Reviewed by: Dave Rettig
“Pleasantville” is more than a television program for David (Tobey Maguire); it is a passion—an obsession and a means of escape from the fatalism of his generation. “Pleasantville” is wholesome family values and simplicity and life there is perfect. Perfect, that is, until David and his sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) are mysteriously transported to the black and white world of Pleasantville and the perfect world of Pleasantville become less than perfect and more than black and white.
Sadly, “Pleasantville” is more promise than fulfillment, more potential than reality. My high hopes for an original story were lullied away with the mediocrity of this film. Don’t misunderstand me—“Pleasantville” was pleasant, but I was hoping for more. “Pleasantville” wanders somewhere between fairy tale and twilight zone, never really doing justice to either. On one hand, one gets a sense of some moral message, but that is vague at best. On the other, instead of a careful blend of reality and fantasy (ala “Twilight Zone”), we bounce back and forth between too real and too fantastic. “Pleasantville” was okay, but completely unsatisfying.
“Pleasantville” contains language, sexual references and illustrated nudity (nudity in art). On a surface level, the message of the film appears to be “morality is black and white and pleasant, but sin is color and better,” because often through the film the Pleasantvillians become color after sin (adultery, premarital sex, physical assault, etc…). In one scene in particular, a young woman shows a brightly colored apple to young (and yet uncolored) David, encouraging him to take and eat it. Very reminscent of the Genesis’s account of the fall of man (Genesis 3:6). At other points in the movie, there are obvious references to racism as the “true citizens of Pleasantville” are black and white and the rest are “coloreds”. Signs fill the shops reading “no coloreds allowed.” But both of these definitions overlook George Parker (William H. Macy) becoming colored when he expressed his love for his wife and Mary Sue Parker (Reese Witherspoon) became colored when she read a book. So what are we left with? Some vague moral message of “pleasant moderation is dull/colorless; any new experience (sexual pleasure, violence, reading, and love) is good/colorful.” Utterly unbiblical! We know that true joy is found in knowing and serving our God (Psalm 19:8, Psalm 28:7, Isaiah 58:14, Acts 16:34, Romans 14:7, Romans 15:13).
“Pleasantville” is an ambigious and somewhat dubious moral message. Although relatively clean on the surface (very relatively), “Pleasantville” contains enough anti-Christian message to avoid it. If you still plan to see it, take a non-Christian friend along, talk about what real happiness is and share the joy and peace (and radical excitement) that comes from following our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Year of Release—1998