Pleasantville

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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Nothing is as simple as Black and White.
"There are some places that the road doesn't go in a circle. There are some places where the road keeps going."
David

A deliberately Troperrific 1998 movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Tobey Maguire, who play main characters Jennifer and David, a pair of siblings who -- during an argument over who gets to use the big TV in the living room -- wind up Trapped in TV Land due to a strange TV repairman and a stranger magical remote. Specifically, they wind up in Pleasantville, an old black-and-white show portraying the stereotypical 1950s American suburb (along the lines of Leave It to Beaver or Father Knows Best, but even more idealistic). David is thrilled because it's his favorite show; it is a happy world where nothing bad ever happens (as a contrast to David and Jennifer's unstable home life). Jennifer, being more of a party girl, finds Pleasantville incredibly dull and wants to liven the place up. They both want to get home, and David wants to do so without upsetting the community -- but the remote gets broken and the repairman gets antsy and they're stuck.

Their presence winds up throwing the heavily-idealized world into chaos. As things become less idealized and more like the real world, they begin to show up in color instead of black and white -- people cease to be monochrome whenever they stop staying nice and snug within their boundaries and break out, displaying some inner truth about their character (in other words, they show their True Colors).

The movie is clever and well-written, but also Anvilicious in its parallels, and your enjoyment may depend upon your tolerance for such things. For an oddly similar experience in book form, try The Giver.

Tropes used in Pleasantville include:
  • And Then What?: A more positive example of this trope is the ending. After Pleasantville has turned full Technicolor, George and Betty Parker are sitting in a bench wondering what will happen next. They are clearly nervous as the unknown future has been laid out for them, but at the same time happy and excited for it. Then Bill shows up in George's place with the same expression.

George: So what's gonna happen now?
Betty: I don't know. Do you know what's going to happen now?
George: No, I don't.
Bill: I guess I don't either.

  • Artistic License Sex Ed: Considering her inexperience, Betty makes that tree burst into flames amazingly quickly.
    • Or maybe it's because of her inexperience?
  • Ascended Fanboy: David becomes Bud which he loves at first.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: While the characters on the Sitcom Plesantville are nice at first. Once things start going "Unpleasant", the townspeople that oppose it turn into this.
    • The biggest example is Big Bob. Who stands out because, he really does try to come off as nice, friendly and down to earth. But when he sees signs of Pleasantville changing he tries to put a stop to it, manipulating the fears the monochrome citizens, which in turn cause them to react violently to it. As far as he's concerned he believes he's doing this for the good of Pleasantville. Up until David/Bud goads him, he's never reacted angrily to anyone and that act causes him to finally turn technicolor.
    • Then you have Skip Martin, who starts off as the typical 50s Boy Next Door character. However after Jennifer/Mary Sue introduces him to sex, he goes from star athlete to sex addict. When Jennifer/Mary Sue undergoes character development and drops her previous promiscuous lifestyle in favor of study and college ambition that became the last straw to him. Which causes him later to join the rest of the monochromatic citizens into burning the technicolor books. Skip himself personally trying to take Mary Sue's book to her protest. Unlike Bob, he does seem to get better since he was one of the first after George to turn technicolor in the courtroom, before it eventually spreads to the rest.
    • Whitey. While little was known about Whitey prior to David/Bud's part in changing the status quo, where he gets in a relationship with Margaret, Whitey's love interest; it can be assumed like the rest of the town that he used to be nice. However when we first see Whitey, we see that he is very sinister. Even more so than Big Bob. First confronting David/Bud and insulting/threatening Margaret for being in his words "Colored." Then later sexually harassing Betty with his gang, prompting David/Bud to hit him till he bled red. Afterwards during the beginning of the Riot, he is seen trying to chase down Margaret with his gang, before David/Bud and got her out of it.
  • Bland-Name Product: TVTime for TVLand.
  • Blank Book: The entire library.
  • Blithe Spirit: The entire point of the kids' visit, which winds up changing everything in the town.
  • Brick Joke: David helping put out a fire is a hilarious example. First of all the movie establishes that all the firemen in town ever do is get cats down from trees. Later, due to the Artistic License Sex Ed trope above a tree bursts into flame. David catches wind of it and runs to the nearest fire station. Of course due to its pleasantry fires never happened in Pleasantville and this occurs:

David: Fire! (Confused firemen stare at him.) FIRE!!!! (They still stare.) .....Cat? (They rush to the scene.)
(Later)
Fireman watching the tree burn:: Where's the cat?

  • Character Development: David starts out the film as an introverted loner who thinks of the show as escapism. Halfway through the film, he begins to display more assertive leader traits and earns his color by punching out a thug who was attacking his TV mom. Likewise, Jennifer starts as a shallow, slutty fashionista whose original intent is to shake things up, but when given a fresh start, she realizes the value of education and earns her color by breaking a date to study.
  • The Chew Toy: The rival basketball team. After all, their sole purpose for existing is to lose to the Pleasantville team.
  • Coming of Age Story: When people of all age ranges step outside their formula lifestyle, symbolized by the transition to color. The whole film is an allegory for Character Development and almost chronicles the rise of the teenager, the The Fifties coming of age as a decade if you will.
  • Cut and Paste Suburb
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Betty the housewife after getting the sex talk from her "daughter" Mary Sue/Jennifer.
  • Dead TV Remote Gag: Causes the plot.
  • Deliberately Monochrome

Jennifer: And I still don't see why we're doing this!
David: Because we're supposed to be in school.
Jennifer: We're supposed to be at home, David. We're supposed to be in COLOR!

  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Not that the movie's subtle about its parallels with a cultural revolution. The signs discriminating against non-monochrome people even read "No Coloreds".
    • The scene where Bud and his girlfriend are in Lover's Lane. She tempts him into eating a red apple. Now what biblical story involves eating a certain Forbidden Fruit.
  • Dystopia: How Pleasantville appears to really be.
  • Fantastic Racism: And because you wouldn't be able to figure it out for yourself they actually refer to the newly colorized people as "coloreds".
  • Fisher Kingdom: Initially. When David and Jennifer first enter the TV show, they're turned monochrome and adopt the clothing of the world around them.
    • Not only that, they actually take the roles of preexisting characters, complete with friends and histories. As far as everyone else is concerned, they've been there all along.
  • Foreshadowing: When David is seen watching Pleasantville, the first instance of the episode is shown with Betty giving George a Martini. Later on when David/Bud is in jail for the mural, George comes to visit him with food. The only thing he thought to give him was Cocktail Olives. Which are usually served with Martinis. Mainly because he hasn't figured out how to cook after being so used to Betty serving him meals and drinks.
  • Genre Savvy: David, due to Pleasantville being his favorite show.
  • Hot Mom: Betty!
  • I Choose to Stay: Jennifer.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Again, due to David's genre savvy. He even tries to warn his sister against averting Tropes.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Inverted.
  • Love Triangle: George, Betty, and Bill.
  • Mary Sue: In-Universe. A perfect, sweet sister character named Mary Sue -- though quickly subverted once Jennifer occupies the role.
  • Medium Awareness: David and Jennifer of course, being Trapped in Another World.
  • Monochrome Casting: People claim this is justified because non-white characters weren't depicted on TV in the 50s. However, you would think a movie so concerned with racism could have found a way around this.
    • They did. Listen to the music they listen to on the radio.
    • Also a small middle-American town in the fifties had a pretty decent chance of being 100% white.
  • Nice Guy: While it's a given that Pleasantville is full of them....at first. These characters stand out.
    • David. His rivalry with his sister aside, is a shining example. In his first instance in the show, he tries not to mess with it out of general principle and mostly plays the part of Bud using his knowledge of the show to his advantage. He does however genuinely get along with George and Betty Parker and even tries to help them with when their problems arise. He's also good friends with Bill Johnson, encouraging his passion for art. But that doesn't mean he's a pushover. Whitey learned the hard way when he started hassling Betty.
    • George as well. Even when in his POV, his wife leaves him and his "son" has turned color, he never stops loving them. When Bud/David is in prison for the mural, he brought him food and even uses him as a confidant regarding Betty leaving and the world changing. The only reason why he stayed monochromatic, was out of confusion regarding his own feelings on the matter. Once he was able to reconcile his feelings he turns color.
    • Bill Johnson. Bud's boss and David's friend. While he seems to be nothing more than a bit character in a maltshop at first, the movie shows his Hidden Depths. For starters, he's an amazing artist and desires to do more than just the occasional painting. He is also in love with Betty Parker, which Betty later seems to reciprocate. And even though it would break his heart, he was more than willing to abide by Plesantville's laws, simply because he didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.
  • Nobody Poops: There aren't any toilets. The stalls are empty!
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be: Parodied and ultimately subverted; the world of the show is initially the rosy idea of The Fifties that everyone loves to reminisce about, but once the "color infection" starts to spread, the uglier side of the decade (such as "racial" and gender discrimination) is gradually reflected.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. In the TV series, both the the mother and one of Mary Sue's friends are named "Betty."
  • Rape Is Okay When Its Female On Male: Jennifer goes on a date with the town jock, who she quickly manipulates into having sex with her. This is Played for Laughs, though at the time, the boy had no idea what sex was (or for that matter, STD's or even pregnancy), was visibly freaked out, and even mistook his erection for an "illness." Had the sexes been reversed, the boy would have been villified.
    • Considering this takes place during Jennifer's shallow, kind of mean-spirited phase, and that her actions are shown to have rather negative repercussions on the boy and for other people she cares about, it's difficult to claim that her behavior is treated as "okay". We're simply not beaten over the head with the wrongness of her actions by having a character lecture her.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Pleasantville starts off as the version of the 1950s shown on old TV shows, but gradually becomes more like the actual 1950s, with teenagers making out in parked cars, kids wearing leather jackets and slicked-back hair, and bebop music on the radio. This caused some people to complain that the good, wholesome black-and-white Pleasantville, which they saw as the "real" 1950s, was impugned by all that "modern" stuff like teenage sex, smoking, and the existence of marital difficulties.
  • Shallow Parody: Shows like Leave It to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show were not nearly as gritty and dramatic as a more modern show, but they were hardly the surrealistically-perfect world Pleasantville is. The film more parodies the modern perception of older shows (and the time period they were from/set in) than the actual shows.
    • Also it's entirely possible that the in-world Pleasantville was simply an early case of Follow the Leader to those other shows and is shallow because it was a halfhearted attempt to cash in on them.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: The world of Pleasantville starts out with the dial pegged on Idealism, and steadily moves it over to Realism (though, as noted above, some thought it moved from Realism to Cynicism).
  • Splash of Color: The town is in black-and-white until our heroes begin encouraging the natives to think for themselves. Ironically, David and Jennifer are not the first to change; they too must grow as people -- Jennifer complains she is one of the last to change despite having more sex than anybody else in town, but this teaches her it's not all about sex.
  • Stealth Pun: Some early film posters colored "TV" differently from the rest of the title.
  • The Talk: Inverted, in that it's a teenage daughter giving it to her mother. Further subverted; when the mother is sure the father won't be interested, the daughter points out that the man is actually dispensable.
  • The Theme Park Version: Pleasantville starts out as a version of the 1950s that could only come from, well, an old TV show.
    • Though, one would be hard-pressed to find an actual 50s sitcom where the outside world, pop music, and sexuality literally were non-existent.
      • However, these were more meant to Lampshade the way old shows never went anywhere and never seemed to talk about anything further away than "downtown". The scenes of learning Main Street loops wouldn't have been shown on the broadcast, David just learns this now that he's inside the show. It's both an indication of how there's more than what he sees on the screen, and symbolism.
  • The Unfair Sex: Set up as if it's going to be played straight, but takes a different path. The wife who finds another love interest is portrayed sympathetically... but so is her husband, who simply doesn't understand how she feels, and his defining moment is realizing how much he loves her.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to the old Bud and Mary Sue? You'd think that even the old Bud would come back once David leaves.
  • What You Are in the Dark: The entire movie. One of the things that make it unique is that there is no one in charge of what keeps Plesantville pleasant, save for possibly the TV repairman. However, when things start to change in Plesantville, it divides the entire town on how to handle it. Folks like Big Bob, prefer to keep things "Plesant" as well as monochrome and family friendly. Whereas people like David/Bud, Jennifer/Mary Sue and the like want to keep changing the world. As a result it starts painting folks that want the former like the villains and those that like the latter as the heroes and in turn, become a reflection of the history of the world.
  • Wrap Around: Early in the film, the town's topology is such that someone going off one side of the town would end up on the other side.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Big Bob has a good one in the trial scene. Throughout the whole thing he tries to stay "pleasant", stoic even when it's clear that the changing world is making him mad. When Bud/David figures out how the people are turning color, he demonstrates it on George. When George turns color, this exchange below happens, causing Bob to get so mad that he turns color too. When Bud/David shows him his reflection, it causes him to flee.

Big Bob: This behavior must stop at once.
Bud/David: But see, that's just the point. It can't stop at once, because it's in you and you can't stop what's inside you.
Big Bob: It is not inside me.
Bud/David: Oh sure it is.
Big Bob: No it is not.
Bud/David: What do you wanna do to me right now? Come on, everyone is turning colors. Kids are making out in the street. No one is getting their dinner. Hell you could have a flood any minute!! Pretty soon, the women could be going off to work, while the men stayed at home and cooked.
Big Bob: That is not going to happen.
Bud/David: But it could happen.
Big Bob: -changes color- NO IT COULD NOT!!!