There have been several articles and letters pointing out the possible references to Christianity in THE PRISONER. These have made interesting reading, and I'd like to extend this theme by con- sidering how THE PRISONER has influenced my personal growth, both mentally and spiritually.
Originally, I was a fan of DANGER MAN because of Patrick McGoohan, and the high-quality production values of that series, but most of all for the intelligent, thoughtful scripts containing wonderful throwaway lines such as "Cynicism is the last refuge of the idealist", and the very often downbeat endings, which at the time were untypical of popular TV.
It was because of DANGER MAN and a chance visit to Portmeirion to see THE PRISONER being made in 1966 that I was firmly in my seat, full of expectation, to watch the very first screening of "Arrival" in the autumn of 1967. This, and the subsequent episodes, had a profound effect on me. Here was a TV series
MEHR ÜBER SIX OF ONE
INTERVIEW MIT DAVE BARRIE
DAVE BARRIE: THE MARKSTEIN-McGOOHAN DEBATE
DAVE BARRIE: THE MAJESTY OF FALL OUT
AUF DIE REIH GEBRACHT: DIE REIHENFOLGE DER EPISODEN
that challenged the viewer, that gave no easy answers, that was bold, creative and ambiguous. "Fall Out" and the unmasking of Number One elevated the series - and of course, posed more questions than it attempted to answer. All these years later, we are still debating what it all means acknowledging that there are different interpretations. Personal growth, life, death, dreams, the cycle of rebirth - these are all key elements to be found within THE PRISONER. Number Six asks the fundamental philosophical questions of life and its purpose.
SURREAL IN THE SENSE THAT
PORTMEIRION IS SURREAL
But THE PRISONER was not created in isolation. Its ideas and themes are reflected in films and literature. Before looking more closely at the philosophy of the programme I would like to take this opportunity to mention a number of films all of which, in one way or another, contain scenes or ideas which can be related to the series.
Each of these films I've found absorbing and I hope you'll see why. Each, in its own way, is relevant to the themes that I've outlined above, as you will see. Perhaps THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919) is a direct ancestor of THE PRISONER. That, at least, is one interpretation. Certainly, this masterpiece of the early German cinema influenced a whole generation of filmmakers.
Briefly, the narrator tells us a tale of an evil Carnival showman who has power over a somnambulist instructing him to perform a series of murders. Only at the end is it revealed that the story teller is, in fact, a patient in an asylum and Dr. Caligari is his psychiatrist. The whole story is nothing but the dream of a madman.
This film is notable for its striking, stylised sets - which are surreal in the sense that Portmeirion is surreal. A key episode of THE PRISONER which I find mystical and perplexing because of its nature, is "Dance Of The Dead" dealing, as it does, in dreams and death. I was interested to learn (at the 25th anniversary celebration in January) that - but for a member of the technical crew - this complex and layered episode would never have been completed.
Is Number Six actually experiencing his enforced abduction to the Village and his subsequent adventures, or - if we believe the implications of this particular episode - is he in fact dead? When Number Six asks: "Why are they pursuing me?", Number Two replies: "They don't know you're already dead."
"Dance Of The Dead" is certainly an intriguing story and there are parallels in style and content between this episode and the 1949 French film ORPHEE by Jean Cocteau. Based on the tale of Orpheus In The Underworld, the film's hero gains access to the nether regions by stepping through a mirror.
Similarly, in "Dance Of The Dead" Number Two tells Number Six: "Tonight, you may enter", signalling his free entrance to the hidden world normally denied him beneath the Village. Other scenes in this episode have echoes in Orphee - notably the scene with the radio on the Belvedere Outlook, the coded messages and the eerie almost surreal scene with Number Six and Number Two on the beach.
Incidentally, in another of Cocteau's films, LA BELLE ET LA BETE, we see statues which open their eyes, and which then gaze after the heroine as she passes along a corridor lined with dozens of full-length mirrors, seeking a mysterious figure who constantly eludes her.
Another film with clear PRISONER parallels is the visually striking 1964 movie THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH based on a story by Edgar Allen Poe. This contains a scene at the end in which Death, wearing a red monk's habit, stalks through a castle inhabited by the Devil-worshipping Prospero and his disciples. Prospero pursues this figure of Death and confronts him. He then reveals his face - and of course, it is that of Prospero. There are one or two other nice touches in this film - for example, when Death, garbed in monk's attire, gives the plague (in the form of a flower) to an old woman with the words: "Take this to your village and tell your people the day of deliverance is at hand." Such sentiments are echoed by the Rook in "Checkmate" when he says: "One day I'll die and escape you all."
ÜBER SURREALISMUS IN NUMMER 6
EPISODENWÜRDIGUNG: "DIE ANKLAGE" (D)
APPRECIATIVE EXAMINATION: "DANCE OF THE DEAD" (E)
A film which has influenced my thinking to a very large extent is A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. There are great similarities between this 1966 Oscar-winning film, based on a 1961 play, and The Prisoner. As with THE PRISONER, it is the story of one man's stand of conscience. The film is based on the true story of Sir Thomas More who was persecuted for his beliefs and in particular his opposition to King Henry Vlll's religious schism with Rome. Just as Number Six will not say why he resigned More tells Henry: "I will not take the oath [of allegiance]. I will not tell you why I will not take the oath."
Henry interprets this silence as treason and More pays the ultimate price of execution rather than go against his conscience. As he tries to explain: "I will not give in - not my pride, not my spleen, nor any other of my appetites, but I do. I. God is love right through, and that's myself."
By "appetites" More means his ego and to me this makes it clear that More has transcended his ego and is a man in touch with his own true self. Just as in "Dance Of The Dead" Number Six seems to say something similar. Replying to the maid, and measuring his words with deliberation, he shows her his dinner suit and stresses: "It means I'm still myself."
In an early edition of the very first Six of One publication "Alert", the late Judie Adamson wrote an article about the games in "Checkmate" demonstrating that the players are all playing games with each other both on and off the chessboard. We all play games with people, consciously or otherwise.
Life itself can be viewed as a game and it's up to us to learn the rules that govern that game. When we realise this we have the map and our individuality allows us the freedom to choose our route. After establishing the "Why" - something Number Six in his quest has to ask many times - we apply the "How".
LIFE IS A QUEST, A JOURNEY, A GAME
Chess is the central theme in lngmar Bergman's 1957 film THE SEVENTH SEAL. A medieval knight challenges Death to a game of chess while he tries to show illustrations of goodness in humankind. Very atmospheric in its depiction of a dark and forbidding world - although quite a meandering film - THE SEVENTH SEAL contains some parallels to THE PRISONER amongst which is the theme of the quest.
Life is a quest, a journey, a game - it is all of these things. A series of challenges not unlike the 17 episodes of THE PRISONER. It is up to each individual to find their own purpose and goal. Because of who we are and our experiences each of us will view the series in a unique way.
Is there a danger of reading too much into THE PRISONER? Personally, I have not found it so. The philosophical content has been an invaluable tool for helping me on my own spiritual quest and path of self-liberation. The series has acted as a trigger and encouraged me to look into the deeper meaning of life, as I will try to explain.
Let me turn to one of the many conundrums within THE PRISONER and use this point as an opportunity to move on from considering PRISONER parallels in films to offer a personal approach to the "religious" perspective.
Over the years, I've read a number of interpretations of what The Prisoner means, and my interest sharpened when the "religious" debate commenced in "Number Six". I have always felt there was a hidden spiritual dimension to the series, and I wil turn now to how I perceive this spiritual dimension - and how that perception has helped my personal growth.
What state of consciousness is Number Six in? As the series is deliberately ambiguous is he dead, as I suggested earlier, or is he dreaming? If THE PRISONER, as implied, is cyclical then is Number Six, perhaps, experiencing an illusion?
Buddhists believe the world we live in to be an illusion - and that the next world is the reality. But we make our own reality - our own heaven or hell. As we think, so we perceive. If we feel trapped we make our own prison. We know freedom is a state of mind and therefore each of us is our own prisoner. If we feel free and without fear we can begin to experience personal growth bringing ourselves fulfilment and peace and the awakening of our true inner self.
We are fortunate if we can find a philosophy that awakens our consciousness. At the core of all the great religions there is a teaching of deepest wisdom that sometimes gets distorted as it is misinterpreted - sometimes deliberately. The essence is lost. Reincarnation, for example, is a concept believed in by a majority of people on this planet and Christianity does us a disservice by no longer embracing it as it once did.
A religion and a spiritual pathway can be two different things. For a number of reasons - perhaps like No 6 - I have wished to voice to be an individual, my own person, and would not blindly accept what I was told. I am sure there are many other individuals out there who have felt the same way. I have not followed an established church, where certain branches teach a God of fear, retribution and intolerance. As we know, these qualities are by no means confined just to certain "Christian" approaches. Beware any spirtual path that claims either to have all the answers or to be the only way. In either case, give it a wide berth.
Perhaps, in THE PRISONER it is Rover which represents fear. When at the end of "Free For All" Number Six gains his
selfawareness he reaches the room in which a group of guardians are gathered around Rover. Are they worshipping? Meditating, perhaps?
In a letter in "Number Six" issue 27 , Paul Gray made the valid point that Rover resembles the Id from the film FORBIDDEN PLANET which, in turn, was based upon Shakespeare's most mystical play "The Tempest". I would define the Id as part of the ego. Are the guardians, then, trapped by their own ego?
Let me give you an analogy. Consider the physical body as a chariot and the ego as the horse that pulls it. The ego thinks it is the whole mind believing that all would be chaos if it were not in charge. However, the charioteer - our conscience or inner self - would show us that all is, in fact, peace and calm.
Some people - where they have refused to acknowledge or listen to their conscience - can become lost, consumed by their ego, and turn in-ward, becoming selfish. This path never offers true long-lasting happiness.
NOSCE TE IPSUM - KNOW THYSELF
Incidentally, the ego thrives on power and self-importance. The ultimate step that anyone who has lost themselves can take is to commit suicide. This action is not an escape, but a sign of low esteem and self-hate. It is the final prison. (Although we should remember that people also commit suicide for other reasons, such as terminal illness).
For example, a test of the ego's desires is that when we achieve a goal if this leaves us unfulfilled we have been influenced by our ego. In children the ego can be quite pronounced - the fear of being different, the odd one out, the desire to be part of a group, to conform. This brings us back to Sir Thomas More, and his deep sense of peace because he knew he was following his conscience.
The most important relationship we have in life is with ourselves. To know who we are. Not for nothing did the ancients have inscribed above their temple doorways: "Know thyself".
Perhaps inspired by the independence and integrity of Number Six and McGoohan's comment: "I believe passionately in the freedom of the individual" I resolved to find my own path of self- discovery. I wanted to think for myself, and you can't convert people to think for themselves.
I didn't want to blindly accept what someone else told me. I didn't want a belief. I was in search of the experience of enlightenment, which I would describe as an "awakening". Meditation opened the door of enlightenment for me. Meditation is not a route of self-absorption but one of self-knowledge. In pursuing this path we get to know our inner being - our con- science.
The best definition I would give of the state of consciousness that may be achieved is to suggest a short story called "Siddharta" by the German writer Hermann Hesse who is perhaps best known for his novel "Steppenwolf". Because of his stand on personal freedom Hesse was a target of Hitler and escaped to Switzerland. In time he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. "Siddharta" is the story of a young man's search for truth and enlightenment is described most eloquently in the closing pages of the book.
In a letter in "Number Six" issue 26 Mark Edwards talks about God as "the ultimate oppressor". Subsequent correspondents have maintained, conversely, that the path of true freedom lies through (a Christian) God. More recently, I have noted the appearance in the letters pages of Eastern philosophies, including Tibetan Buddhism.
The point I am making, however, is that rather than follow a set of teachings I wanted personal, individual experience as my way.
A central theme of THE PRISONER is tolerance. And it is only 300 years since independent thinkers such as myself were burnt at the stake by those who used the cover of the Christian church to practice repression and intolerance. It wasn't the essence of the teaching that was at fault it was humankind interpreting the philosophy to suit its own purpose. When this happens we have people led like sheep as in "A Change Of Mind". Through fear, they are not following their own freedom of thought and allegiance to consciousness.
History is strewn with the bones of individuals who have sought to extend humankind's learning only to be persecuted because they dare to think differently. In the land of the blind the one- eyed man is not king. At best, he is a tolerated outsider. But more often he is hounded as is Number Six in "A Change Of Mind". It is a chilling tale and it sums up an aspect of human nature that exists in us all to a greater or lesser extent, an aspect that we can come to terms with when we achieve the self-awareness of the individual.
There are as many ways to God as there are people. I believe in a God that is all-love, all-tolerant, all-compassionate, all-
CRUCIFIXION AS AN INDICATION OF A "RELIGIOUS PERSPECTIVE" IN THE PRISONER?
forgiving and who gives us complete free will to accept or reject and to choose which experiences we feel we need to grow as individuals. I perceive God as a conscious universe that each of us can "tap into" via our inner self. If God is in each of us we just have to find it. Some people prefer atheism. It has always struck me that anyone taking up that position must surely, by definition, have a closed mind.
Part of this conscious universe is embraced by the concept of Gaia which featured centrally in the TV thriller series EDGES OF DARKNESS. Briefly, Gaia is an idea originally coined by scientist Professor James Lovelock which suggests that the entire Earth is a living organism with a consciousness and that it will take care of itself to ensure its survival. If humankind seeks to pollute and destroy the planet Gaia will seek to redress that balance.
Extend this concept and logically we have a conscious universe of which we are a microcosm of the macrocosm - just like the Penny Farthing symbol which change dissolves into the universe at the end of the "Alternative Chimes". Einstein said: "My understanding of of the universe does not come from my conscious mind." The deeper you delve into the mysteries of existence the greater the puzzle becomes. For every answer, there is another question, providing one keeps an open mind.
In "The Schizoid Man" Alison is seen to have a telepathic link with Number Six. A sixth sense, part of the unconscious, exists in us all. But the rational mind, the ego, chooses to push it into the deeper recesses where it occasionally makes itself heard in the quieter moments. It tends to atrophy in some individuals where the ego is totally triumphant. In any confrontation between the conscious and the unconscious the former will win because the latter needs quietness to allow itself to be heard.
It has been suggested that script editor George Markstein conceived the original format for THE PRISONER and that Patrick McGoohan saw the potential.
I feel McGoohan recognised that within the framework of a man incarcerated in a top secret prison he had the opportunity to make a series of statements about his personal beliefs.
Key episodes such as "Free For All" and "Fall Out" bear testimony to this. They are the products of one man's feelings, creativity and intuition. Qualities that come from deep within the unconscious. In essence, to me, the message of THE PRISONER is a cry from the heart for personal freedom. My interpretation encompasses the philosophy of tolerance and the open mind. You will have your interpretation. It is equally valid.
I saw Number Six' quest for freedom as an analogy for our own lives. To be free we have to have an open mind. If we want to change our life we have to change the way we think. We are creatures of habit and this is the most difficult task for any of us to do. Do not fall prey to fear. Seek with an open mind. Be your own guru.
When Six of One was formed, one of its goals was to perpetuate the ideas and ideals of THE PRISONER. I have tried to do that here by looking not only at some philosphical aspects of The prisoner itself but also some other films which have had something in common with the series, perhaps artistically, but usually philosophically.
I have tried to go beyond a physical examination of the series and to show what it actually means to me. It doesn't matter if THE PRISONER represents reality or a dream or if Number Six is dead. The series begs a spiritual interpretation which has in the past been mainly confined to the polarising views of Christian and atheist.
I have tried to portray an alternative route, which is not confined to a dogmatic view but which has a framework large enough for individual interpretation. It is, after all, based on each of us having the freedom to explore and accept both ourselves and our self-responsibility.
Just as the last shot of THE PRISONER is also the first, with Number Six in his car racing down the runway so our journey is one that has no end.
Dave Barrie rief 1976 die PRISONER Appreciation Society "SIX OF ONE" ins leben. Der artikel erschien in der ehemaligen mitgliederzeitschrift "Number Six" nr. 35, 1993. Eine deutsche übersetzung existiert (noch) nicht.