Review: Pleasantville- The Pleasant Enlightment

Plot: David is a social outcast obsessed with a 50s TV sitcom called Pleasantville to avoid problems with reality. His sister Jennifer is a shallow teenage girl obsessed with boys who doesn’t get along with her brother at all. When their single mother was away one night, the two had a fight over TV and broke the remote. Mysterious TV repairman appeared to fix their remote but to only transport them into the fictional Pleasantville. David attempted to reason with the repairman but it was futile, leading to David and Jennifer pretending to be Bud and Mary from the TV show.

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Everything was “perfect” in the town:

  • Everyone eats the unhealthy (albeit delicious) food.
  • Geography class consist of the street names in the town.
  • Basketball shots always goes through the hoops.
  • Books are all blank.
  • Sex is a concept unknown to even the adults in the town.
  • Firemen only knows how to rescue kittens on trees (David taught them how to stop a fire).
  • It never rains.

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The black and white town slowly transformed into colour for those who have experienced strong emotion or transcendence. Jennifer also received transformation by reading her first book and wearing glasses. As colours were emerging, the town became divided on the basis of “normies” and “coloured”. Soon the town initiated regulations to control the coloured people and the people from gaining colours, such as banning people from visiting the library, curfews and segregations.

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Eventually, the soda shop owner, Mr. Johnson discovered painting and rebelled with David, leading to the destruction of the soda shop. But their rebellion didn’t stop there, they painted a colourful mural depicting the world outside of Pleasantville, leading to their arrest and subsequent trial. Their performance during the trial evoked many strong emotions and eventually the whole town became coloured. (Spoiler:  Jennifer decided to stay in the town to pursue higher education while David learned to appreciate the real world and exited Pleasantville.)

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Haven’t we all tried to escape from reality in various way? Reality is harsh indeed, this is the same reason many people turned to live in the anti-life fantasy of collectivism. Pleasantville is the symbol of a “social democracy”, everyone has a false sense of security and freedom, in exchange they had to conform by making decisions based on how other people might react to them. David dreamed of living in such a place until he physically was transported inside Pleasantville that he realised how authoritarian it really is. Jennifer on the other hand was already living in this condition in the real world, so she had to go through a personal journey to discover her individualism.

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The film utilised the new special technique of desaturation to selectively de-colourise the film. Much like learning about freedom, it is a long and hard journey. As the characters discovered aesthetics (colour), metaphysics (places outside of their town), epistemology (reading books) and ethics (pursuing one’s interest), people got their strength to say no to the mind numbing censorship and stagnation.

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Although the film was released in 1998, its underlying message is becoming increasingly relevant to our world today. We see the effect of collectivism in different forms similar to the ones displayed in the film:

  • The blissfully ignorant naivety of people living in relative comfort in Western societies.
  • The departure of realism in artwork to ugly postmodernism (competing to see who can produce the most useless, distasteful and ugliest “art”)
  • Putting people into stereotypical boxes and segregating them
  • Censorship of knowledge considered as “offensive” or “disruptive” to the “solidarity” of the society/ demanding for a magical kumbaya (as known as coercion) to make the world a better place.
  • Indulgence in vanity despite having nothing of value.

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Pleasantville should serve as a warning to people instead of a prophecy. But like The Wizard of Oz and Altas Shrugged, it is not too late to change ourselves and our world.

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