Quick Review: Pleasantville

I’ve seen parts of this 1998 film before but I watched it again recently to see if I want to use it in a class on suburbs. Two modern-day teenagers end up back as part of a family in a 1950s suburban world and they start bringing color to this less-than-idyllic community. Some quick thoughts about the film:

1.The film is a critique of suburban life, particularly that of 1950s television shows like Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It To Beaver. The critiques are typical: suburban residents are repressed (more on this in a moment), women are in a subservient role, and the people are conformists who just like things to stay the way they are.

2. Sexual repression is the major theme throughout. The teenage female protagonist quickly charms another high school boy and sets off big changes at Lovers Lane. The mother of the family explores her feelings, the manager of the diner does as well, and the whole town generally goes crazy. While there are other themes, like conformity, patriarchy, and being closed off from the outside world, they are not explored as much.

3. The whole black and white vs. color scheme is a clever tool. The two teenagers who end up back in the 1950s find a black & white world but as this world opens up, things turn to colors. It is visually interesting to watch this contrast throughout the film.

4. The sexual repression theme is somewhat heavy-handed by the end though there is a twist: the teenage female protagonist who first introduces sex to the community finds out that there is a value in books and ideas. While the rest of the teenagers want to go nuts, she pulls back and decides there are more important things for her to explore.

5. In the ending scenes, the characters ask what they are supposed to be doing in life and the response is “we don’t know.” While on one hand this is a refutation of the 1950s world where “we just do things because that is how they are done,” this is not very satisfying: the better alternative is left unexplained.

An interesting film with some surprises. I wish it could have explored some other suburban issues beyond sex and conformity…but perhaps that is a lot to ask.

(This film was generally well-received by critics: it is 85% fresh, 70 fresh out of 82 reviews, at RottenTomatoes.com.)

One thought on “Quick Review: Pleasantville

  1. Pingback: Suburban voters, voting and acting out of fear | Legally Sociable

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