James R

Just this guy, you know?
Staff member
OK, so I'm late to this party. I just watched the film Pleasantville (1998) for the first time last night.

Briefly, the plot is that late-teens brother and sister are transported into a 1950s (specifically 1958) black and white sitcom world by a mysterious TV repairman. From the time they arrive, they upset the conservative lifestyle and value system that exists there. By some kind of magic, as the people there change (including themselves), they go from being in black and white into full colour, but not all at once - different individuals make their own transitions to colour as they have personal epiphanies. The world itself gradually becomes colourised, bit by bit.

This film is deep! Different parts of it can be read a whole lot of ways. For example, parts of it can be read as an allegory of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden (with the repairman playing the role of God). At another level, it is a critique of conservatism and an endorsement of liberalism. On yet another level, it has a message which says don't worry so much about how people (including yourself) expect your life to be; life doesn't come with a plan or guaranteed outcomes. On another level, it is a critique of racism.

The use of colour is fantastic, particular in contrast to the majority black and white of most scenes. Apparently, at the time it was made this film had the most visual effects of any film, because virtually every scene had to be partially colourised and partially black and white (the entire thing was shot in colour, and then individual elements were de-colourised). At one point in the film, a book of prints of famous paintings is revealed, and you see them anew in a different light in contrast with the largely black-and-white world of the film.

The film also makes references to other films. It refers obliquely to To Kill a Mockingbird, especially in a courtroom scene in which the "coloureds" (literally, the people who are now in colour rather than black and white) are relegated to standing in the upper level of the courthouse, while the black-and-whites sit below. Two novels that are featured prominently are something by D.H. Lawrence (probably Lady Chatterley's Lover) and Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, both of which were widely banned in the United States for a long time.

Reviews of the film were mixed at the time. Interestingly, it was released in the same year that The Truman Show came out, and so the two films, although different in many respects, were inevitably compared and contrasted.

I would be interested to know which side of the political fence the various reviewers were on. The reviews were polarised, with many viewers giving it either very high scores or very low ones. My guess would be that conservatives didn't much like this film, while liberals would, by and large, embrace it. The film was quite heavily criticised by conservative Christians for its apparent endorsement of under-age sex, and of sexual freedom more generally. A lot of comments on IMDB seem to miss the point of the film, viewing it superficially rather than appreciating its multiple layers.

For me, it left quite an impression. I love films that leave you thinking and pondering and reflecting. I love films that work on multiple levels.

Have you seen it? What did you think?
OK, I just watched it. Yes, I liked it very much! I can see how what I think of as today's conservatives would probably not like it as much.

I hate to call what is going on today as "conservative" though. It's reactionary. The Luddites wouldn't like this film I think it's fair to say. :)

I thought it was very well done, using color metaphorically. I don't remember when the film came out. I think it would probably have an even greater impact if it came out in today's environment.
This is one of my favorite movies of all time. It actually made me tear up several times when I first saw it. It is a poignant allegory on losing touch with what really matters in life and finding our way back again. Compare and contrast to the film "Chocolat" as a redemptive narrative of rediscovered joy in life and a return of an overconservative community to liberal and "liberating" values.
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