It seemed everything was perfect. Kids were happy, fathers got a fully cooked dinner after a long day at work, the streets were clean, and there was no crime anywhere to be found. It was the idealized American 1950s. It’s all the residents of the small town knew.
But life turned messy when two teenagers from the next century invaded their perfect space.
You see, the place was a fictionalized town inside a fictionalized movie called Pleasantville released 1998. The film starred Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Jeff Daniels and Don Knotts.
The film began in the 1990s. Tobey’s character David longed for the simplicity of the 1950s. The victim of his parents’ failed marriage, a stressed-out mother, and an absent father, David escaped his painful reality by watching old re-runs of a 1950s TV show, Pleasantville. And Reece’s character, Jennifer, was obsessed with being popular at school and sleeping with every high school boy she could seduce. Her value was based on being liked by others.
One day, while fighting over the television remote, David and Jennifer were magically transported into the 1950s world of Pleasantville, only to find the town residents living in black-and-white, just like the TV show.
What they found were isolated, ignorant and shallow residents. While everything seemed wonderful on the surface, the reality was that the townsfolk knew of nothing outside their tiny world, and were ignorant to the beauty of art, the mind-expanding knowledge of books and the intimacy of deep relationships.
David and Jennifer could not help being who they were (their selves from the 1990s). As they interacted with Pleasantville’s residents, things began to change. As folks experienced beauty, choice, knowledge and passion, they began to change from 2-dimensional characters in black and white, to 3-dimensional characters in living color.
As in real life, some of Pleasantville’s residents embraced change, while others organized to resist it; their answer to the threat of personal growth and discovery was to pass more laws to preserve life as they previously knew it.
But change was inevitable, and Pleasantville was about to change forever. So were Jennifer and David.
Jennifer discovered the engaging world of knowledge as she read her first book. She replaced her need for social approval with the quest for knowledge and personal growth. She decided the town she first saw as repugnant, was indeed a place she wanted to stay.
But not David. As he made peace with his less-than-ideal 1990s family, he knew he had to return to his real life and come to peace with all that life had thrown him.
What about you? Do you long for the days when life was simpler? Do you live in Pleasantville to insulate yourself from the uncertainty of newfound knowledge, beauty and personal growth? Do you live in 2-dimensional black-and-white world, or one in multi-dimensional color?
Face your fears. Risk. Read a new book. Create some art. Make new friends. Embrace the messiness of life and life in color.
And while you’re at it, watch the movie.
Many thanks to Linsday Rust who inspired this article.