"The Twilight Zone" The Old Man in the Cave (TV Episode 1963) Poster

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10/10
If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It
telegonus20 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I've read some interesting reviews, most at best mildly favorable of this episode of The Twilight Zone, set in a period just after a nuclear holocaust in which a group of people in an isolated community are guided by one man, named Goldsmith, as to what's good for them and what isn't, and as much of what food is available to them is contaminated and they are still alive and well they follow Goldsmith, who claims to have got his wisdom from an old man in a cave.

Enter a group of soldiers led by a swaggering officer who challenges the authority of Goldsmith, mocks him and his old man in the cave. A power struggle ensues and Goldsmith is debunked as a fraud. The old man is revealed to be no more than a computer, and thus the people, led by the soldiers, are "liberated" and are free to eat whatever they please. In the end, well,--here's the rub--we see Goldsmith walking about, surveying all the dead bodies, thus as things turn out the "old man computer" was right after all.

Many have interpreted this episode as a religious parable; others as a defense of the "nanny state"; and some as a veiled attack on big government. Those points are well made but I view matters in simpler terms, as a moral tale which may or may not have religious implications: prior to the arrival of the soldiers the people in the story were for all intents and purposes kept alive by messages from a computer, jealously guarded by one man, and those messages, as things turned out were correct. As the people were ignorant as to what was good for them to eat and what wasn't they were in a good place even as they were living in hard times.

As I see it, the man, Goldsmith, may or may not have been an egotist but he did know what was good for his people even as he fooled them by not telling them that it was a machine that was doing the thinking, not an old man. In the end I don't see what difference it makes whether Goldsmith was lying. The system worked, everyone was alive and well, and that's all that matters. Is this a defense of authoritarianism and big government? I don't think so. Big government had already failed; the nuclear war had happened. No, it's more the old expression "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" applied to an extreme situation, and working nicely till challenged by the soldiers. The community was safe so long as Goldsmith and his Magic Computer were around and functioning. All the people had to do was follow their orders, albeit blindly, without question, and they might have survived till the radiation wore off and the world once again be a fit place to live in. In the larger scheme of things, with the survival of the human race at issue, is this such an awful thing?

Food for thought, in the form of a K-ration, courtesy of The Twilight Zone.
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Serling's update on Old Testament Elijah vs. Ahab
cynthia_keegan19 November 2011
I'm not religious, but it's pretty clear that this great apocalyptic episode is pretty much taken straight from the Old Testament Biblical parable of Elijah leading a village of Israelites in the wilderness. In the parable, God, through his prophet Elijah, withholds food from Elijah's people. The non-believer Ahab comes to the village and confronts Elijah, asking how a true God could deny His people food. Ahab also says a true God would not speak just through one person- Elijah-and demands to be shown proof that this God exists. In the episode Goldsmith is Elijah and James Coburn's army commander is Ahab. The Old Man In the Cave is you-know-who. This episode asks: what would happen if the people followed the non-believer instead of the true prophet? The arch-eyebrowed Rod Serling pretty much sums it up at the conclusion when he states that those who do not have "faith" must pay. Pretty heavy handed but nice.
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7/10
Doubt Vs. Faith
AaronCapenBanner5 November 2014
James Coburn stars as Major French, who leads his marauding band of soldiers in a post-apocalyptic world ten years after its decimation. John Anderson costars as Goldsmith, who leads his group of survivors who have made the best of things in their area by obeying an old man in a cave, who has given them unfailing advice for their survival, but whom French is most suspicious of, since no one has ever seen this old man, and his doubt and dissent spreads to the whole group, prompting them to eat reportedly irradiated cans of food that Goldsmith tries without success to stop them, as the old man is indeed not what they were expecting, though still wise... Intriguing episode poses many interesting parables with religious faith, though the outcome here may seem obvious, at least it is still interesting, with good performances.
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7/10
"Old Man in the Cave" isn't so old after all
chuck-reilly4 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
In "The Old Man in the Cave" a nuclear holocaust has destroyed most of the planet but small bands of half-starved humans still inhabit parts of what once was the United States. In one such enclave, a gaunt fellow named Goldsmith (John Anderson) gives specific orders to a miserable and hungry group of survivors. Although there's still plenty of food around, most of it is supposedly contaminated with radiation. Goldsmith, however, receives instructions from a mysterious "Old Man in the Cave" regarding which foods they can all eat without killing themselves. He also happens to be the only one in the group that communicates with the Old Man, and therefore holds the power of life and death over everyone. Enter a group of marauding ex-soldiers led by Major French (James Coburn at his sneering best). French isn't impressed with Goldsmith's leadership abilities and gives him a severe beating to let him know who the new boss in town is. At first, it appears that French and his band of merry men are merely common opportunists looking for a few free meals. We soon find out that the Major has other motives besides filling his stomach. After hearing Goldsmith's blather about the "Old Man in the Cave", he decides to investigate the situation and find out just "who" this guy is. He may not be the nicest person around, but French at least has figured out that Goldsmith's been pulling the wool over the eyes of his congregation and is a complete fraud.

"The Old Man in the Cave" is one of the more thought-provoking episodes in the Twilight Zone series. At first glance, it seems that Goldsmith is doing his best for his followers by keeping them away from the contaminated food. As the story evolves, however, it becomes readily apparent that he has sinister ulterior motives himself. Since he's the only one who has access to the "Old Man", he has all the power. Major French's untimely arrival offsets this delicate balance of authority and Goldsmith soon finds himself on the outside looking in. It also seems that his followers were more than happy to see his "reign" end and not a moment too soon. Of course, there are severe consequences for all involved when the "Old Man" can't give his daily dose of advice anymore. But Goldsmith can't blame anyone other than himself for the final devastation of his little community. That'll teach him for not sharing information and acting like "Big Brother." Good performances all around make this an above average Zone entry. Coburn, who could play villains and heroes with equal aplomb, does fine work as the cynical Major French. John Anderson is his usual stoic stern self as Goldsmith. John Marley is also in the cast as one of Goldsmith's underlings who decides that it's more fun to have the Major ruling the roost.
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8/10
The Twilight Zone--The Old Man in the Cave
Scarecrow-8811 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
While I'm the first to acknowledge that perhaps the "old man in the cave" has a significant flaw (how could "he" remain operational without the benefit of a power source?), but sometimes it is about the point not necessarily the result of said point. Although, I do think the final results are stunningly presented and certainly "The Old Man in the Cave" always leaves that sinking feeling and gulp in the throat because it does make the statement that we can't stop from destroying ourselves.

For ten years, Goldsmith (John Anderson, looking appropriately weakly and wearied) has received instructions from what he calls the old man in the cave regarding what the citizens in his ghost town can eat, grow, and how to survive under the conditions left to them by "the dropping of the bomb". Then drives in on his jeep Major French (a fierce, cocky, and authoritative Coburn; his brash commandeering of command away from Goldsmith through the force of his men and their guns seemed to be a proper foreshadowing of how destructive he'll become in quick order) and some soldier boys, ready to usurp control from Goldsmith and give orders to the tiny accompaniment of survivors in his midst. While Goldsmith tries and fails to convince his people not to listen to French, they are so ready to rip into the available contaminated canned foods and bottled liquor there seems to be no hope for their survival. While I think many will know the way this episode ends, the revelation of the old man in the cave and the way French is able to motivate "his" destruction I figure will maintain a certain potency (if the shot of bodies strewn about a desert town isn't enough), symbolic of mankind's inability to survive under the harshest conditions, embracing the easing of hunger and avarice when all evidence says that doing so encourages certain death. John Marley has a supporting part as one of Goldsmith's miserable township who factors heavily in leading the revolt against the old man in the cave, furthermore condemning himself in the process. Anderson's final scene--as he must overlook French's handiwork, acknowledging that if it wasn't him it probably would have been somebody else, left to ponder if perhaps mankind's total annihilation due to their own weaknesses and inability to escape a grim fate was inevitable--is really haunting.
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9/10
Fascinating
tad-326 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I am struck by the timeless quality of this cautionary tale. I don't think it's about politics or religion, I think it's about a more general human failing and a redeeming human quality. It's about ignorance versus reason, survival at any cost versus pragmatism.

I see this as people abandoning science for a quick fix because they are tired or they are frustrated beyond reason, and commit communal suicide.

The same is happening today in slow motion. When the 'old man' helps the community, this help is taken for granted. People are more frustrated that the 'old man' (i.e. science) is right, rather than the fact that they paid for their own ignorance of his knowledge. When the 'young man', thug (i.e. ignorant politicians/religious leaders), shows up and says everything is okay, everyone falls in (what an apt expression) and conforms to authority.

The authority figure even mocks the old man with the false death...the fact that death from radioactive food takes days is ignored...ignorance again.

It's easier and less frustrating with the young man than dealing with the old man...the community doesn't need to worry about listening to advice or facts. In their ignorance, their abandonment of reason, and their primitive pecking-order faith in the young man, the community runs straight over a cliff.
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8/10
"He never comes out, he stays in the cave".
classicsoncall22 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This might be one of the more thought provoking episodes of The Twilight Zone. As I read prior viewer comments, I'm set off in a couple of different directions. There seems to be a compelling argument for Goldsmith's (John Anderson) presence as the embodiment of statism, but I don't think I'm buying it. The statist will feed off the herd mentality of the community to improve one's own political and economic situation. Goldsmith might have gotten some prestige out of being the sole recipient of the 'Old Man's' knowledge and guidance, but where was the personal profit for himself? He wasn't any better fed or clothed than the rest of the citizens, and his advice managed to keep the community alive for ten years. Granted, he may not have been questioned about his position until the 'authorities' arrived, but Major French's (James Coburn) presence wasn't any kind of blessing in disguise.

For the second time in the fifth season of the series, Rod Serling positioned his story in the way distant future of 1974. You may recall 'Steel', the tale of a robot boxer following a mid-Sixties ban on human pugilists in the Twilight Zone. It's curious to me how Serling's apocalyptic vision didn't require the passage of decades. The mere passing of ten years was enough time to cast Man's fate to the uncertainty of global annihilation. I have to wonder just how pessimistic he was about the human condition.

Interesting performance here by James Coburn as the ruthless interloper on behalf of the 'State', but perhaps more accurately, representing only himself. The more intriguing aspect of the story may relate to the appearance of a room size computer with the ability to perform the tasks of your average calculator today. The Jonestown-like finale preceded the real thing by more than a decade, and effectively managed to convey the futility of blindly following a single despot, whether the intention was malevolent or not.
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Solid TZ
dougdoepke11 November 2016
First-rate TZ, combining both suspense and worthwhile subtext. A small group of townsfolk survive a nuclear holocaust, apparently because they follow directives from unseen old man in a cave. His instructions are delivered through an imperious townsman, Goldsmith (Anderson), who is the only one to have seen him. Mainly, the old man instructs the folks on what to eat and not eat because of contamination. The survivors have grown thin but are still managing. Then, into their midst arrives a rogue army detachment led by a seemingly power-mad Major (Coburn) who's intent on displacing Goldsmith and the old man. So which faction will prevail.

Suspense is really heightened by not just the premise, but by powerful turns from both Anderson's forceful dignity and Coburn's aggressive authority. Their clash is unusually riveting for series TV. That there's a subtext seems obvious. Should people have faith in an unseen authority on matters of life and death. Also, should they trust intermediary, Goldsmith, the apparent voice of authority. The parallels with certain varieties of organized religion and faith in the unseen appear embedded in the subtext, particularly as they compete with pleasure pursuit which also becomes a factor.

The eventual reveal of the old man surprised me and seems particularly applicable to our day and age. Usually by the fifth year, a series is running dry. Not TZ. Check out the many memorable episodes including this one that characterize year five. For sure, Mr. Serling belongs in some kind of TV hall of fame.
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7/10
Better without Serling's closing words
darrenpearce1117 December 2013
Thought provoking, yes, but Serling's closing statement tends to annoyingly simplify the meaning in a way that I just cant accept. The people who have survived a nuclear war are so wretchedly hungry and miserable it is hard to judge them whoever they follow. Other TZ's depict some sort of survival after a nuclear war but this one shows a pointless encore for the human race. There just isn't a palpable human spirit among the survivors. Is faith more useful than knowledge?- not for me! An 'old man' in a cave who never comes out is an absurd rationale for detecting which food sources are contaminated by radiation. This story shows me that a lack of knowledge is dangerous - not lack of faith.

You can easily find real world counterparts to Major French and Mr Goldsmith but I grew a little tired of this post-apocalypse preachy stuff.
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8/10
Faith?
Talon Jensen24 February 2018
Do you put your faith in an unseen person who has kept you safe 10 years or do you put your faith in a authoritative person you can see, but is new to you?

We always put our faith in something whether it be science, religion, family, friends, political parties, government, etc. or ourselves. Unfortunately this is like trying to guess the future, sometimes we are correct, sometimes not.

In this case putting your faith in the wrong thing can have dire consequences, but who is to say it would have turned out differently if the choice of faith was different? Our target of faith may be fallible or our interpretation of directions may be incorrect.
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7/10
Decent cautionary tale
emguy29 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
As a cautionary tale, it works well. It takes a look at how different people react in dire circumstances. In one sense, everybody is a sympathetic character, as they band together in different ways and try to get through trying times. In another sense, none of them are sympathetic, because they all engage in self-defeating behaviors. Even the John Anderson character is guilty of this, because making yourself a single point of failure and hoping people never find out you've been deceiving them aren't good long-term strategies.

In terms of execution, John Anderson and James Coburn do what they do best. It's a well acted episode.

As sci-fi, it leaves something to be desired. A computer has been running for years, in a cave, apparently without a power source and without the sort of climate control that big computers need. It also has the ability to know which cans of food are tainted and which aren't, without any apparent method for making this determination. It can predict the weather, without any apparent method for collecting world climate data. As sci-fi, it's all "fi" and no "sci."
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There is no politics here!
jeep444441 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
It is sad how many people see politics here. Serling was better than that. The people in this story had been saved from a holocaust that had consumed nearly all of humanity by Goldsmith. But when a cheap thug offers them freedom they reject Goldsmith and party. And commit suicide. Sounds like a country I know. America has rejected it's faith. There is no brotherhood or sense of community. Love has been replaced by its cheap substitute, sex. Money is our true god. And we spend our lives acquiring more no matter how much destruction it causes the environment, community or country. We claim we believe in freedom but exploit the enslaved people of China to maximize profits. We love the dollar more than each other. And yes we too are doomed.
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7/10
Statism vs Statism, one is supposedly Good the other Bad, both fail
toolkien14 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers ahead!!!! Overall the episode is affecting as most apocalyptic themes are.

The issue I have is this. It bolsters bureaucratic statism while it tries to portray its cousin, martial statism, as bad. I guess that's about what one could expect from a 1960's teleplay, Liberal Statism, but it is the fact that it still is accepted at face value today. I have found no criticism of this episode and its lesson.

It is Major French and his hooligans who are manifestly bad. Their brand of roughshod militarism and short sightedness is held up for ridicule. That is all well and good. But what about Goldsmith? He is portrayed well, and has all the moral high ground by the end of the episode.

Why? Goldsmith represents the brainwashing of bureaucratic statism, Nanny Statism, Big Government Statism, whatever you want to call it. By the end of the episode it is clear that he knew how to open the door, and it may be implied that he knew it was a computer all along. Why the ruse? Why not let the survivors know right off that it was a computer, one that could clearly show what was radioactive or not? I can't help but think that the townsfolk, being rational, would have gladly followed the analytics of the machine, especially when it had been proved right.

It stands that Goldsmith had desires of his own. To be THE MAN. The mouthpiece of the Oracle, and gain position and prestige thereby. He is the bureaucrat, the one who carves out a niche for himself out of nothing. He had no reason not to let the rest know exactly what was up, but then he has no position of glory. The carrier of the Old Man's messages. That's the brand of Statism we have in the US (with a dash of Jackboot now and again). Keep the people in fear and ignorant and take the credit when things go good, whether they had anything to do with it or not. Mr. Goldsmith basically intercepted the credit that belonged to the machine. He also must have had a very low opinion of everyone else and a high opinion of himself, typical traits of the bureaucrat.

And when he revealed to be a liar (or a "half-truther"), the people throw off his smoke and mirrors, much to their detriment. And at the end, Goldsmith, the failed bureaucrat, who lied and distorted to the people so that they didn't know what to believe in, is left pondering where everyone else went wrong.

This, and others like it, is the moral message of the 60's, carried through television into the psyche of America. The seeds sown then are still bearing fruit today. "Have faith in the bureaucrats. Have Faith in general. Don't worry your little heads about the details, that's what we're hear for. WE know the Truth, just listen to us and all will be well."

Bilge water.
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8/10
Another episode that shows the shortcomings in human nature.
MartinHafer3 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This is a very good episode and I think it appeals to me because I like the shows that discuss mankind's baser impulses. Such episode as the neighbors all trying to cram into a tiny bomb shelter ("The Shelter") and behave like animals in the process or the other where aliens play with the power--thus triggering the people to turn on each other ("The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street") are among my favorites. Surely, these are a cynic's dream episodes!

"The Old Man in the Cave" is set following a nuclear holocaust. People around the world who did not die initially have mostly died off since because of radioactive contamination of the food and water supply. Oddly, however, one town seems to be thriving. No one has succumbed to poisoned food or water and it's all because "the Old Man" tells them what they can and can't eat or drink--but only one man is allowed into the cave to see him. So, naturally, folks eventually decide they must see this old man for themselves--and eventually respond like a pack of wild dogs when some outsiders stir them.

Overall, this is very well written and acted. A fine example of the series.
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8/10
Justice!
Hitchcoc11 December 2008
I realize that the other commentators took this episode pretty seriously. Indeed it is a political episode. It's about the baser elements of humanity. The soldiers representing the survivalist mentality, the townspeople the rabble, and the old man a manipulative, self righteous oracle. Everything plays out the way it should, with those who deserve it getting their just desserts. It is the forbidden fruit being put on the table in front of desperate men. I hope, in my heart of hearts, that this isn't what we would do, but, sadly, I don't think it's far from the truth. The whole business of these guys rolling into a weakened civilization is played out every day in parts of the world. As I speak, it continues in the Congo and other African nations and in Thailand. We can be our own worst enemies.
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5/10
Spoiler...What was Serling thinking?
vendo19611 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
spoiler....well acted episode, thwarted by an unsatisfying conclusion. As noted by Marc Zicree in his TZ Companion book, the villagers had every right to want to know who the old man was and how these decisions were made. The point of the episode, that they were "faithless" confused the notion of man's faith in the creator of all things with technology. Serling echoes the 1950s/early 60s liberal mindset that saw science as the answer to social problems. Look for comparisons in movies like Knock on Any Door & Convicts Four, where the filmmakers promote social work and psychoanalysis as "cures" for crime and violence. That such maladies could be cured as easily as adding fluoride to the water supply, seems childishly naive today, but reflects a utopian instinct which was formerly confined to politics. The failure of marxism/fascism to redeem mankind, birthed this secular faith in science. The belief that men should abandon their autonomy to a computer, or a computer programmer, without question, is an idea best left in the Hollywood scriptwriters imagination. Sorry, Rod, you blew it this time....
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9/10
No moral to the story
Bot_feeder1 January 2018
There's no moral to this story because it's not clear what is the best course of action for the people, and it may not even matter much- it may mean living an extra few weeks or dying immediately. Not that it has to have a moral to be a good story. But I think there's a natural tendency to project a moral into it eve if there isn't one.
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