Elevators are no-places; spaces where we just pass through such as halls, subway stations, airports, spots that do not mark our memory nor catch our attention, perishable. Awkward spaces that, by definition, bother and unsettle us. Of course, it is when we are located within one of them that we show something hidden about ourselves, a little tic, perhaps, or a original way of responding to some stimulus. Elevators become, thus, revealers of human nature.
Contemporary television, as the great study of human psychology that it is, has taken good note of this, and many relevant TV series have made of elevators a great narrative device.
How many times have we seen those front shots of the characters while they seem to stare everywhere but into the camera? They avoid our look as we avoid a stranger’s in that same situation because elevators are intimate, a small confined space you are forced to physically share with people.
Don, Peggy, Pete, Joan, everyday we see them go up and down, doing small talk or remaining silent. In Mad Men most of these medium shots seem useless and non-narative. However, it is in the little jests, the glances, the expressions on the exposed faces, the way they breath, that its characters come to life, they become more real, rich and complex, being this part of the greatness of the AMC’s drama. They don’t speak their minds, they don’t need to, nor it was appropriate at that time. The grimace on their faces speak for itself.
Having said that, Mad Men‘s resources are not as simple as that and the elevator figure has also offered some great comical and emotional punches, from “Not great, Bob!” to Don facing his downfall in the elevator shaft.
Someone told me once that the characters in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises got ahold with their feelings only in one single context. They were only allowed to be sentimental in another no-place, the backseats of the Parisian taxis. We are all familiar with Hemingway’s writing style and the famous iceberg theory he applied in his character’s development: they only showed the tip of their mental state, the rest was buried under their actions and, once again, gestures.
Something similar is found in The Good Wife. The legal world doesn’t welcome personal relationships nor feelings on the table. Its character must manage to keep a straight face at all times. It is when elevator door closes, when they leave the workplace, that we finally see under their masks: love, sex, despair, arguments and even fistfights occur in this confined space. It is paradoxical how in a extremely restrained series the only place that allow us to see the iceberg underneath is a closed space, an unsettling small rectangle, elevators.
Amy Jellicoe is already quite unstable in her work place at the beginning of Enlightened: her life crumbles as her sexual relationship with her boss vanishes. An introduction of a character that inevitably climaxes in an elevator where she, of course, finally loses it (see the video attached below). Henceforth, Amy walks down the recovery road and returns to the same company with one clear goal: take down the corrupted corporation that hurt her. She is conveniently relocated in a department in the building’s basement completely shut down from the rest of the company except from that umbilical cord, the elevator, the place that broke her and also a corporate mechanism that embodies the capitalist hierarchy: executives on the top floor, people at the bottom.
The first place the do-gooder, the agent of change, Amy Jellicoe will make disappear in her new world. She can’t afford to stay in a no-place, a vacuum, an unsettling space. She will end with evil polluting corporations, she will change everything, she is going places.