Beauty in the Movies: Pleasantville

This week’s film passes the Bechdel test, but features both prominent female and male characters. Although I usually focus on strong female leads, it’s important to note the real goal is equal presence and development of both sexes on film. While Pleasantville does have strong female characters, it is really a story about liberation for all.

Jennifer and David are teenage twins from a broken home. Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) is popular and promiscuous (FYI: singer Jenny Lewis makes a brief appearance as one of her friends), while her brother David (Tobey Maguire) is shy and geeky. He’s also obsessed with a black & white Leave It To Beaver-esque TV show called Pleasantville which he sees as a perfect world, unlike the one he is living in.

David and Jennifer don’t get along, and after fighting for control of the TV and breaking the remote, Don Knotts appears at their door as a mysteriously chipper TV repairman. He gives them a new remote which transports them into the sterile, black & white world of Pleasantville, where they have two happily married parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy), and nothing bad ever happens.

There are no fires or death in Pleasantville, there’s also no need for toilets and no such thing as sex. David wants to play their parts while they figure out how to get home, but free-spirited ’90s woman Jennifer proves unable to assimilate so easily. When she seduces her chaste TV boyfriend, Skip (Paul Walker), she unwittingly brings about a revolution.

David sets change in motion as well when he accidentally introduces the idea of free will to Mr. Johnson (Jeff Daniels), his boss at the soda shop. As creativity and curiosity begin to blossom throughout Pleasantville, so do hatred and ignorance, turning this “perfect” world completely on its head.

The metaphor in this film is obvious but also effective. Not only as an illustration of the absurdity of racism, but also that the price we pay for perfection is imagination. Pleasantville is the garden of Eden and woman is once again the cause for its downfall, but in this reality the expulsion is actually an emancipation.

Gary Ross, the writer and director, has said his intention wasn’t to make a feminist statement, especially in regard to Joan Allen’s character. However, since equality and repression are both major themes of the film and Joan Allen is a fantastic actress, intentional or not, her story arc is the most compelling and does convey a feminist message.

Pleasantville received Academy Award nominations for Best art direction, best costume design, and best original score (by Randy Newman), all of which were well deserved.  The film was shot in color, mostly on digital, and then selectively desaturated, which makes for striking visuals.

Pleasantville drops us into a society that is still longed for by many Americans, a world without sin or emotion, and then shows us how stifling it would be to live there. It’s a simple idea with complex repercussions and overall it’s beautiful and magical to watch—what more could you want?

Beauty in the Movies: Pleasantville
Beauty in the Movies: Pleasantville by justinez featuring a yellow cardigan

Dress
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Vintage dress
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Knit cardigan
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Dorothy Perkins short cardigan
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River Island peter pan collar blouse
25 GBP – riverisland.com

Cardigan
95 GBP – lkbennett.com

Oasis summer tee
45 GBP – johnlewis.com

Eastex yellow cardigan
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Dorothy Perkins short sleeve top
17 GBP – dorothyperkins.com

Bennett
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Giambattista Valli tweed pencil skirt
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Alice by Temperley pleated skirt
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La Perla bullet bra
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Pleaser halloween costume shoes
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Rupert Sanderson high heel shoes
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Vintage leather handbag
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Vintage handbag
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Vintage clutch
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Double strand pearl necklace
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Monet pearl earring
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Vintage glove
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Vintage hat
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American apparel
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Marc by Marc Jacobs gold hair accessory
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Old Navy hair accessory
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Poodle Skirt
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Estee Lauder Radiant Bloom Powder Compact
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Pride and Prejudice
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3 Comments

Filed under Beauty in the movies

3 responses to “Beauty in the Movies: Pleasantville

  1. haren

    I never longed for that horrible claustrophobic world of the fifties. It was much worse than Pleasantville paints it.

  2. jennifer

    Kudos! I also love the idea that Reese Witherspoon’s character only underwent her own revolution when she began to read and focus on other aspects of her life than sex. While I agree with you about the message of the absurdity of racism, there could have been an actual African-American in the movie.

  3. Well the movie is set in a sitcom from the 50s, and if you watch them its only middle class white Americans, there wasn’t African Americans on televisions intil the 60s and 70s, It’s historical correct with the sitcoms of the time.

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