From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Pleasantville is an Academy Award-nominated 1998 film written, produced, and directed by Gary Ross. Released by New Line Cinema in Canada on September 17, and stars Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, and Jeff Daniels.
Though one of the most notable aspects of Pleasantville is its extreme contrast - particularly its rich contrast between color and black and white - the symbolism in the film should be noted as well. The most obvious symbolism exists in the "colored" versus those who are still black and white. As a reference to the racism in the 1950s and 1960s in United States, there is a sign posted in a shop window at one point declaring "No Coloreds Allowed", which mimics those in stores that refused service to Black Americans during the aforementioned era.
Towards the end of the film, the courtroom scene is a throwback to the To Kill a Mockingbird movie, where Atticus Finch makes his famous closing argument. As in To Kill a Mockingbird, the courtroom is divided by color. Sitting in the second floor balcony seats are the "colored", where Black Americans sat in To Kill a Mockingbird, and the black and white people (White Americans) are sitting on the floor seats of the courtroom. Bud, like Atticus Finch, also makes an impassioned speech to the judge and jury about the unfairness of the trial at hand; however, Bud is not the lawyer but instead one of the accused.
Gary Ross was quoted about the symbolism of the film, saying, "This movie is about the fact that personal repression gives rise to larger political oppression...That when we're afraid of certain things in ourselves or we're afraid of change, we project those fears on to other things, and a lot of very ugly social situations can develop".
Another symbolic aspect to consider is the assumed connection between colors and change. For example, most of the time when a black and white person had sex or experienced a moment of pleasure, they obtained color. However, Jennifer has sex profusely but only gained color when she eschewed sex in favor of reading a book by D.H. Lawrence. Bud gains color only after he defends Betty from a band of thugs and experiences true anger and defense. The theory is that when the person experiences change in themselves or undergoes personal growth, they change into color.
Symbolism can also be found in a scene in front of the library, where books are being burned, as the townspeople think they are partly responsible for the development of color. This book burning can be compared to those burnings by the Nazis during the Holocaust or the burnings by Mao during the Cultural Revolution.
Another symbolic scene is with David and Margaret in the park. She shows him blueberries and then proceeds to pick an apple off a tree and encourage David/Bud to eat it. This is an allusion to the Adam and Eve forbidden fruit story in the Bible.
Released: October 13 1998
Label: Sony Music
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