The film ‘Pleasantville’ is about two modern teenagers, David and his sister Jennifer, somehow being transported into the television, ending up in Pleasantville – a 1950s black and white sitcoms. David knows that they have to act like the ‘real’ characters as he definitely knows the world well, but soon he realises that it is impossible – that change is inevitable, which is the main theme of the movie.
The two characters from the modern world have the role of bringing ‘evil’ knowledge to the citizen of Pleasantville. They brought changes to the town, adding colours to it.
Change is an important element in this film. It shows that change is inevitable by introducing two characters into a never-changing world. Both are uneasy when they arrive. However, Jennifer threatens to rebel and states that “no one is happy in a poodle skirt and sweater set”. The citizen of Pleasantville have only learned about the geography of two streets, the firemen have never seen a fire, and sex and double beds do not even exist. They live their lives according to their routines. “Where is my dinner?” Mr Parker asks when he is surprised that the dinner is not ready for in at quarter to six. Though, the curiosities of the people living in Pleasantville lead them to change. “What is outside Pleasantville?” some ask.
The people of Pleasantville are no longer innocent, and they are ready to change. This is shown by the shifting of people from black and white to colour. The people can only gain colours when they break their barriers, discovering the missing element in their lives. Some gain colour from having sex, Mary-Sue gains colour from reading books and Bud gains colour from getting into a fight. Pleasantville is no longer Pleasantville. The basketball team starts missing shots, and colours can be seen everywhere. Bud is horrified when he sees the changes, but soon realises that it is hardly life when all people do is to follow the robotic routines.
Not all people react pleasantly with the changes. A committee is set up to limit the use of colours, kinds of music and books, and shutting down Lover’s Lane. The film comments on censorship and the social discriminations base on racial background.
The plot of Pleasantville is relatively simple – two real people being sucked into an unreal world. However, it makes allusion to the real world, such as segregation and censorship. It also deliver its message successfully, that change is inevitable. The scenes where the black and white tree bursting into bright orange flame, and the Lover’s Lane as Eden, have strong visual impact on the audience, and allows the audience to re-evaluate our society.
Pleasantville (1998) EssayFebruary 19, 2008 at 10:25 pm | Posted in Writings | 1 Comment
Tags: Essay, Movies, Writings
Title: Pleasantville (1998)
Director and Writer: Gary Ross
This film is an obvious satire criticizing the fear of change, and the self oppression of these people in order to prevent this change. Pleasantville would seem like the perfect place to live in. Everything is ideal, when put in other words, everything is right and nothing is wrong. You cannot make any mistakes in Pleasantville, such as the always-perfect goal in basketball, simply because ‘wrong’ does not exist. Everyone in Pleasantville does what they are supposed to do, and only what they are supposed to do. This also means they are very inflexible in their execution, just like Bill Johnson who becomes completely at lost when Bud (David) does not do his job as usual.
When David and Jennifer first get warped into Pleasantville, they immediately realise the switch to monochome colour and the conservative (or so-called “proper look”) dressing and hairstyle. The monochrome colours used readily reflect the townspeople’s mundane and robotic way of life, and also their lack of true and individual personality. They are greeted by their “alternate” mother, Betty Parker, in a very artificial and overly-friendly “Honey, Breakfast’s Ready!”. Massive piles of food fill the whole dining table, and it is obvious that it is far more than necessary to feed the family. Mary Sue (Jennifer) is served a humongous breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancake, steak and sausage. One would notice the high dietary fat content in these foods, and this symbolises the over-abundance of American life in the 1950s. This is even more so portrayed in Betty’s generous pouring of syrup on Mary Sue’s pancakes.
Sexuality in the monochrome Pleasantville, was almost non-existent. Relationships between man and women were purely for the creation of a family, and the duties of the members in a family was clear, precise and strict. The man worked outside, and the wife stayed at home to prepare food and do the housework, while the children went to school. Teenage relationship was pure and innocent, but this was changed throughout the course of the movie. It all started when Mary Sue is obviously unhappy with this mechanical and innocent way of life, and introduces sex to Skip, who was previously shy and did not want to rush their relationship. Thus began the start of the changes in Pleasantville, and the revolution of sex, as symbolised by the rose turning striking red. It also led to Skip telling the other boy on the basketball team about it, thus starting to “infect” the others to lose their innocence. They become unable to score perfectly in basketball, and this marks a break from the “perfect sequence” of Pleasantville.
The people of Pleasantville are very conservative. They are shocked at the sight of visual art (beyond the “normal” festive decorations during Christmas), and even more so of depiction of nude women. They consider it “shameless” when they saw Betty’s nude figure artwork on the glass display at Bill’s Soda Shop.
Because Pleasantville was transforming from monochrome to multicolour, this led another theme to surface: Racism. Thus began a racial segregation between the “monochromes” and the “coloured” people. The “monochromes” are considered true citizens of Pleasantville, and continue to embrace the moral values of the town. The “coloured” people are those who have undergone change, experienced emotion and explored personal freedom.
When Bud and Bill Johnson are put in court for trial, the scene becomes reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird’s Court Episode. The “monochrome” people, like the whites, are seated at the ground level, while the “coloured” people, like the blacks, are located on the second level. This is a clear juxtaposition of the racial discrimination between the two “races”. The unfair treatment can be seen when judge is the mayor, and Bud and Bill Johnson are not offered a lawyer to speak in defence for them.
At the beginning, the people of Pleasantville lacked autonomy and character. They said the same, predictable words and greetings along with artificial, almost-plastic facial expressions. They seemed like robots; without feelings, thought or emotion. They do and say as programmed, in order to achieve that “pleasant, idealistic way of life”. The deliberate use of monochromatic greys makes this even more significant. This reflects of the loss of individualism of Americans in the 1950s, where idealism and “perfect living” meant restrictions on behaviour, expression and thought.
When Betty becomes “coloured”, she tries to hide it with make-up in fear of her husband. But when she realises that she has fallen for Bill Johnson, she accepts her “colours” and even resists covering it up when her husband tells her she. She becomes more daring in pursuing her feelings, and does not completely fulfil all the expected duties of a housewife. She is firm in her own feelings, thoughts and emotions, something all the wives in the town are becoming, and this becomes a threat and worry for the husbands and mayor of Pleasantville. Previously seen as a mechanical housekeeper who will keep the family in order and serve meals and do the chores, they now realise that they can think for themselves and have rights to personal freedom.
The ‘Pleasantville Code of Conduct’ is a manifestation of the political oppression to the most ridiculous degree. Setting rules for the type of music to be played, the colour of paint permissible, or even prohibition to visiting the library are undeniably absurd standards to follow. Bud resists this by playing loud rock music, and together with Bill Johnson, paint a large mural outside the local Police Station expressing their discontent with the restrictions of personal freedom.
Reference: Wikipedia: Pleasantville
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