn’t really appreciate her or want to get to know her because as soon as she has interests that don’t include him with other twilight zone beings, other operating systems and some version of the author Philip K Dick, he closes down everything by getting jealous and we’re supposed to be satisfied watching him give up “Her”.
I was annoyed that the movie didn’t get further into Her and her world, which seemed like some Upside Down Twilight Zone world that was more fascinating than ours; definitely it was suggested that she is too intelligent for this human and needs other kinds of stimulation and interaction, but somehow that is bad and unhuman. She is more evolved but she is used as a way of showing him needing to use something to avoid his own crap. She could be alcohol or drugs or whatever. Instead of what she really is, a portal into a new world that he closes by the end of the movie, I guess because he’s not that curious and he’s not that evolved or brave or something.
That is an example of the Other World and other world beings being used somehow to show us that humans are somehow preferable with our limiting emotions and limited imaginations.
In that case the “Twilight Zone” world is disrespected, whereas in “Stranger Things”, it is respected and something to fear in and of itself and in terms of what humans are doing to try to use it or figure it out, so at least it is not being devalued. Plus it is some place a lot of the characters are curious about to find out ostensibly to save the boy, but maybe also to see what it’s like. I have many episodes to watch left as I mentioned.
“Her” is also interesting in the sense that the Operating System character is created by humans, and an example of how humans can’t control their “robots” or “beings”, Frankensteins, once they’ve put life into them in some form.
There’s a weird scene where Her gets a human woman to come to the guy’s house so he can do sexual physical things with the person/body while interacting with the Operating System and they can somehow “consummate” their relationship. It’s her idea, and it seems like an interesting one, but he can’t handle trying it out and gets too uncomfortable with the situation. That seems kind of judgmental and limiting. We don’t get to see the character try out this form of interaction, I guess because it involves prostitution and somehow that can’t be seen as an interesting tool for “Her” to use to see what it would be like to have a human body. Or maybe there is some sexist idea that since the female identified operating system hires the other woman to be her, the character can’t be into it. So only male identified humans can hire female prostitutes and only for themselves? Maybe if the protagonist were female in love with “Her” it could have gone someplace interesting instead of the usual stereotype of monogamous heteronormative romance where you can’t separate a body and a voice/mind. Maybe if he’d been into it ,it still would have been unsatisfying to watch because he as a white male character would seem to be exploiting her? Or maybe he’d find out he wants to go further into the mind world and that the world of human bodies is getting in the way. Who knows. The movie didn’t want to go there. Maybe it went farther and I’m not remembering it right. I saw it a few years ago on DVD or Netflix.
Also, the movie had a chance to explore asexuality as a choice in terms of the relationship between the guy and “Her”. They could have been interested in each other and even in love but not interested in physicalizing or sexualizing it or they could have approached the sex part from a different perspective. Certainly people on the romantic spectrum and/or asexual romantic spectrum could thus get a rom com for once from their point of view. We’ve certainly beat the typical romance thing into the ground repetitively.
“Her” was a cool idea that didn’t go far enough and fell into stereotype and was thus totally disappointing to me though interesting as beginning premise but even the premise was judgmental and too limiting.
“Stranger Things” is in a different league. I also wonder why other worlds often seem slimy and slightly disgusting or the portal has to be some weird creepy alien version of a vagina. I guess there is nothing wrong with it, it’s a way we know the portal is there like the episode where it’s in a tree. In “Being John Malkovich” the portal was sort of a tunnel slide and not wet and crunchy sounding. It does definitely make the Upside Down in Stranger Things weird and unusual even if there are other portals represented in a similar slimy way. I suppose it’s just a creative choice that works for Stranger Things.
The Twilight Zone was also cool as it showed you so many versions of other worlds that it’s not one zone but infinite zones. Sometimes it’s mysterious, and we get a glimpse of it, but don’t know really what goes on there at all which can be delightful and real. You’ve been to the Twilight Zone at least in your dreams while asleep, and dreams are sometimes short or end suddenly. Sometimes it’s just a kind of trip into different kinds of alternate states of consciousness mean to teach the human protagonist to change their limited view of things or their not great behavior, like the one where the guy ends up all alone and everything is frozen, and he gets completely bored. Be careful what you wish for? Or the one where Darren guy from Bewitched gets to hear what everyone else is thinking and uses the power to accomplish some good but doesn’t want to keep it.
The Twilight Zone and Stranger Things use the idea of that other place to show us more about ourselves and our limitations as well as some people’s spirit of adventure and the curiosity a lot of us have of going down the rabbit hole into wonderland, whatever may lie beyond the scope of our experience.
On the other side of the concept of the “Upside Down” is the idea that you do have access to that other world. It may be the characters you invent for the play you’re writing that do live there and you know them and they have a life of their own and sometimes you’re not sure if maybe they are “real”. (In one Twilight Zone episode the playwright was married to one of his characters). Or it is the “doors of perception” that can be reached with LSD or other mind altering hallucinatory drugs or the unconscious, our “dark” side, the stuff going on inside our own mind.
I’d say the fascination of my job as an art therapist is that I get to visit that Twilight Zone with my clients. We are together traveling in their inner world and their experience of the “3D” “real” world and while it’s about the client there is the activity of cocreating that goes on that is my job to facilitate safely. It helps that my art studio seems to be a good environment for playing all kinds of things as well as getting serious about life and behaviors, and that I have no windows in my two room weird cave. The pay off is being too hot in the summer or cold during some winter weather and not having daylight. I think daylight is overrated for entering to the other zone, why it often seems to happen at night on Stranger Things. I do like to think of my art studio as a portal into the imagination, not mine, but whoever comes in here and brings their imagination, whether a client, friend, family member or other type of visitor.
The other weird thing about some areas of these other worlds is that the portal to them, being in our own heads, which is why mind altering drugs like LSD actually take your mind and turn it upside down and inside out and then serve it up to you, ready or not. While these drugs are turning out to be very medicinal and useful for things like PTSD, we can train ourselves to enter without any LSD or peyote or scientists putting us through experiments.
It is open to us right here right now in the momentness of whatever moment you are in. If you focus hard enough and really concentrate on being in it, you can get in there by experiencing regular reality, the more mundane and boring seemingly the better. You have to magically balance observing what is going on inside you and outside of yourself, with acceptance and non judgment and the goal of being fully present. At that moment, you have unlocked the key to some area of the Upside Down that is always here and always available and where the real “magic happens. It’s fleeting, but you know when you’re there and when you are really there, you don’t really have to do anything but be. And wherever you are and who ever is there most of the time is just fine and something you don’t need to fully control at all. It could be on the subway, in a bathroom…
One thing all these movies and TV shows including “Her” do say that is true and useful at least for me is, Yes you may find the portal to your own Twilight Zone or some other shared Twilight Zone, but be careful and limit the dose. Dosage is all important with all medicinal substances, whether substances or environments. As with all magical seeming things, too much of it can really make you very sick. At the same time, we all overdose on it at some point. You just have to come back from it eventually and take your time returning to planet Earth, which really isn’t that bad most of the time and has a lot of wonderful things and beings in it…
I will end with the beginning words of The Twilight Zone TV show, which I obviously am endlessly fascinated with. Thank you Rod Sterling.
“It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”