Monday, December 16, 2013


Pleasantville; fantasy / drama / comedy, USA, 1998; D: Gary Ross, S: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels, Reese Witherspoon, Joan Allen, J.T. Walsh, William H. Macy, Paul Walker, Jane Kaczmarek, Don Knotts

One evening, while fighting over the remote control, two teenage twins from the 90s - the introverted David and extroverted Jennifer - get transported into a black and white TV show from the 50s, "Pleasantville". In that picturesque city, everything is perfect, but boring and monotone. With their unusual thinking and behavior, David and Jennifer inadvertently cause a shift in the way people behave, and bring sex, emotion and creative thinking. However, that way people gain color and the old folks, still in black and white, see them as a danger. David and Bill, owner of a snack bar who painted a nude picture, are brought on trial, but manage to defend themselves. David returns back home, while Jennifer stay to study.

One of the most underrated movies from the 90s, Gary Ross' debut "Pleasantville" is also one of the most unlikely allegories about the resistance to any Totalitarian tendencies and a fabulous essay about how a standard should never become uniformity. Overshadowed by the seemingly similar "The Truman Show", "Pleasantville" is actually a different kind of film, a one where the relationship between the people and the media actually doesn't even matter - what matters here is the relationship between those people who conform and those who do not. David and Jennifer are indeed yin and yang, symbols for conservatism and liberalism, who bring "color" in the 'positive North Korean-like' black and white Pleasantville world and change it. But the message here is not that a liberal life is better than a conservative one, but that people should move away from a pattern imposed on them. Jennifer changes Skip by teaching him how to have sex, yet he gains color, while she stays in black and white. She, a 'cool' girl, changes colors only when she puts on glasses and starts reading a book for the first time in her life. Likewise, the timid David changes color only when he stands up to bullies who were teasing Betty.

Therefore, the change in color is not a signal of a change from right to left wing, but the acceptance of your hidden, suppressed emotions, of the one who you really are in life. Joan Allen's Betty stands out as she goes a long way from a one-dimensional extra to one of the most complex characters in the plot. A few ideas are banal (no toilet seats, an overkill used to show how everything is "too clean") and the entire subplot involving the mysterious TV repairman (played by Don Knotts) should have been cut, because it just bothers the storyline, where no reason for the kids entering the TV show would have worked far better. Everything else works, from palpable allegories ("true" citizens; segregation of "colored" people who are a danger to the society...) up to a simply smashing final scene that brings down the house. In one scene, David spots his mother crying, and it is implied that her husband is leaving her. He wipes a tear on her face and they have this exchange: "I had the right life, I had the right house, I had the right car..." - "There is no right life." - "I mean, I'm 40 years old. It's not suppose to be like this...." - "It's not suppose to be like anything." That's a beautiful point. Life is not suppose to be like that and that, but not to be like anything else, where everyone has his or her own way.


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