My wife has informed me on more than one occasion that I become highly offended when the telephone in our house rings during the evening, and she’s absolutely right.
I hate telephone interruptions when I’m screening a movie or TV episode, eating dinner, or writing.
Now, I don’t object to calls from friends and family, mind you, but the ubiquitous calls from political parties, telemarketers, doctors’ offices and the like drive me absolutely up the wall. In fact, I’ve developed what I can only term a Pavlovian response to the telephone’s loud ring. I simultaneously feel a pit of acid in my stomach, and a dawning sense of agitation and anger.
If you apply logical standards to this episode of Tales from the Darkside, you can see how it collapses under the daylight of rationality. If Joan is truly vexed by the ringing phone, she has any number of options. She could go stay at a hotel, for instance. She could go to Apartment 12F and cut the phone cord. Or, even, she could purchase ear-plugs.
Sometimes the genre works quite effectively on a different level, a surreal nightmare level, and that’s the quality “Answer Me” possesses in spades.
There’s the possibility Joan’s entire experience is a nightmare itself; or that she has found her way into Hell. For instance, is Joan actually the woman (the English woman…) who died in the apartment netx door, strangled by the phone, but somehow reliving the event? Her experiences with an uncooperative telephone operator certainly hint at such a possibility. And the fact that Joan never sees another human being during the episode’s proceedings might even be interpreted not as a sign of the production’s low budget, but as an indicator of the fact that the world itself is not right. That Joan has traveled to some “dark side.”
Of course, a telephone as a malevolent evil force is kind of funny.
And yet again, somehow the idea works in this context, as an avatar for fear. Not just as a symbol of intrusive technology, but as a representation of the fact that some objects we believe we control and dominate actually seem to take on a life of their own, especially when we’re agitated, or thinking irrationally.
Still, I’ve never forgotten the imagery of a woman driven mad by the incessant ringing of a telephone, and her final, mortal tussle with “convenient” technology.