Pleasantville (film)

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Pleasantville ver5.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Gary Ross
Produced by Bob Degus
Jon Kilik
Gary Ross
Steven Soderbergh
Written by Gary Ross
Starring Tobey Maguire
Jeff Daniels
Joan Allen
William H. Macy
Paul Walker
J. T. Walsh
Reese Witherspoon
Music by Randy Newman
Cinematography John Lindley
Edited by William Goldenberg
Larger Than Life Productions
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release dates
  • October 23, 1998 (1998-10-23)
Running time
124 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $60 million
Box office $49,805,462

Pleasantville is a 1998 American fantasy comedy-drama film written, produced, and directed by Gary Ross. The film stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, J. T. Walsh, and Reese Witherspoon, with Don Knotts, Paul Walker, and Jane Kaczmarek in supporting roles. The film was released in the United States by New Line Cinema through Warner Bros. on October 23, 1998.


David (Maguire) and his twin sister Jennifer (Witherspoon) lead different high-school social lives. Jennifer is shallow and extroverted; David is introverted and spends most of his time watching television. One evening while their mother (Jane Kaczmarek) is away, they fight over the TV. Jennifer wants to watch a concert on MTV, but David wants to watch a marathon of Pleasantville, a black and white 1950s sitcom about the idyllic Parker family. During the fight, the remote control breaks, and the TV cannot be turned on manually.

A mysterious TV repairman (Knotts) shows up, quizzes David about Pleasantville, then gives him a strange remote control. The repairman leaves, and David and Jennifer resume fighting. However, they are transported into the Parkers' black and white Pleasantville living room in 1958. David tries to reason with the repairman (with whom he communicates through the Parkers' television), but he succeeds only in chasing him away. David and Jennifer must now pretend they are Bud and Mary Sue Parker, the son and daughter on the show.

David and Jennifer witness the wholesome nature of the town, such as a group of firemen rescuing a cat from a tree. David tells Jennifer they must stay in character and not disrupt the lives of the town's citizens, who do not notice any difference between Bud and Mary Sue, and David and Jennifer. To keep the show's plot Jennifer dates a boy from high school, but has sex with him – a concept unknown to him and everyone else in town.

Slowly, Pleasantville begins changing from black and white to color, including flowers and the faces of people who have experienced bursts of emotion and personal transformation. David introduces Mr. Johnson (Daniels), owner of the cheeseburger joint/Soda shop where Bud works, to colorful modern art via a book from the library, sparking in him an interest in painting. Johnson and Betty Parker (Allen) fall in love, causing her to leave home, throwing George Parker (Macy), Bud and Mary Sue's father, into confusion. The only people who remain unchanged are the town fathers, led by the mayor, Big Bob (Walsh in his final performance), who sees the changes eating at the values of Pleasantville. They resolve to do something about their increasingly independent wives and rebellious children.

As the townsfolk become more colorful, a ban on "colored" people is initiated in public venues. Eventually, a riot is touched off by a nude painting of Betty (painted by Johnson) on the window of Mr. Johnson's soda shop. The soda shop is destroyed, books are burned, and people who are "colored" are harassed in the street. As a reaction, the town fathers announce rules preventing people from visiting the library, playing loud music, or using paint other than black, white, or gray. In protest, David and Mr. Johnson paint a colorful mural on a brick wall, depicting their world, prompting their arrest. Brought to trial in front of the town, David and Mr. Johnson defend their actions, arousing enough anger and indignation in Big Bob that the mayor becomes colored as well.

Having seen Pleasantville change irrevocably, Jennifer stays to finish her education, but David uses the remote control to return to the real world.



This was the first time the majority of a new feature film was scanned, processed, and recorded digitally. The black-and-white meets color world portrayed in the movie was filmed entirely in color and selectively desaturated and contrast adjusted digitally. The work was done in Los Angeles by Cinesite utilizing a Spirit DataCine for scanning at 2K resolution.[1] and a MegaDef Colour Correction System from Pandora International.

Cameraman Brent Hershman's death, when he fell asleep driving home after a 19-hour workday on the set of the film, resulted in a wrongful death suit, claiming that New Line Cinema, New Line Productions and Juno Pix Inc. were responsible for the death as a result of the lengthy work hours imposed on the set.[2][3]

The film is dedicated to Hershman, as well as to director Ross's mother, Gail, and actor J. T. Walsh, who also died before the film's release.[4]


Director Gary Ross stated, "This movie is about the fact that personal repression gives rise to larger political oppression...That when we're afraid of certain things in ourselves or we're afraid of change, we project those fears on to other things, and a lot of very ugly social situations can develop."[5]

Robert Beuka says in his book SuburbiaNation, "Pleasantville is a morality tale concerning the values of contemporary suburban America by holding that social landscape up against both the Utopian and the dystopian visions of suburbia that emerged in the 1950s."[6]

Robert McDaniel of Film & History described the town as the perfect place, "It never rains, the highs and lows rest at 72 degrees, the fire department exists only to rescue treed cats, and the basketball team never misses the hoop." However, McDaniel says, "Pleasantville is a false hope. David's journey tells him only that there is no 'right' life, no model for how things are 'supposed to be."[7]

Warren Epstein of The Gazette wrote, "This use of color as a metaphor in black-and-white films certainly has a rich tradition, from the over-the-rainbow land in The Wizard of Oz to the girl in the red dress who made the Holocaust real for Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List. In Pleasantville, color represents the transformation from repression to enlightenment. People – and their surroundings – change from black-and-white to color when they connect with the essence of who they really are."[8]


Box office[edit]

Pleasantville earned $8.9 million over its opening weekend.[9]

Critical reception[edit]

Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 85% of 93 sampled critics gave the film positive reviews and that it received an average rating of 7.6 out of 10, with the critical consensus "Filled with lighthearted humor, timely social commentary, and dazzling visuals, Pleasantville is an artful blend of subversive satire and well-executed Hollywood formula."[10]

Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars calling it "one of the best and most original films of the year".[11]

Janet Maslin wrote that its "ingenious fantasy" has "seriously belabored its once-gentle metaphor and light comic spirit."[12] Peter M. Nichols, judging the film for its child-viewing worthiness, jokingly wrote in The New York Times that the town of Pleasantville "makes Father Knows Best look like Dallas."[13]

Joe Leydon of Variety called it "a provocative, complex and surprisingly anti-nostalgic parable wrapped in the beguiling guise of a commercial high-concept comedy." He commented that some storytelling problems emerge late in the film, but wrote that "Ross is to be commended for refusing to take the easy way out."[14]

Entertainment Weekly wrote a mixed review: "Pleasantville is ultramodern and beautiful. But technical elegance and fine performances mask the shallowness of a story as simpleminded as the '50s TV to which it condescends; certainly it's got none of the depth, poignance, and brilliance of The Truman Show, the recent TV-is-stifling drama that immediately comes to mind."[15]

The film did however receive criticism from Christians as "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 reminiscent of the Genesis’s account of the fall of man."[16]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film won the following accolades:

The film was nominated for the following achievements:

Pleasantville was nominated for AFI's Top 10 Fantasy Films list.[17]



David/Bud shows Bill Johnson the following paintings:

Bill Johnson's portrait of Betty Parker is in the style of an early Picasso. His later nude painting of her is inspired by Henri Matisse

Bill and Bud defy the town elders' code of conduct by painting a mural which, with its surrealist style and inclusion of political elements pays homage to Mexican muralism.


David/Bud and Jennifer/Mary-Sue introduce the other teenagers in Pleasantville to Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. Mary-Sue also reads Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence. All three are among the most frequently banned and challenged books according to the American Library Association.


Pleasantville: Music from the Motion Picture
Soundtrack album by Various
Released October 13, 1998
Recorded Various
Genre Pop
Length 47:37
Label New Line Records
Producer Jon Brion
Bruno Coon
Bonnie Greenberg
Randy Newman

The soundtrack features music from the 1950s and 1960s such as "Be-Bop-A-Lula" by Gene Vincent, "Take Five" by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, and "At Last" by Etta James. The main score was composed by Randy Newman; he received an Oscar nomination in the original music category. A score release is also in distribution, although the suite track is only available on the standard soundtrack. Among the Pleasantville DVD "Special Features" is a music-only feature with commentary by Randy Newman.

The soundtrack also includes two songs by Fiona Apple. The music video for Apple's version of "Across the Universe," directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, uses the set of the diner from the film. Allmusic rated the album two and a half stars out of five.[19]

  1. "Across the Universe" - Fiona Apple – 5:07
  2. "Dream Girl" - Robert & Johnny – 1:57
  3. "Be-Bop-A-Lula" - Gene Vincent – 2:36
  4. "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" - Larry Williams – 2:11
  5. "Sixty Minute Man" - Billy Ward and His Dominoes – 2:28
  6. "Take Five" - The Dave Brubeck Quartet – 5:25
  7. "At Last" - Etta James – 3:00
  8. "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" - Elvis Presley – 1:47
  9. "Rave On!" - Buddy Holly and the Crickets – 1:49
  10. "Please Send Me Someone to Love" - Fiona Apple – 4:01
  11. "So What" - Miles Davis – 9:04
  12. "Suite from Pleasantville" - Randy Newman – 8:11


  1. ^ Fisher, Bob (November 1998). "Black & white in color". American Cinematographer: 1. Archived from the original on January 8, 2009. Watts suggested using the Philips Spirit DataCine at Cinesite Digital Imaging in Los Angeles for converting the film to data.  (full article link)
  2. ^ Polone, Gavin (May 23, 2012). "Polone: The Unglamorous, Punishing Hours of Working on a Hollywood Set". Vulture. Retrieved August 6, 2013. 
  3. ^ O'Neill, Ann W. (December 21, 1997). "Death After Long Workday Spurs Suit". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 6, 2013. 
  4. ^ Bergeron, Michael (April 4, 2012). "Gay Ross Interview". Free Press Houston. Retrieved April 24, 2015. 
  5. ^ Johnson-Ott, Edward (1998). "Pleasantville (1998)". Retrieved April 8, 2015. 
  6. ^ Beuka, Robert (2004). SuburbiaNation: Reading Suburban Landscape in Twentieth-Century American Fiction and Film (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 14–15. ISBN 9781403963673. 
  7. ^ McDaniel, Robb (2002). "Pleasantville (Ross 1998)" (PDF). Film & History 32 (1): 85–86.  (link requires Project MUSS access)
  8. ^ Epstein, Warren. "True Colors - A Small Town Blossoms when '50s and '90s collide in Pleasantville". The Gazette (Colorado Springs). Retrieved April 11, 2013. 
  9. ^ Wolk, Josh (October 26, 1998). ""Pleasantville" tops the box office, but it's the only new wide release that scored". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 21, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Pleasantville (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved December 9, 2010. 
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 1, 1998). "Pleasantville (PG-13)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  12. ^ "New Video Releases". The New York Times. March 19, 1999. Retrieved April 8, 2015. 
  13. ^ Nichols, Peter M. (November 6, 1998). "Taking the Children; Bobby-Soxers and Dinos Brought Back to Life". The New York Times. Retrieved April 8, 2015. 
  14. ^ Leydon, Joe. "Review: 'Pleasantville'". Variety. Variety Media, LLC. Retrieved 2 June 2013. 
  15. ^ EW Staff (October 23, 1998). "Pleasantville (1998)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Pleasantville (1998)". Christian Answers. Retrieved December 11, 2015. 
  17. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
  18. ^ Braque, Georges (1910). "Woman with a Mandolin". Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Retrieved December 7, 2015. 
  19. ^ Pleasantville: Music from the Motion Picture at AllMusic

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]