“Picture of a woman, looking at a picture…” – Serling’s opening narration is about representation. The picture is a film – a sixteen millimeter film being projected in the living room of Barbara Jean Trenton (played by Eda Lupino!), a has-been Hollywood actress – a film in which she starred in almost 30 years ago. So what we’re looking at is a picture of someone looking at a picture, so that what is presented is a three layered representation. This episode is about the nature of mental representation and the nature of time.
Like Al Denton and Lew Bookman, Miss Trenton’s accomplishments are in the past. Unlike them, she’s fixated on that past, and can’t deal with her place in the present. So she drops back into it by way of its celluloid representation. A friend tries to bring her into the present, but she can’t accept the change in the world or in herself. She’s fixated on her youthful stardom. It’s not that she feels like a young person, but that she demands that others see her as one. And that’s just not possible. (Commenting on “One for the Angels” I described the mistake of the young as thinking that older people don’t feel young. Though most older people do feel young, well adjusted ones, unlike Miss Trenton, don’t expect others to treat them as if they were young.)
The special move in this episode is the merging of represented and representation, or put slightly differently, the two-way traffic from objects in the world to objects represented on screen. Of course, that traffic really occurs. Objects in the world become representations in film through causal interactions with optical and audio recorders. It’s the object that moves the other way that really grabs our attention.
The nature of representation is a hard philosophical problem. How does one thing represent another? Our thoughts can be about things, perhaps without being things themselves, some have thought. But films, photographs, paintings, records, CDs, and even mp3’ss and mp4’s are things. If representations can be things, then there’s no metaphysical obstacle to free movement between representations and that which they represent.
“To the wishes that come true, to the strange, mystic strength of the human animal, who can take a wishful dream and give it a dimension of its own.” – Rod Serling