True colors come alive in ‘Pleasantville’

By The Columbia Chronicle

Jill LoPresti

Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

“In Pleasantville, USA, there has never been any rain. There has never been hatred, aggression or tears. In Pleasantville, USA, there has never been a passionate kiss. There has never been a flat tire, a red rose or a work of art. Until now.”

In Gary Ross’ “Pleasantville,” a suburban utopia trapped in a 50s “Leave it to Beaver” sitcom unfolds and blossoms literally from black-and-white to Technicolor in a story that poses fascinating questions about contemporary life.

Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon star as twin siblings from a broken family who get sucked from their chaotic 90s lives into Pleasantville—a town in an”absurd state of perfection”— and accidentally bring about a wave of reality that spreads like the plague. A television repairman, played by Don Knotts, uses an odd remote control to transport David and Jennifer into this 50s utopia where they become Mary Sue and Bud.

Mary Sue, played by Witherspoon, introduces sex to Pleasantville and the town goes nuts! Girls and boys begin to cruise out to Lovers Lane and spend countless hours in the front seat, the back seat, on the grass, in the trees or wherever they can to experience this new phenomenon of sexual intercourse.

Mary Sue also introduces sexual self-gratification to her mother, Mrs. Betty Parker (a picture-perfect housewife played by Joan Allen), sending her off on an “exciting and emotional self-discovery.”

Color begins to flush the lips of those kissed, tongues fill with pink and eyes fall into a sea of blue. Finally flesh takes life and the people of Pleasantville become real.

Bud, played by Tobey Maguire, explains what exists outside of Pleasantville and introduces the town to a world of reading and exploring. The blank pages inside books begin to fill and overflow with pictures and stories, provoking more questions. How can you know what beauty is if you don’t know its opposite? How do you know you really love if you’re never in danger of losing it?

As this fictional TV town takes its only chance to come to life, the characters emerge one by one from their lives of predictability into a kaleidoscope new world of emotion.

Mr. Johnson (Jeff Daniels), works as a “mild mannered soda jerk” who begins to realize that every day is routine. Without Bud coming into work and opening the blinds, it would never get done. A breeze of spontaneity and change flows into his mind and Mr. Johnson starts to feel.

The most beautiful blossom of characters occurs between him and Mrs. Betty Parker when he begins painting and finds such passion that he feels the need to paint everything around him, including a portrait of Mrs. Parker in the nude that causes a riot among the townspeople.

The climax of the movie occurs when Mrs. Parker cries because she needs to hide her colors from her husband, George (William H. Macy), who was used to a home-cooked meal every night and a “honey I’m home” kiss on the cheek greeting. George does not approve of the change sweeping over Pleasantville. When Mrs. Parker cries and the colors of her skin start to show through the black and white makeup, Mr. Johnson stops her from hiding what’s real in one of the most dramatic scenes unveiling reality.

Regardless of the majestic changes flowing over Pleasantville, some townspeople want it to stay “pleasant” and will do anything to keep it that way. They begin to burn books, throw stones and curse. Their anger betrays them, however, as they find that they too are feeling and becoming colorful.

Big Bob, the town’s most politically powerful character, played by the late J.T. Walsh, takes Mary Sue and Bud to court for abusing the constitution that had been created to eliminate any more change.

Bud’s convincing testimony in court makes Big Bob so angry that he comes into color. Soon, the entire town of Pleasantville is in full bloom and people begin to realize what life is really all about. When is the last time you actually sat back and thought about how wonderful color is? When is the last time you really noticed how beautiful it is to see a wave of rose blush across someone’s cheek because of the words you spoke? The appreciation of the simplest things is what escapes our minds so easily—like the fact that we can be so close to another person and share ourselves with them. We forget the significance of our ability to create and use our talents to make others smile, laugh, or even rebel. It is truly remarkable to be able to affect someone so much that we cause hatred and lust. All these thoughts stirred in my mind after viewing one of the most refreshing films I’ve seen in a very long time. A movie that provoked me to sit back and evaluate my life and our world of sensuous pleasures, diverse desires, and “frightening” unpredictability.

“Pleasantville” will be released nationwide in theaters on October 23, 1998.