The residents of the town Pleasantville are within a TV show called Pleasantville, which our two protagonists, David and Jennifer, find themselves thrown into. A town & TV show which is of 50’s attitudes, whereas our protags are from the 2000s (it seems.)
Thus the town acts as a place of temporal-stasis, a pure-linearity, a linearity which is temporal and spatial, as its main street curves in a loop onto itself. Only that which has been written of the show can happen: A basketball will always go through the hoop, things are done in order, etc. etc. Yet once our two protags are thrown into the town, they act as malicious agents, though not on purpose, anything they alter brings consequences, a quasi-chaos theory within a smaller universe (the town of Pleasantville).
The subtle changes to the Universe remove the ‘written’ characters from their existential script, the one in which they meaning. Once the characters, acting as extras to the universe, NPCs if you will, realise they can do things outside of the written order, their world begins to deconstruct in both negative and positive ways. The sexually repressive attitudes of the 50’s: handholding, kissing at ‘Lover’s Lake’ etc. are cast aside for full-blown MTV-style lovin’, in fact this sparks a conersation in which Jennifer, who’s in her early 20’s, has to explain what sex is to her 50’s mother, the style begins to evolve into a Greaser care-free style, and that which becomes altered in the ‘meant-to-be-black-and-white world’ begins to appear in colour. Yet, certain characters who realise that they can act off script begin to question the ‘point’ of their existence, for if the chef at the diner can put the lettuce on the burgers before the cheese then his entire world is altered, he begins to question. The questioning acts in certain ways in accordance with Artificially Intelligent learning, exponential growth of knowledge: The chef realises he can place lettuce before cheese, and quickly learns he could go just not make a burger at all, or even not go to work. Thus the protagonists act as agents within a linearity, both wielding the possibility to knock existent-zombies from their unconscious statis.
Chef: What’s the point bud?
David: You make hamburgers, that is the point.
Chef: It’s always the same…
David: Look, you can’t always like what you do, sometimes you just gotta do it because it’s your job, and even if you don’t like it you just gotta do it anyway.
David:…I think that you should try not to think about that anymore.
(Note: Some filler from the conversation is cut here.)
Anything authentic, which in this case is that which is not-of-this-world begins to take on actual colour, as opposed to the black-and-white 50’s TV aesthetic. These acts of complete authenticy eventually begin to, in small ways, destroy the world, causing a tree to self-combust into flame: flame, which, as something not used within the actual TV program should not…be. Leaving the firefighters in awe of flame and actually using their equipment for its use for once, in Heideggerian terms this act is for the firefighters to take that which is present-at-hand and utilize it, transform it, into the ready-to-hand. This acts leads the in-Pleasantville characters to question the ‘outside’ of Pleasantville. The books which were previously blank, begin to become filled in via the protags memory of them, thus the characters begin to read that which they never should have, they begin to shed their black and white shells and become conscious of the metaphysical colour. Many of them become, especially the older generation of extreme 50’s conservative values, become self-conscious of the colour; self-conscious of their enjoyment of the culturally transgressive, and as such, paint themselves back to black and white, to cover their new found ‘cultural-outside’.
One scene in particular, though a little romantic, is incredible in terms of a metaphor for political and cultural escape. The chef is given a book on Art to flick through, as he enjoys painting, the process of him viewing beautiful works of Art is literally euphoric. Yet, he still cannot see ‘colours’.
Chef: “Where am I gonna see colours like that. Must be awful lucky to see colours like that, I bet they don’t know how lucky they are.”
An erudite comment on existentialism and the perspective of the artist.
Among other things, the film has a reasonably transparent criticism of the patriachy, in which William H Macy’s archtypal father character, continues to ask where his dinner is when he arrives home from work. It’s not on the table, as his wife is out expressing herself, enjoying her own life outside of the linear. He explains this to his group of pals:
“There was no dinner.”
“If George here doesn’t get his dinner, anyone of us could be next.”
A questioning of values begins from the older conservative townsfolk. They believe it will just “Go away.”, yet of course those who’ve experience the colour do not want it to go away, there begins a questioning, largely from the women at first, starting with George’s wife, who realises she can do what she wants.
And so begins the films comment of black segregation in America in the 50’s. People begin to display ‘No Coloureds’ signs and talk of seperating the pleasant (black and white) from the unpleasant (coloureds), the comment itself is a little weak. And so begins violence towards ‘coloureds’, violence, which up until now has not been part of their world, they are as of yet, to see blood.
The film roughly follows the linear history of black segregation politics in American, finishing in David and Chef painting a large mural on the side of the Police Office, showing the rise of the colour and the change.
It is a film of political, cultural and existential apathy. Directing its artistic sensibilities towards the absurd nature of those who find themselves in multiple forms of stasis, towards those who are stuck.