Thursday, September 13, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "PLEASANTVILLE"

PLEASANTVILLE (1998)

Director/Screenplay: Gary Ross






As the nation heads towards another election shortly, the national debate has become strikingly philosophical. Phrases like "Family Values" and "The Role of Government" always come up, never has the divide, in my memory, been so drastic. It's at times like these, that I find myself thinking about Gary Ross's film "Pleasantville". Ross has one of the best resumes for someone with so few credits. Ross became known for co-writing the film "Big", which earned him an Oscar nomination, as did his second screenplay "Dave". Recently, he made the sports biopic, "Seabiscuit", the animated film "The Tale of Despereaux" and now, he's made "The Hunger Games". An interesting parallel is showing up in his films, as his films now seem to be about comparing one's lives with something else. In "Big", Tom Hanks is a 13-year-old kid, who suddenly gets placed in the body of a 30-year-old man. "Dave" involves another switch, as a normal guy who looks like the President, suddenly finds himself in the Oval Office, pretending to be him. In "The Hunger Games", there's an undercurrent about how the past is still influencing the future, and when that future involves a possible quick end to your life, due to a tradition-laden fight to the death, the future and the past are ever-present. I mentioned the political spectrum in the beginning, because once again, the Republicans have nominated a candidate, who's values seem to be those of what's been a glorified era of the fifties, usually defined by family sitcoms, and a popular notion among the GOP especially the ultra-conservative/religious wing, that since then, the world has been going downhill. In "Pleasantville", Gary Ross's best and most overlooked film, Ross takes this theory on. Watching “Pleasantville,” again, I realize now just how unique the film actually is. Although the film has many influences, it’s remains truly original. The absurd storyline involves two teenagers from the 1990s, a popular high school girl, Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) and her less social brother David (Tobey Maguire) who is conveniently a classic TV buff, who with the help of a strange TV repairman (Don Knotts) who’s remote control transports the two into the ‘50s TV series “Pleasantville,” which is equitable to “Father Knows Best.” David knows the TV show pretty well, but his sister is slightly less able and/or willing to conform, creating a new pastime at the local lookout point, which originally was just where people went to “hold hands.” Soon afterwards, small subtle bits of color seem to appear in the black and white world. At first it just appears to be the sex, although that turns out not to be the case, as other members of the town seem to have found their own form of epiphanies, like the local ice cream man (Jeff Daniels) realizing that he finds passion in once a year painting his shop for Christmas, or Betty Parker (Joan Allen), Bud and Mary Sue’s mother, (Bud and Mary Sue, are the kids in the sitcom, whose identities David and Jennifer adapt) actually doing anything for herself and not solely helping her husband (William H. Macy, in my favorite role of his). After her daughter teachers her about the joys of self-love, her experimentation causes the front-lawn tree to catch fire, which none of the fireman know how to save because they never had to put fire out before. As the Crayola-like splashes of Technicolor infiltrate the world, the seemingly darker side of what some still wrong-headed people consider the ideal world of the 1950’s start showing it’s light and in some incredibly beautiful and blatantly metaphorical imagery is simply put, some of the best images ever put together onto film. When it was released, the film held the record for the most special effects ever used for a single film, and none of them are wasted. The movie’s parable reveals just how good the world is now compared to back then, but eerily lets us wonder what people will think of this world 50 years from now. It’s a double-edged sword that hides a simple truth that growing up is hard, but all of us should be lucky for just living now, in the present, whenever, wherever that may be, and embrace the slow but steady cultural changes, as progress. Sure, it doesn't resemble the fifties, but then again, peel away the black-and-white, the fifties don't look so good anymore. They even tried to ban rock'n'roll. "Pleasantville" is one of those rare movies that takes it's concept, and explores every possible aspect of it, to it's fullest degree. It's also one of those movies that doesn't make you think deeply to get it's deep message, but it's done so beautifully, that it's actually okay that they aren't subtle. There's no other movie I can think of, that's quite like it. 
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