Retro Review & Recap of: Pleasantville
Main Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Toby Maguire, William H.Macy, Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels , Paul Walker, and Don Knotts
Seen the movie? Skip the recap and head to the review.
In honor of Banned Books Week Retro Review takes a break from reviewing the small screen and ventures out to an oldie, but a goodie, from the silver screen. And by oldie I mean from about 10 years ago…Ah, 1998. How I miss you so. The choker necklaces, valley girl speak, and MTV being popular (Oh my Gawd, like, TRL is on!). Ok, not really, but Reese’s character, Jen, is only a walking 90’s cliche for the first ten minutes of the movie. After the differences between her and her brother are established she and Toby’s character, David, are zapped into a 1950’s television show Pleasantville as it’s two main characters Bud and Mary Sue.
Pleasantville is a fictional town set in the 50’s where nothing bad ever happens, mainly because fire doesn’t burn anything, the roads don’t lead anywhere but back to where they started, everyone always makes a basket in gym class, and the books are blank so no one knows any other way exists.
Don Knotts’s character, “TV Repair Man”, sent David and Jen into the world of Pleasantville (and black & white TV) thinking of it as a way to reward David for being such a huge fan. Unfortunately for TV Repair Man, David and Jen’s arrival shakes up the town of Pleasantville in more ways than one. Their inability to play along with the mundane life of the people of Pleasantville ends up being a catalyst for major changes in the lives of Pleasantville’s residents.
Once Jen introduces sex and David introduces the concept of changing your routine, thinking for yourself and going for your dreams (he sure aims high without even trying, doesn’t he?) the people of Pleasantville who’ve experienced something new start experiencing the world in technicolor.
In addition to color sprouting up around town, the world of Pleasantville goes from always pleasant, to sometimes not so good. When the town basketball team looses their first game ever the initial reaction of the town is that change feels wrong, but hey you can’t win ‘em all – right? Just when you think the town will embrace change after all the stereo typical big bad walks in and declares that change should be avoided.
While most of the grownups start to panic in all they’ve lost, totally missing what can be gained, the teenagers start to explore their new freedoms and abilities. The empty pages of books begin to fill with print and the kids are eager to learn.
As more and more people start to change, those that haven’t been affected become even more eager to return things to how they were before. The fathers of Pleasantville see the changes of their children and wives as an attack on the moral values of the town.
“If you love a place you can’t just sit back
and watch this kind of thing happen.”
The town soon becomes segregated and rioting begins after a nude painting on the window of the soda shop is smashed, the shop destroyed and piles of books burned. People who are “colored” are harassed on the street and a “Pleasantville Code of Conduct” is put in place.
David (as Bud) and Mr. Johnson paint a mural (see above) on a brick wall, depicting Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s “I Have a Dream” speech. In the mural winged books rise from piles of burning literature, men and women are dancing together to rock music, and other things relevant to the changes in their world are depicted. David and Mr. Johnson are jailed and a trial is held in the town courthouse with everyone present. The events of the trial lead to the entire town becoming colored and the people of Pleasantville are introduced to the world that exists outside of their own.
So what in the world does Pleasantville have to do with banned books week? A major theme of Pleasantville is that the town seems like the perfect place to live, but is actually a world devoid of the freedom of choice and expression. The town is averse to change and the citizens unable to cope when change is put upon them. Pleasantville doesn’t change because they are introduced to sex and the outside world, the people of Pleasantville begin to change when they are given autonomy!
Director Gary Ross states, “This movie is about the fact that personal repression gives rise to larger political oppression…That when we’re afraid of certain things in ourselves or we’re afraid of change, we project those fears on to other things, and a lot of very ugly social situations can develop”
Free people read freely.
Celebrate Banned Books Week, September 26 to October 3, with a visit to your local library or bookstore. For more information, visit http://www.ala.org/bbooks.