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Pleasantville is a New Line Cinema film first released in Canada on September 17, 1998 starring Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, and Jeff Daniels. Don Knotts and J.T. Walsh are also featured. more...

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The film was written, produced, and directed by Gary Ross, who also performed those duties for the more recent film Seabiscuit (2003), which also starred Maguire and Macy. This was J.T. Walsh's last film, released after his death. The film was released in the United States on October 23, 1998.

The film received Oscar nominations for its music (by Randy Newman), costume design, and set decoration.

The tagline for the film nicely summarizes what the movie is about: nothing is as simple as black and white.

Plot summary

The story is about David Wagner (Maguire) and his twin sister Jennifer Wagner (Witherspoon), who are magically transported into the world of a black-and-white television program, also titled Pleasantville, where it is the year 1958. Pleasantville is much like the Springfield of Father Knows Best or the Mayfield of Leave It to Beaver: the neighbors are kind, the kids are well-behaved, and the parents sleep in separate beds. David and Jennifer, forced into the shoes of the show's two teenage characters, soon begin affecting change, bringing on disorderly conduct, social upheaval... And Technicolor.

Color use

The changes they cause in Pleasantville, and the unexpected consequences to themselves, are highlighted through the use of color: the literally monochrome world of Pleasantville blossoms, in steps small and large, into a rainbow of colors. Color is introduced slowly, subtly, deliberately; at first it may only touch a single flower, or the tongue of a girl. It is always motivated by the events of the film, particularly epiphanies experienced by the characters.

The change in color is the primary visual effect used to accent the changes to the people and the world they inhabit, changes which challenge the values and emphasis on continuity and conformity that many consider to be the hallmark of 1950s America. Much of the film's satirical tone is captured in the "Code of Public Conduct" which the Pleasantville citizens establish, trying to protect themselves from upsetting changes. One rule forbids music other than "Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, the marches of John Philip Sousa, the 'Star Spangled Banner' ". Another rule echoes the Scopes Trial by requiring all schools to teach the "non-changist" view of history. On the DVD's director commentary, Ross noted that the film had been called "both amoral and moralistic", a contradiction in which he reveled.

Pleasantville also contains color-divided scenes (in the racist sense of the word 'color', referring to non-whites) that allude to the 1962 novel-based film To Kill a Mockingbird, which examines the conformist racial divisions in a small Alabama town in the 1930s. In particular, the Pleasantville courtroom scene in which colored people are forced into the top courtroom balcony while the non-colored are permitted seating on the main floor echoes a nearly identical Jim Crow scene filmed in To Kill a Mockingbird.


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