Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet


"It's claustrophobia. they'd rather fall to the ground, than stay abroad!"

Oddly, I was not aware of The Twilight Zone episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," when I wrote a post on flying anxiety and the supernatural a couple of weeks ago. Having encountered it by chance, I cannot resist posting the episode by way of an addendum to the previous post. As with so much of The Twilight Zone, the articulation of an uncanny aesthetic is perfect, with the division between imagination and reality blurred in the mania of anxiety. In "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," the uncanny centres on an unnatural horror, which in turn plays on the submission of control that comes with flying and the sense that once aboard, anything is possible.

There are two versions of the episode available. One from the original 1963 series with William Shatner and another version that materialised in the 1983 film with John Lithgow in the lead role. If the earlier version is somewhat kitsch in its depiction of the "thing on the wing," then it counteracts that with Shatner's understated portrayal of nervous anxiety. Lithgow, on the other hand, accents the sheer visceral horror and Lovecraftian madness of the anxious flyer. They are both compelling in their own right, and thus worthy of a comparative viewing. For your viewing pleasure, I have uploaded each version. Enjoy.