Pleasantville Film Review Essays

Pleasantville Analysis Of Film Techniques Against The Theme Of "Change"

How are we made aware of the filmmaker's attitude towards change? Refer to three specific episodes from the film. (excl. concl. stages)In Pleasantville, the filmmaker, Gary Ross, conveys his attitude towards change through the characters of David and Jennifer who are transported into the 1950s sitcom "Pleasantville". He doesn't necessarily demonstrate change to bear a positive result; rather, he addresses that change is essential to the development of society and self and that it is important to understand and accept change. Ross contrasts the ignorance and mindlessness of the unchanged people of Pleasantville with the hunger for knowledge that the changed (or coloured) people possess, communicating to the viewer that change and knowledge go hand in hand.

Ross also portrays and somewhat satirises an unchanged society's people to be ruled by their own mindlessness, and in their epiphany, translates to the viewer that change can come from within or from outside one's self but is different for everyone. Dark overtones are used to parallel the Pleasantville to a society under fascist rule. However, in the end, change will always affect everyone and this new understanding will help to overcome the changes encountered in the future that may seek to detriment the society. The three scenes which will be discussed in relation to the filmmaker's attitude towards change are the breakfast scene, the classroom scene, and the rain scene.

The breakfast scene is the scene where Betty is piling food on other food and topping it off with maple syrup for Mary-Sue's breakfast. The audience is overwhelmed at the ridiculous amount of food that is being placed on her plate, which is shown by extreme close-up and cuts of the shots of every time another food item is slapped onto the plate, and is accompanied by an upbeat music. The audience knows that the person under the guise of Mary-Sue is Jennifer, stereotypical of an American teenage girl, so she is naturally concerned about her weight and watches the food she eats. The scene is ironic because such a big breakfast is the exact type of meal she would be trying to avoid.

The scene is also hyperbolic as even in the 1950s, it would be considered ridiculous to eat such a variety of foods for just one morning meal. The 'jumpy' non-diegetic music timed with the quick shots of food being placed on the plate, and the jump-cuts showing the reactions of a horrified Jennifer when seeing all this food, assist create situational humour. The reason that all these techniques have been...

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Pleasantville (1998) Essay

February 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:

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.

Race:

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.

Personal Freedom:

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.

(976 words)

Reference: Wikipedia: Pleasantville

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