"Pleasantville" Review
© 1998 Fontaine L.
- spoilers -

Whereas it would be very tempting to draw comparisons between "Truman Show" and "Pleasantville," the two movies actually exist on very different levels. Both movies deal with alternative reality; but while "Truman Show" drew a distinct line between fantasy and reality, "Pleasantville" is less concerned about the blurring of that line than with presenting very real social and philosophical issues.

If you're looking for logic, you're seeing the wrong movie. Siblings David (Toby Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) are watching TV, and they break the remote control . A strange little man (Don Knotts) shows up with no reason, and pleases himself to transfer David and Jennifer into the black-and-white world of Pleasantville. It is never clear who this old man is and why exactly he's doing this. He's like an avid fan who wants David to share his fantasy, and yet he seems like he's playing God (God said: "Behold, the man has become one of Us, to know good and evil." This guy uses arrows and circles). You'd expect to see everything resolved neatly when the whole thing is over -- but apparently Jennifer doesn't want to return to "her world" at all. And throw common sense out the window too. I find it unbelievable that Jennifer, the rebel and the ne'er do well, becomes studious, intelligent Mary Sue after just a couple of days in Pleasantville. "Bud's" mother and his girlfriend don't question why and how he's come from another world or why he has to leave either. I've also wondered why the movie seems to be a fan of sex, sex, and sex. Somehow, it comes off as advocating the fact that sex will make your life marvelous and wonderful. This idea (unintentionally conveyed, I'm sure...) just does not work well with the subsequently presented messages.

However, the movie is well acted, well directed, and well executed. It was a visual treat seeing black and white and color together in a composition, each scene orchestrated so artfully, especially seeing works of art I don't normally appreciate as much in our "colorful" world. Throughout the movie, I was kept entertained by the constant flow of food for thought that I tried to digest continuously, even when the plot itself slowed down a little (but not much). Maybe flow isn't the right word. Maybe flood is better. This movie is just rich with underlying meaning -- but it's not hidden under too many layers. You don't have to think too hard, but you get a lot to think about, if you know what I mean. ;-) And I do love a movie that presents multiple ideas. In light of the recent Clinton affair and demand for "family values," it is interesting to see what this movie has to say. Generally it takes a backseat to individuality and creativity. Another idea: why do we watch television? Does it make our world better? Does it make us believe it is better? An interesting scene occurs when David turns up the volume of the TV when his mother is heard fighting on the phone. Undoubtedly the subtext that most people will likely catch on to is the movie's conviction that sticking to one set of rules is folly, that change is necessary and good. This statement of itself can also be applied to several different ideas. Pleasantville before change had occured was peaceful, polite, picturesque, dull, and pallid; Pleasantville after the change is colorful, riotous, refulgent, dangerous. These are like two extreme ends of a view: a society where the people has no voice is oppressive, but there is always the danger when people become too outspoken riots occur (except here it is brought on by the conservative side). At first, David is absolutely conservative when he tells Bill Johnson (Jeff Daniels) that "sometimes you just gotta do your job"; and Jennifer is the extreme radical who recklessly endangers the universe. By the end of the movie the two seem to balance each other out and reach a middle-of-the-road, moderate consensus. The book-burning strongly reminded me of Holocaust in WWII and the communist revolutions in Russia and China. A parallel can also be drawn, if one wishes, between the American Revolution and the insubordinate "coloreds." And let's not even mention Ku Klux Klan and the civil rights movement of the 60s. Not a political or theological person? Romanticists will be satisfied that another idea that is presented is that human beings cannot live without love or emotion (or sex ). It is not wrong to have feelings, it is wrong to ignore these feelings and hide who you really are inside. One might also derive the conclusion that with knowledge comes worries and sadness; or the very comforting thought that life "is not supposed to be anything." Don't harbor any unrealistic expectations: be who you are and embrace your challenges. Allusions are abundant in this movie (and some might very well be of my own imagination): the courtroom scene reminded me of "To Kill a Mockingbird," with the "colored people" sitting on the second floor. The apparent allusion to the bible is of course the apple (as so conveniently pointed out by the old man's arrow and circle); and think what you may of the choices of books: D.H. Lawrence, "Catcher in the Rye," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," and "Moby Dick." And that tangled mess of a paragraph consists of my thoughts after just one viewing of the movie and not really analyzing at all.

On the whole, it's a very easy pill to swallow. And pleasant, too.

"You can't stop something that's inside you."

Rating: B+ (First viewing, 10/23/98)