I’m thinking Long Live Walter Jameson was intended as a dramatic story, but I’ve got to tell you, I found it intensely funny. Let’s go over the plot: Walter Jameson is a really old dude who happens to look like he’s in his mid-40s. Ok, I can buy it. This is a story about the life of a near-immortal. Supposedly he was so afraid of dying that he allowed an alchemist to experiment on him. Hmm… Ok, let’s suspend disbelief and accept that. He claims he knew Plato which puts him at over 2000 years old. Here’s the kicker: this dude has lived 2000 years without being found out but in the space of one night, and a few hours at that, his secret is discovered by, not one, but two people!
Let’s start with 70 year old Sam who sits in on Walter’s class and pieces it together. Sam’s leap is based on the storytelling prowess of a professor. I would call that a leap indeed, but he at least has the wherewithal to look at his book of civil war era photos. (I must have misplaced mine, but I am sure we all have one of those.) Now, by this point, Sam has already started telling Walter about his suspicion and asks if he had a grandfather in the war. Walter, who clearly knows how to stay under the radar says… NO. If I want to keep a secret as big as this, I’m going to say yes, because of course it makes way more sense to say yes than the alternative. And look, Sam is getting a bit up there and if he tries to spread the rumor, he’ll be laughed into retirement. Walter, however, admits that he is as old as Sam thinks he is. How he feels this will help him marry Suzanne is anyone’s guess, but maybe he can convince Sam that he has one hell of a 401K fund to share with her. 2000 years of interest is probably worth something! Instead, based on exhibit one, Walter has proven to me that he’s an idiot.
Now we move over to Laurette who is both a stalker and a criminal, guilty of breaking and entering. She believes Walter is her old lover, Tommy. Sure, he may be, but how hard would it have been for Mr. Methuselah to convince her that she’s wrong. “Ma’am, do you know what you’re saying? You clearly have me confused with my father, Tommy. Do you really believe I’m immortal?” Failing epically to convince a very old woman that she may be senile, she gets hold of the conveniently placed gun that Dumbo leaves out, (because the night he’s about to get married, he considers blowing his brains out – what does that say of Suzanne?) So now he’d have to try a different tactic. Perhaps, “Laurette, I can’t believe you’ve found me! I’ve never stopped loving you! I want you! OH, please have me back!” after which he grabs the gun, calls the cops and says “this nutter broke into my house and threatened me with a gun saying I was her husband from 1892!!” Exhibit two again proves Walter an idiot and that 2000 years doesn’t necessarily bring wisdom or cunning.
In the end, the episode ends up being a mildly interesting thought experiment on how death gives meaning to life as the whole episode basically is a conversation! We also get some decent special effects showing Walter aging before he succumbs to Star Trek’s Omega Glory disease and ends up as dust on the ground. Clearly Suzanne was meant for this idiot because when she sees the corpse, she accepts her dad’s story that it’s just dust. While it’s true – ashes to ashes, dust to dust and all that – I’d think it might have struck her as odd that there were piles of dust in very specific formations around her soon-to-be husband’s clothing. You know, like where his head, hands and feet would have been? Whatever. The bottom line is that this episode failed to be a drama to me and proved that sometimes you can find comedy even in the most unexpected corners of The Twilight Zone! ML
The view from across the pond:
“We love a rose because we know it’ll soon be gone. Whoever loved a stone?”
A geologist? Seriously, though, it’s a great quote, although I got the impression that writer Charles Beaumont had to work very hard to justify the theme of this episode: immortality would be a bad thing. I’m pretty sure the reaction of most viewers would be: yes, but…
The ace in the writer’s pack is the loneliness of living on forever while friends and family die, which is a horrific idea, but it’s the only card the writer holds. In order to make the idea of immortality into a negative, he has to skirt around the positives: how amazing it would be to have lived through so many historical events; the brilliant mind a person like that would possess; the knowledge and wisdom that come with life experience. That is all deliberately played down to fit the theme of the episode.
“You just go on living, that’s all.”
Is that really all? At the very least, his long life has made him very good at his job. He is a teacher who inspires his students to the point that his lectures are legendary. There’s value in that, surely? Every day, Walter Jameson makes the lives of his students a little bit better. The writer is at pains to ignore the positives, to fit his narrative, but the episode lacks balance and is therefore robbed of realism. Suggesting that immortality would be a wholly pointless and miserable thing is to ignore the possibilities. Think what good a person could do who possesses that kind of knowledge and experience. And I think that’s why Beaumont has to make his lead character somebody who is not a very nice person, because that’s the only way to make the overwhelming negativity work.
Walter knows by now that marriage doesn’t work for him. He’s tried it several times before, and as Prof. Kittridge points out he’s maybe got about a decade or so before the lack of ageing becomes a problem for the marriage. Even here we’re ignoring how the failure of a marriage doesn’t necessarily invalidate a decade or two of happiness, but if it’s really that horrible a process it makes little sense that Walter would try again, knowing what lies ahead. He says he is in love, and again the positives there are ignored. Surely the human ability to feel love even after thousands of years is something amazing, and that’s worthy of a positive comment? But instead it’s swiftly glossed over, and there is no attempt to tackle whether he’s just a selfish man (because if he really loves her then he should love her enough to walk away), or if he genuinely believes he is doing the right thing (because a decade of marital bliss is better than none). His sexism perhaps gives us a clue. Kittridge is desperate for his daughter to continue with her studies, but Walter just wants a housewife, so his many centuries of life have failed to teach him anything about equality, or maybe he really is just selfish enough to destroy a young lady’s life so he can have some fleeting relief from the void of his existence. Then again, Kittridge’s dreams for his daughter might be the straightjacket placed upon her, and Walter recognises that and is liberating her to the life she really wants. We just aren’t quite given enough information.
So I’m not sure this all hangs together terribly well, and we have to accept some major leaps of imagination, such as an “alchemist” who found the secret of immortality and apparently used it just once, on somebody who had enough money to pay for it, and also the absurd idea of a man who can be killed by a single bullet somehow surviving for two thousand years with all his limbs intact, because apparently some people are just “lucky”. But the 25 minute format once again is the friend of fuzzy ideas, allowing little time for close scrutiny and the familiar Twilight Zone triumph of style over substance. In particular, the ageing makeup, revealed through a change of the colour of the lighting in the studio, and therefore brilliantly effective in black and white, is amazing. As Walter turns to dust, we are left with one thought:
“Nothing lasts forever, thank God.”
Do you agree? I’m not sure anyone can answer that question with complete confidence, because the one thing this episode never shows us is what life could have been like for Walter if he wasn’t alone in his immortality. Perhaps, then, somebody could really learn to love a stone. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Twilight Zone: People Are Alike All Over