Things to think about in Pleasantville

In this film the safe and cheerful 1950s TV sitcom “Pleasantville” is revived in the 1990s for a loyal cable audience. One devoted fan is shy suburban teen David Wagner (Tobey Maguire), who has an almost obsessive interest in the series. He is not happy in his own world – not at school and not at home. He lives with his divorced mother (Jane Kaczmarek), and often fights with his popular and rebellious twin sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon). She wants to watch MTV just when a Pleasantville marathon is about to begin. They struggle over the remote control, and it breaks. A strange TV repairman (Don Knotts) supplies their new remote, a potent high-tech device which zaps David and Jennifer inside Pleasantville, where their new sitcom parents are businessman George Parker (William H. Macy) and wife Betty (Joan Allen). As “Bud” and “Mary Sue,” the teens take up residence in a black-and-white suburbia where sex does not exist and the temperature is always 72 degrees. Life is always pleasant, books have no words, bathrooms have no toilets, married couples sleep in twin beds, the high school basketball team always wins, and nobody ever questions “The Good Life.” David revels in Pleasantville’s sanitised peaceful world. He fits right in, but Jennifer’s 1990s attitude upsets the blandness balance, painting parts of Pleasantville in living colour. Repressed desires surface, cracks appear in the 1950s lifestyles, and the Pleasantville citizens find their lives changing in strange but wonderful ways. It is liberating – but the film shows us that there’s also a darker side and that is also explored in the film.

Things to think about:

  • Pleasantville is a film of contrasts. Study the thematic contrasts that exist as well as the production techniques used to communicate contrast.
  • TV Quote: “I know what I’d feel like if my TV broke; like I’d lost a friend.”-TV ‘repairman’

     

  • Look at the theme of destiny–everything is scripted, has a place. What about our lives?

     

  • Religious imagery: garden of Eden, offering of apple, rainbow over Pleasantville, trial of Bud, etc

     

  • Importance of books. Two books that were highlighted prominently in the film are Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye; going to the library is ‘in’!

     

  • Censorship: “It seems to me we must separate out the things that are unpleasant from the things that are pleasant.”- mayor of Pleasantville. Personal expression and differences become unacceptable. Anything wandering from what is known is feared.

     

  • Racism: “No coloureds.”-sign in Pleasantville window “Coloureds” are people who have become enlightened or who become passionate; they are rejected from mainstream Pleasantville. Think about our own world as differences are not tolerated all over the globe: World War II history.

     

  • Review the “8 Rules of Pleasantville.” See how they apply to certain institutions in our own world-church, schools, homes.

     

  • Rule #8 is worth focussing on: “Non-change-ist view of history is to be taught in all courses in the curriculum.” Does our own education have a non-change-ist attitude?

     

  • Take a closer look at the mural painted by Bill-analyse certain other symbols that represent freedom (he uses books, wings, etc.)

     

  • Scene at the end of the movie of a sign that says SPRINGFIELD 12 is significant on a number of levels: first, it gives us an indication that people in Pleasantville now have a notion that a world exists beyond its own borders; secondly, Springfield is the setting of the real sit-com, Father Knows Best; third, Springfield is also the setting of The Simpsons‘ which is a parody of 50s family perfection, which, of course, never really existed as Pleasantville makes clear.

     

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