As with all movies on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete synopsis of the movie, but rather to document how the movie relates to the meaning of life. With that said, be forewarned, there are still spoilers below.
Pleasantville was written and directed by Gary Ross and was released in 1998; starring Tobey Maguire as David, and Reese Witherspoon as Jennifer. In the beginning, David and Jennifer live in the real world; but David mentally lives in Pleasantville, a black and white TV show where everyone is happy, and nothing can go wrong; where there are no fires and firefighters only rescue cats—the perfect world. Whereas Jennifer lives materially and could care less about the show. David, on the other hand, knows all the lines, plots, and characters by heart; and he even looks forward to a Pleasantville marathon where he can win $1,000. But, right before the marathon is about to start, David and Jennifer get into a fight over what to watch on TV, and they accidentally break the remote. A rather eccentric repairman comes, and gives them a new remote with a bit more oomph! Shortly thereafter two end up in the TV show Pleasantville.
What makes the movie interesting is that it highlights that happiness is not necessarily the answer to life and meaning. That is, everyone in Pleasantville is happy — yet as the restaurant owner, Bill Johnson would later ask, "What's the point?". Or as noted in the book Movies and the Meaning of Life by Kimberly A. Blessing, "a well-ordered life free from overt difficulties is not necessarily a life worth living." Blessing does an outstanding job at detailing the subtle meanings of color, different philosophies, and more in her chapter on Pleasantville. As she notes in this chapter, people begin to see color, and begin to change physical color through "meaningful" changes and "the passion that comes with living a meaningful life." This is apparent as David and Jennifer are among the last few to change color after they break out of their old habitual and meaningless lifestyles. That is, although they bring change to others, help others to see the world differently they don't change or begin to live meaningful lives until the end of the movie when they both embrace their true talents. Blessing goes on further to outline the difference between the purpose of life (cosmic scheme of things) and purpose in life (we assign meaning) based off of an article by Kurt Baier in the book Philosophy: Contemporary Perspectives on Perennial Issues. This is an excellent overview and something you should check out. For more on this, please check out her book.
Although the people in Pleasantville are happy, it becomes apparent that only with the introduction of outsiders which bring in new ideas and hence new ways to see the world; do they realize there is more to live for. In fact, their world gets a bit bigger when they realize there are cities outside of Pleasantville. Furthermore, as Blessing also notes, without some struggle, some effort, best the best at something is not a worthwhile endeavor. If an individual can make every basketball shot without trying, win every game without effort, then what is the point? This "struggle" was also briefly touched upon in season 1 of Westworld.
It is also interesting to note that in this film, characters from the real world enter into a fictional TV show. This contrasts to The Purple Rose of Cairo, where characters from the show come out into the real world. Both movies in their own way examine the meaning of life.
In an ironic turn of events, David, who mentally lived in Pleasantville returned to the real world, whereas Jennifer decided to stay in the show, a show she could have cared less about in the beginning. The end of Pleasantville concludes with the following conversation about life between David and his mom.
David's Mom: When your father was here, I used to think, 'This was it. This is the way it was always going to be. I had the right house. I had the right car. I had the right life.' David: There is no right house. There is no right car. David's Mom: God, my face must be a mess. David: It looks great. David's Mom: Honey, it's really sweet of you, but I'm sure it does not look great. David: Sure it does. Come here. David's Mom: I'm 40 years old. I mean, it's not supposed to be like this. David: It's not supposed to be anything. Hold still. David's Mom: How'd you get so smart all of a sudden? David: I had a good day.
So what do you think? Can we have meaning without struggle? In any case, just remember There are some places that the road doesn't go in a circle. There are some places where the road keeps going.
We rate the movie as follows:
Overall - 8
Meaning of Life Relevance - 10
Uniqueness – 9
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