“Knock and the door shall be opened unto you.”
“There’s trouble at your door.”
“Don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out.”
Doors are everywhere. As children grow older, notches are made to commemorate the years with notches in the doorframe. Tradition dictates that a husband carries their new bride across the threshold. As dogs and cats join the family, little doors are installed for them.
Doors both create and breach the barrier between here and there. Locking a door creates a sense of safety while opening a door is a sign of welcoming. All of our lives doors have been at the forefront.
I was sucked in by doors from a young age. Look at advent calendars. There are twenty four doors all teasing you with presents. Sometimes chocolate, sometimes toys, but you have to wait until another day passes before you can open that next door. (Kudos to whoever invented those for families with multiple kids. Divisible by one, two, three, four, and six; that means everyone gets an equal turn. Plus, if you have five kids you can distract that last kid on Christmas with presents under the tree. Problem solved.) The doors were a daily frustration, but whenever we got to open one, it was a treat.
I always wanted to go get the mail. That entailed getting permissions to go out our front door. Being allowed to leave, to run free (even though it was only up the street and “no further”), was a sign of freedom. Then there was the door on the mailbox itself. The younger you are, the harder it is to reach the darn thing. And if you have to have someone lift you up just so you can reach it, then it is much less of an adventure. Regardless, until that door is opened, there could be anything inside. There are an infinite number of things that could fit, and just like Schrodinger’s Cat, you would never know until you opened it up what was waiting for you.
Also, I had my own little room. It was technically a storage space under the front porch. The front door was something my parents had commissioned. There was the typical wood frame, but there was a piece of frosted glass that served as the main panel, decorated with a bird, deer, and a peaceful meadow scene.
Right underneath that door was my door. It was a rather simple door. I think at one point it might have been painted white, but it started out as a wood door to a brick room. There was a light socket, so someone screwed in a combination light bulb/outlet into the fixture. There was a wood ceiling and I could always hear when people were coming and going through the vestibule. The door was as bland as the room to most; there was not even a door knob. But when I went through that door I could do whatever I wanted. It was my own private dwelling.
Now, at any point someone could have turned the lock-holder just enough to trap me. It never happened, but leaving the door a little ajar seemed like the wise thing to do. My wariness of doors only increased after watching a Valentine’s episode of Mad About You.
They introduced the idea that doorknobs could wondrously fall right out of their settings. Now doors were something to be cautious of at every turn. They could trap you just as easily as free you. It makes one wonder if doors are friend or foe.
How safe are doors? Perhaps the most famous door scene of all shows how flimsy they are. All Jack Nicholson needed was one ax and the heroine’s safety is quickly chopped away, bit by bit.
What do people do in movies? They lock the door. And what do cops do in every police drama ever? They kick down the door. (Or, if it is an intense, high-budget show, they call SWAT and they take a battering ram to the door. Same idea, but the latter version means they are really after the crook.)
Take Matthew Broderick. Oh sure, he is locked in his apartment. He has a peephole so he can see who is coming. But does he feel safe? Nope. Jim Carrey is still visible, still frightening, and still all-kinds of nutso.
(Don’t watch the Carrey clip before the Nicholson clip or you’ll have Carrey’s impression of Nicholson stuck in your head. Trust me on this one.)
Signs is one of the most tense movies I have ever seen. One part that keeps me on edge is the kitchen/pantry scene. In order to take in all the information, the character only has to open the door. At the same time, the only thing that is keeping him safe from the perceived threat is the locked door. To open the door is to let in knowledge, but also danger. (Also, how great is it that the initial use for the knife is not that of a weapon, but as a visual aid? Double-meanings abound!)
Even with those limitations, doors can be quite effective. No one is going to legally enter unless the door is unlocked. (Well, yes the window is an option. But if a neighbor sees a stranger crawl through one, they will probably call the police. At least, they should.) The frame of the door is a relatively safe place in an earthquake. Even when the door is opened, one can effectively block anyone from entering by standing in front of it. Besides, what better way is there to end an argument than by closing a door in someone’s face? (For extra emphasis, slam it! For a comedic end to an argument, make sure a finger or two gets caught.)
Yes, if you want to be truly sneaky you need a secret door. If you want to be diabolical, you need a trap door to open, preferably one that sends the victim plummeting into a pit with a menacing animal or four. If you go into a truly cool book store or comic shop, there has to be a back room. Few are brave enough to even peak through the doorway to that land of mystery. (There are also back rooms in video stores, but we will just gloss over that part.) And if there is a chase scene going through stores, there has to be “a back door outta here”. That is where they keep the alley, and you need those to keep all the dumpsters that you hide behind and fire escapes to climb up.
Doors are everywhere in literature and media. The very first disturbing image from A Christmas Carol comes early on. It is not the three ghosts, not the mystery chains, but the door knocker that strikes fear. It is supposed to announce one’s presence, but here it invites terror.
The Secret Garden is about finding a door to that isolated land of greenery and escape. Superman had a key that only he could lift to open his Fortress of Solitude. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you opened the door, stepped in, and were transported away. One of my favorite uses of doors is the opening credits of Get Smart.
Doors can be fun too. I remember watching the garage door open and close, staring in awe at a door that could bend and curve ninety degrees. I try to always open car doors for those that I care about. Whenever I arrive at my brother’s house, I announce myself with “Shave and a Haircut” each time. Why, even Charlie Chaplin circled around the joy of doors.
For me, doors should be inviting. I used to live in a building where the doors were labeled “interestingly”. “Devil XV” was apartment fifteen, “Devil X” was number ten. I moved out of there within a year. And now, my apartment complex has painted all our doors red. Sigh. When I come home at two in the morning, red is not a color that soothes and coaxes me to sleep. No, give me a nice brown door that opens into a pleasant atrium. Doors are supposed to be decorated with wreathes, not slathered with disturbing decorations straight out of the Old Testament. (Passover: proof that the right décor can be life-saving.”
Doors matter in real life. A coworker of mine was in the bathroom in his apartment. Just like on television, the door knob came out in his hands. He had to wait for someone to free him.
I started typing up notes on all this on Sunday. Monday morning, a coworker went to open a door for me and the door knob broke in her hand. Doors man, they are conspiring against us. (Either that, or my companions are really quite strong.)
Like the characters of The Adjustment Bureau, we walk around in life trying to open that right door. How much time have we spent driving up and down a road looking for a house with a certain color door? How often are we told that the door to happiness opens up on this job or that you should hang mistletoe on a door that opens up to a home with lots of kids behind it?
If every door was right for every person, then hardware stores would not have entire aisles filled with options. Doors are all about choice. To lock the door and try to feel safe or leave only the screen door shut so the breeze can invite itself in. That age old question keeps coming up:
What will it be; door number one, door number two, or door number three?