Author: Gary Ross
Director: Gary Ross
This is the film about two modern-day kids being transported into the black-and-white world a 1950’s sitcom and slowly infecting that world with modern free thinking, thereby colorizing it. I watched this for the first time on DVD; my impression of the film changed considerably when I watched the commentary tracks (the DVD has two, one by the director, and one by Randy Newman, composer of the movie’s score). My initial impression was that Gary Ross doesn’t know the difference between reality and television — he seems to think he’s being clever satirizing a 1950’s sitcom world (as if a 1950’s sitcome isn’t a satire in itself). Ross treats Pleasantville (the fiction TV series and town) as though it’s real, and by mocking the archaic values of that world he can emphasis the superiority of today’s open-minded world. Listening to the comentary, however, I realized there’s a generation gap at work: I didn’t live in the Fifties (or even the Sixties); what I know of the Fifties I know from television shows exactly like Pleasantville. The television of the Fifties is so hokey that I never dreamed that the world was ever really like that. Ross, however, makes it sound as though that world really did exist. If that’s the case (I’m not convinced), then that changes how I feel about the film, because that world does sound repressive, and I agree with the film’s “let’s overthrow Eden” conclusion (though Ross goes to the extreme of throwing out the baby with the bathwater). If the real-life Fifties weren’t like that, then the movie’s nothing more than a cheap gag trying to sound profound (since it’s illogical to draw conclusions while comparing apples and oranges).
That said, this is a film worth seeing. I was surprised at the depth of the film — and I wondered why I’d never heard anyone discuss that aspect. Reviews and comments from fans always talked about the impressive special effects and unusual premise. But the movie’s quite complex, with themes of sexual liberation, racism, feminism, existentialism, and anti-Communism. Draw your own conclusions as this is a movie that forces you to think. There were aspects I really liked — such as the “No Coloreds” signs popping up when half the town residents were black-and-white and the other half Technicolor — and aspects I profoundly didn’t like, such as the sitcom Mom discovering her independence via an extra-marital affair. Overall I liked the movie’s final moment, which basically said that we shouldn’t hold our lives up to the expectations of others (such as assuming that our dream should be the “American Dream” of a husband and wife, 2.1 kids, a dog, and a house with a white picket fence).
The theme of Pleasantville has been done before, and better, in films like David Lynch’s far more disturbing Blue Velvet. This is a gimmick film; well done, but ultimately it can’t escape the limitations of its premise.