“Miniature”, The Twilight Zone
“To the average person, a museum is a place of knowledge, a place of beauty and truth and wonder. Some people come to study, others to contemplate, others to look for the sheer joy of looking. Charley Parkes has his own reasons. He comes to the museum to get away from the world. It isn't really the sixty-cent cafeteria meal that has drawn him here every day, it's the fact that here in these strange, cool halls he can be alone for a little while, really and truly alone. Anyway, that's how it was before he got lost and wandered in--to the Twilight Zone.”
In Miniature, an episode of the series The Twilight Zone originally aired in 1963, Charley Parkes sees a figure in a dollshouse in a museum and thinks she is alive. Charley falls in love with the figure, but is institutionalized because of his belief that she is alive. He is eventually "rehabilitated" and is returned to the care of his mother.
On the evening of his return home, his family plan to celebrate his release with him, but discover that he has escaped from the house. They contact the psychiatrist who treated Charley in the hospital and surmise that he has returned to the museum and the dollshouse.
The family members, psychiatrist and museum guards search the museum but find nothing. Except for one guard, who glances into the dollshouse and sees Charley, now a miniature figure, finally together with his love in the dollshouse, sharing a stereoscope. Smiling, the guard decides to never reveal what he's witnessed.
Writing from the twilight zone of the nightshift, this fantasy of entering a miniature world (coincidentally, the episode was made in 1963, the same year as the toy car was added to the collection) through a strange portal seems on a threshold between reality and fiction.
The idea that Charley is seen as mad because he believes that the world of toys is alive, chimes with the assumption of mental retardation in the case of the child who licks the toy. Toys are made to be used in a certain way, their miniature scale a convention of their unreality, their separation from the adult, concrete, 'real' world. Charley's trespass from adult to child world, like the boys trespass from using the car as car into tasting the car, cross boundaries of what is allowed by the conventions of society.
As adults, we are not allowed to have an imagination, to play, to fantasise except in strictly controlled and ritualised ways. For children, play is shaped by this adult control, by what children are given to play with. Using our imagination is about as subversive an action as we can take in a society where play is commercialised and fantasy is spoon-fed through TV and video games.
“the doctor said I wanted a simple world I could understand, but no world is ever simple.”
The doctor represents the sane, the adult world and Charleys behaviour is portrayed as mad, and child-like, in his wish for a more simple world, but in fact Charley recognises that the world of the dollshouse has its own complications. The guards keeping of the secret is a tacit acknowledgement that the adult world must remain real, not admit the possibility of a permeability between the real and fantasy, and the possibility of finding happiness and fulfilment in a crossing of boundaries, in entering a portal of the imaginary.
At the end, Charley and the dolls house woman are sharing a stereoscope, she is showing him cards which are again opening up further worlds to his vision and imagination. A voiceover says: “seeing is not always believing”, a reference to perception, and perhaps a suggestion that our acceptance of the material world as the 'real' and labelling of the imaginary as a route to insanity is based on a fear of the shifting nature of what we understand as reality.