Pleasantville Film Analysis

1 January 2017

The film Pleasantville directed by Gary Ross is about two modern teenagers, David and his sister Jennifer, somehow being transported into the television, ending up in Pleasantville, a 1950s black and white sitcom. The two are trapped as Bud and Mary Sue in a radically different dimension and make some huge changes to the bland lives of the citizens of Pleasantville, with the use of the director’s cinematic techniques. Ross cleverly uses cinematic techniques such as colour, mise-en-scene, camera shots, costumes, music and dialogue to effectively tell the story.

The town of Pleasantville is dull and this is reflected by its lack of colour – the town is completely black and white. Black and white life is simple and uncomplicated. However Bud and Mary Sue soon begin to awaken the town of Pleasantville, especially Betty, Mr. Johnson and Skip changing it from sedate to a lively environment. Not only do the town people change, they become liberated. Colour is used impressively throughout the film and plays a huge role as a cinematic device representing liberation and change. This is highlighted in the Lovers Lane scene when Bud and Margaret are driving to their first date.

This striking scene depicted coloured pink blossoms falling from the trees onto their black and white skin. The juxtaposition between black and white here is also significant because it shows how things are changing. The black and white and color images blend pretty seamlessly. The viewer notices how this couple wonders at the petals instead of noticing the surroundings with strong elements of conservatism. Another example where the ‘normality’ in ‘‘Pleasantville’’ has changed is when the colour red is used for ‘romance. This is seen on Mary-Sue’s first date with Skip, where afterwards Skip sees a ‘red’ rose. Ross used the symbolism of red to indicate changes in the residents’ attitudes to love, passion and lust. These passions were considered to be absent from the idealized 1950s. The first “full color” scene in Pleasantville (when the local kids are gathering in a park) is stunning and shows how Ross, as director used colour to ‘engage socially’ all the characters in the film. Everyone in Pleasantville had a routine which was strictly followed day to day.

Everyone wore the same style of clothes. Even the houses were the same, with picket fences adorning houses and everyone having the same car. Ross uses mise-en-scene to contrast idealistic, conservative American views and reality. He highlights the fact that the people of Pleasantville like everything to be kept to a routine. Their world has little time for change and is a complete contrast to realistic America. Fifties clothing was conservative. Men wore gray flannel suits and women wore dresses with pinched in waists and high heels. Gender roles were strongly held.

Families worked together, played together and vacationed together at family themed entertainment. Indecent language was not used frequently. The biggest issue with reference to language used was the frequent use of “God” as an exclamation or declaration. Camera shots and angles are also used by Ross as a cinematic technique. The lack of engagement in class of a close up of David’s face is an example. David’s face show the expression of boredom and tiredness, as he listens to the teacher talk. Another example of a camera technique is the close up of David asking out a girl.

It shows the strength and courage David has in him, but a long shot shows us that the girl is hundreds of meters away. This conveys that David is too socially inept to ask a girl out or even talk to one. Camera angles and shots are not always what the audience perceives. Ross highlights liberation through the styles of music throughout the film, notably on the jukebox in the soda shop. In the beginning of the movie, the music that is listened to is ‘Bee-Bop’. This is a happy, yet unimaginative form of music. Later in the film, the people progress to blues, jazz and to rock and roll.

Music stereotypes people because it is a way that people use to express themselves. Therefore, music is very significant in the film, as it symbolises freedom and liberation. . Sound, visual effects, camera techniques, dialogue and costuming are all film techniques that contribute to the broad range of ways in which a film is made. ”Pleasantville” used the film techniques of colour as part of the plot. Along with the other techniques mentioned above this film portrayed a black and white world that began to slowly wake up to outside influences.

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