Bill Birney Screenwriter
Synopsis - Treadmill
At birth, Dr. Cleveland Issuefour, like everyone else in the civilized world, receives Electro-Neural Stimulation or ENS. It is the perfect solution for a society that had become overtaken by strife and violence. After ENS, people become docile and emotionally barren, enabling them to live in peace and harmony. When Cleveland backs out of his garage every morning, his car synchronizes perfectly with four others backing out and they drive off in a perfect, harmonious line. Every day Cleveland listens to the same radio station at the same time with the same type of announcements. Tonight, he goes to a football game, where the teams play without drive or passion.
He works at Golden Years Geriatric Hospital, where he treats elderly patients with ST or Stress Therapy, which further numbs them to the unbelievable pains and depression they feel with aging. After the electric charge courses through their brains, Mrs. Corgy and Mr. Peasley no longer care about the cancers that ravage their bodies, or their unfulfilled desires. His wife Mazy and a friend exercise regularly on treadmills. The friend believes the more pain she feels the better and speaks with pride about running for so long one day her legs seized up. She talks about needing a goal as we watch the treadmill go round and round.
But Cleveland’s safe little world changes radically one day. To test a broken electrode cable, he attaches the sensors to his own head so he can see a trace on the scope. But he presses the wrong buttons by mistake. The built-up voltage discharges suddenly and he is thrown to the floor.
After getting his bearings, he stands and checks himself in a mirror. Physically, he’s fine, but something is very different. Mazy calls as he sits at a picnic bench next to the hospital, waiting for his brain to calm down. He can barely maintain his composure and hangs up before he explodes. He experiences feelings he’s never had in his life – fear, sadness, wonder. He also realizes he can lie. After talking to a coworker, he concludes that he has been unblocked, which is both scary and illegal. The ENS he received at birth has been undone and he is as vulnerable as an infant before therapy. At dinner, Mazy wonders about his lateness, that he has changed, acts different.
Next day, he performs ST on Mr. Chiron. Often, a patient blathers on after treatment, but this time Cleveland listens. Chiron talks about how the mind cannot be blocked for long and how the real human inside will always find a way to regain control and revolt against tyrants – Kristol must be stopped. Cleveland becomes abnormally curious about Kristol. At dinner, Cleveland tells Mazy he’s going away on business.
Next morning at Kristol, a massive multi-story institution, an administrator refuses to give him next-of-kin information because it’s not normal. When he leaves her, his curiosity takes him down a hall to a large room labeled: Terminal Care. He explores the area and discovers Mr. Chiron, who tells Cleveland people have become mindless cattle that produce and consume and make the corporations wealthy beyond imagination – Kristol is the government.
Cleveland exhibits more abnormal symptoms, such as anger, and finally opens up to Mazy and his son Jonny. He tells them this is the way people are supposed to be. Neither understands. Mazy calls Homeland Security for help. Jonny wants to be just like his dad. After Mr. Chiron dies, Cleveland tracks down his sister and finds out that she and Chiron never received ENS. She tells Cleveland we are witnessing the extinction of the human race.
At work, Cleveland is confronted by agent Toledo of the FBI, who questions him but is ultimately unable to prove anything. As Cleveland tucks Jonny in one night, they talk more about Cleveland’s new life. Jonny tells him he doesn’t care what happens, he wants to be like Cleveland. A new fishing kit Mazy buys for them gives Cleveland an idea. He tells Jonny they’re going fishing right now!
Their first stop is the hospital. But things go wrong. The discharge renders Jonny unconscious. Cleveland is all at once devastated and on his own. He ends up taking Jonny to Ms. Chiron’s house. She tells him, in the real world there are no simple answers and to think positive. Cleveland doesn’t understand how having faith can help. She tells him he’ll figure it out.
Next morning, he awakens to find Jonny staring at him and looking around quizzically. He asks Jonny what he feels. Jonny says, “I feel everything.” They go fishing in a little peddle boat on a big lake. Jonny catches a fish, and they conclude that the net must be for grabbing it and dumping it in the bucket. Together, they figure it out.