I was quite a serious little fellow when I was twelve, with a head full of questions and a liking for Spiderman, peanut brittle, horror films, Sherlock Holmes, H. G. Wells, Alistair MacLean and a girl with bobbed hair called Alison (who I knew was secretly a goddess and lived at the end of our street).
It was amid all of these distractions that I first saw Roger Corman‘s ‘The Man With X-Ray Eyes‘, late, one Monday night on TV. The film blew me away with its mix of beauty and horror and made me realise science-fiction, horror films and even Spiderman comics contained hidden meanings, useful directions, like a compass for our lives. ‘The Man With X-Ray Eyes’ was more than just a low budget sci-fi flick, filmed over three weeks on a budget of $300,000, it was a morality tale, which captured much of what I was thinking and feeling.
Here was the story of a slightly faded, but distinguished scientist, Dr. Xavier, (Ray Milland) who experiments with eye-drops that he has developed to help him see beyond the visible spectrum, towards ultra violet and X-rays. Having decided that to test his formula on animals or patients would lead to biased data, Xavier tests the formula on himself. At first, he thinks he is able to control the dosage and its effects, believing he has found a short-cut to understanding existence, claiming he is “blind to all but one tenth of the universe,” and that he is “closing in on the gods”. His enthusiasm doesn’t last, as the eye-drops dramatically alter his perspective of the world, and his role in it.
As that serious, little 12-year-old kid, I suddenly understood that the consequences of Ray Milland’s desperate ambition were akin to growing-up, and the knowledge I was soon to gain from the experience, from the impending physical and psychological change, would remove me forever from the world I had so easily and happily inhabited for the past eleven summers.
I also saw how Xavier was like H. G. Wells’ Griffin – ‘The Invisible Man’, driven mad by the changes he has wrought on himself. For the knowledge Xavier sought only reveals the terrible horror of existence, and worse, the “great darknesses. Farther than time itself. And beyond the darkness… a light that glows, changes… and in the centre of the universe… the eye that sees us all.”
As I watched and listened, I thought this wasn’t just an “eye” but “I”. The “I” that sees all. The “I” of self that fails to comprehend or respond to what it sees, and blindly and relentlessly consumes – without examination, without reflection, and worse, without accepting the responsibility at the heart of all knowledge.
That night, as I lay in bed thinking about Xavier’s black X-ray eyes, I knew I had uncovered something profound, something that changed me forever, and like Dr. Xavier, I could see through the present and into the future, and sadly knew Alison, with-the-bob, wasn’t a goddess after all.