Directed by Wes Craven
Screenplay by Harlan Ellison, Alan Brennert
Starring: Bruce Willis
So, I just watched a 1980s episode of The Twilight Zone called Shatterday. (My first thought was “Wow, they gave William Shatner his own themed episode??? Seriously???” But, alas, this was not the case.)
This was an intense episode and it’s hard to explain so, you’ll have to be patient and just, muscle through a bit.
Bruce Willis plays a man named Peter Novins. We first meet Peter while he is sitting at a bar having a drink, waiting for his girlfriend to arrive. As she is late, he decides to call his girlfriend’s office and see if she’s left yet or something like that. Here’s one of my favorite little tidbits. He dials his phone number KL56189 (that’s Klondike 56189 for you younger folks. So the number would translate into 555-6189. ‘K’ and ‘L’ are on the number 5 on the phone key pad. So WA48484 is said as Wabash 48484 and is dialed as 924-8484. Okay? I think this is fun because we don’t use the letter/number system anymore and this particular episode was made in 1985 and they are still referring to a phone number that way. By then, the majority of phone numbers were referred to as numbers only, no letters. Just a little history lesson there for ya. Moving on.)
So, Peter dials KL56189. But it’s not his girl’s office…it’s his home. Now, normally when you call your own home and you’re the only one that lives there, a person doesn’t answer. Peter is not so lucky. On the other end of the line…is Peter.
Now, take a minute to wrap your head around this. You call home and YOU answer. And you start having a conversation with yourself to confirm your own identity. How whacked out is THAT??? Needless to say, Peter in the bar (we’ll call him Novins) gets completely freaked out by his conversation with Peter at home (we’ll keep calling him Peter) and leaves the bar, telling the bartender that if his girlfriend shows up to tell her he couldn’t stay. (Um, yeah…dude? That’s soooo not gonna fly with her, okay? Just sayin’.)
What this conversation, and following ones from a phone booth, entailed between the two Peters was very revealing and antagonistic. Peter says they can’t both exist. That two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time. Peter tells Novins that he knows his life is crap and he won’t even make any effort to change it. Peter starts antagonizing Novins about all his misdeeds, bad choices, his lack of character, his general lack of lust for life. He bashes him telling him his life sucks and he’s let it get out of control. Peter says that those days are over.
Novins gets agitated very quickly and maintains that eventually Peter will have to leave the apartment eventually and when he does, Novins will slip in, thus taking over the apartment and his life again. This whole thing is seemingly a battle over occupancy of the apartment. But through more antagonistic conversations, we learn that it runs much deeper than that.
So, by now, Novins is locked out of his own apartment by Peter (himself) and has checked into a hotel. He’s also emptied his bank account so Peter has no access to his money thinking that will put a strain on him. Then, more phone calls.
Novins calls Peter and tries to enforce his monetary upper hand. But Peter IS Novins. So, he knows about the $200 in the jewelry box. That blows Novins’ plan right out of the water. Then, as if that punch in the gut wasn’t bad enough, Peter tells him that his mother called that day. He says she knows he lied about why he left his visit with her early. She knows he left and checked into a hotel for his last day. Peter says that she said she forgives him and just wants him to spend her life with him.
Now, Novins is losing it because he gets all buggy when he’s around his Mom and he already feels guilty but, he pushes that WAY down to the pit of his gut so he can ignore it. And this ass clown is straight guilting him to the nth degree here. But, Peter tells Novins not to worry, he’s already arranged to make amends. He invited Mom to come live with him. Novins REALLY flips out on that one!!! He doesn’t want his mother in his apartment. He’s a guy, with a life. Well, too flippin’ bad because Peter has made it so. And there is nothing Novins can do about it. Not from the outside. Peter is the one in the house. He’s the one able to do the work at his job. He’s the one answering the phone and talking to people. Peter is in control. Novins…merely a passenger now.
They briefly discuss how the two parts of the whole somehow got separated…talking about auras and spirits floating off during sleep. None of it is given much thought or much weight. Peter just keeps reinforcing that he’s in charge.
I have to take a brief moment to describe the two Peters. The house Peter is very well kempt, clean cut, well dressed and well spoken. He’s calm and collected. He’s got morals and a conscience. The bar Peter (Novins) is stressed and disheveled. He’s sweaty and pale. If you could touch him, I would bet he would be clammy. His eyes are heavy and bloodshot. And as the phone calls keep coming his appearance gets worse and worse while Peter remains forever GQ.
Stuck out in the rain Novins calls Peter and tries to come to some sort of conclusion, some sort of resolution to where they can come together again. Peter suggests the one that DESERVES to be Peter Novins should take over the life. This leads to a conversation about integrity and morality. It’s clear Novins feels like the victim, like Peter is doing this TO him but, Peter assures him that Novins has done this to himself.
Now, this has been going on for five days. Novins is slowly getting more and more sickly looking as he stays holed up in his hotel room. Meanwhile, Peter is taking over Novins life…and continuing to make some changes.
Peter calls Novins and taunts him with fake concern for his health. He calls Novins out on how he got some gal Patty to leave her husband, taking her son with her, and set her up in an apartment to have a relationship with her…until he got sick of her and just blew her off. He says he took the liberty of calling her and apologizing to her for the way Novins treated her. Peter also informs him he has intervened on his relationship with his girlfriend, apologizing for being a jerk and making plans to move forward with a whole new outlook with her. And that she was receptive to that. This just cuts into the core of Novins and you can see his soul start to just with away. I mean, the man looks like he’s just dying, inside and out.
Then we get to SHATTERDAY. (They have named various days of the week that this whole thing has taken place like Day 1: Someday, Day 2: Duesday, Day 5: Freeday and Day 6: Shatterday. Day 2 was when he went to the bank and took out all his money.)
So, here we are…Shatterday. Novins is sprawled out on the bed in the hotel room, looking like death slightly warmed over. And all of a sudden, a knock at his door, and then it opens.
In walks Peter. Novins sounds like he’s breathing and talking through radio static. And for the first time, they have an actual conversation about what is REALLY going on. Novins brings up the archetypes from Jung, the shadow or the persona, the ego or anima, which one is Peter? Peter admits that when he first broke loose he was the shadow but now, now he’s the self.
These two men, these two parts of the same man, battling it out with each other over who would possess the life of the body and mind. Which one will have control? And in Novins current condition, it seems Peter has won the battle. He tells Novins he’s becoming a memory. Novins finds that slightly hurtful although he’s so far gone he’s not feeling much of anything. Peter says he’s glad they broke apart, that Novins was basically a sickness and now he’s rid of him. He also says he’s not going to say he’s sorry for that nor for being a better man without him. (Seems harsh doesn’t it?)
Peter tells Novins he is there to see if he wanted anything, if there was anything he would do different. Novins says no, nothing special really, asks him to give Patty some money to help take care of her boy. But, Novins just seems empty and lost by this point. Peter says that means he’s accepting his fate and that’s good. Novins doesn’t look like it’s a good thing, believe me.
Peter goes to leave and Novins reaches out his hand. Peter takes it in his and they share a final cordial handshake as Novins starts to fade away. Peter grabs his coat and heads to the door. We see a transparent Novins sitting at the window of the hotel room. He fades to nothing as Peter leaves, he stares out the window. When Peter turns back to look at Novins, he’s gone.
And Peter Novins leaves the hotel, a better man than he was before.
So, what if this could happen? What if the worst part of you was confronted and overrun by the best part of you? Locked out of your life, stripped of your identity, and hidden away until you simply just faded away. What if the reverse happened? People struggle within themselves all the time. This episode just took that inner turmoil and put it as a side by side battle with oneself. That’s exactly what you are doing when you are wrestling with your conscience. It’s YOU arguing with YOU. It’s just different parts of YOU. The easiest way to explain it is the Angel on your right shoulder and the Devil on your left shoulder, each whispering in your ears telling you what you should be doing. That’s your conscience (hopefully you have one) on the right fighting with your desire on the left. Now, I am putting that in the most GENERAL and simplest terms to get the idea of this man versus himself struggle across.
There is an entire psychological theory on this whole thing by Sigmund Freud involving the Id, the Ego and the Super-Ego. Basically, the Id would be the drive of desire. The Super-Ego is morality and critical thinking and the Ego acts as the mediator between the two.
But, imagine the conversation you would have with yourself if you could confront YOU face to face instead of just in your head. Even if you could just have that talk over the phone, it would be so much more sobering and impactful if you heard it in your own voice like that. Because even when we DO talk to ourselves, it’s never the way we talk to others. And the way we would go off on someone else is usually markedly different than how we would come down on ourselves. We tend to use a different language with ourselves in anger, we may be harder on ourselves but our inner dialogue tends to be more intimate and abrasive and outright brutal. We tend to insult ourselves in more intimate ways, more personal and exact attacks, with specific examples of failures and shortcomings. With ourselves, we know how to go for the jugular with the first shot every time. Whereas with others, we tend to go for general faults and insult general flaws since we may not know their deepest and darkest secrets. It’s always easier to tear a person apart emotionally when you know more about them personally. So, if you are battling yourself, you’re your own worst enemy. Because who knows more about you than you?
The end of this show was a real WOW moment for me. It was actually a moment that made my heart sink a little bit. It was like whoa, this was a guy battling his own demons, we just got to see it play out as if it were two people instead of one. Then, you kind of feel good for the guy because he won his war over his demons and is a better man living a better life, he’s made amends for the wrong he’s done, he’s focusing on his mother and his girlfriend, making plans for his future. But, at the same time, the idea of watching a part of yourself dying off, fading away, you encouraging it, willing it and then being happy about it…just seems a little unnerving to me. It would be unsettling to me to literally visually watch a part of myself die off. Especially knowing that I’m killing that part off with my own actions and decisions, my own will and power. Seems so morbid to me in a way.
But, that’s what you’re doing when you make changes to your personality, right? I mean, if you’re a total schmuck and you decide you want to be Mr. Nice Guy and not El Schmucko anymore, you basically kill off the schmuck, don’t you? I mean, yes, technically it’s a series of retraining the brain and new behaviors replacing old ones and forming new patterns and thoughts processes but, in order to do that you have to rid yourself of the bad thought processes, behaviors, patterns, etc. It’s just replacing the bad with the good, the old with the new. So, you’re killing off the old and letting the new (or the rest) continue to live. Still, to see it with your own eyes would be quite chilling, in my opinion.
So, definitely an episode worth seeing.