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Pleasantville is a 1998 comedy-drama film written, co-produced, and directed by Gary Ross. It 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 story centers on two siblings who wind up trapped in a 1950s TV show, set in a small Midwest town, where residents are seemingly perfect. In their attempts to fit in, the two become more aware of social issues such as racism and freedom of speech.

Pleasantville ver5.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGary Ross
Produced by
Written byGary Ross
Music byRandy Newman
CinematographyJohn Lindley
Edited byWilliam Goldenberg
Larger Than Life Productions
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release date
  • October 23, 1998 (1998-10-23)
Running time
124 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$40 million
Box office$49.8 million

The film was J.T. Walsh's final performance, and was dedicated to his memory.



David and his twin sister Jennifer lead very different high-school social lives. Jennifer is shallow, popular and extroverted; David is introverted, not well-liked and spends most of his time watching Pleasantville, a black and white 1950s sitcom about the idyllic Parker family. One evening while their mother is away, they fight over the TV. Jennifer has invited a boy from school for sex and wants to watch a concert on MTV, while David wants to watch a Pleasantville marathon that includes a thousand dollar cash prize contest. During the fight, the remote control breaks, and the TV cannot be turned on manually.

A mysterious TV repairman 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. David tries to reason with the repairman (with whom he communicates through the Parkers' television), but the repairman claims that the world of Pleasantville is better than the real world and that they should be lucky to live in it. 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, the only thing they are capable of doing as fire does not exist in this world. Additionally, the citizens of Pleasantville are unaware that anything exists outside of their town, as all roads go in a circle and there is no way to leave the town. 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; in addition, foreign concepts such as books, fire and rain have begun appearing within their world. After introducing sex to her peers, many of Jennifer's classmates go to Lover's Lane to engage in sex, becoming "colored" in the process. David introduces Mr. Johnson, owner of the burger joint/soda fountain where Bud works, to colorful modern art via a book from the library, sparking in him an interest in painting. Betty Parker, after being informed about sex and masturbation by Jennifer, self-pleasures herself while bathing and, upon reaching orgasmic bliss, starts to see color and eventually becomes "colored" herself. Johnson and Betty fall in love, causing her to leave home, throwing George Parker, Bud and Mary Sue's father, into confusion. The only people who remain unchanged are the town fathers, led by the mayor, Big Bob, who sees the changes eating at the values of Pleasantville, as women are choosing to not be at home cooking dinners for their husband and considering employment, while their daughters are becoming sexually active. 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 fountain. The soda fountain is destroyed, books are burned, and people who are "colored" are harassed in the street, while Betty is nearly raped by non-colored teenagers due to her nude painting. 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 grey. 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. Upon seeing his colored form, the mayor flees. While heading outside to celebrate their victory, David notices that the television store is not only now selling color televisions, but that it is now broadcasting shows and footage of other countries, and that the town's roads now lead to other cities.

Having seen Pleasantville change irrevocably, Jennifer chooses to live in the TV world and attend college in the nearby city of Springfield, claiming that she would not be able to pursue higher education in the real world and that she prefers her new academic lifestyle to her former sexually promiscuous one. Bidding farewell to his sister, his new girlfriend and Betty, David uses the remote control to return to the real world, where he comforts his real mother.



This was the first time that a new feature film was created by scanning and digitizing from recorded film footage for the purpose of removing or manipulating colors. The black-and-white meets color world portrayed in the movie was filmed entirely in color, and in all approximately 163,000 frames of 35 mm footage were scanned, in order to selectively desaturate and contrast adjust digitally. The scanning 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]

Shortly before and during the film's release, an online contest was held to visit the real Pleasantville, Iowa. Over 30,000 people entered. The winner, who remained anonymous, declined the trip, and opted to receive the $10,000 cash prize instead.


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 officeEdit

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

Critical receptionEdit

Pleasantville received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a "Certified Fresh" 84% rating from 94 reviews, an average rating of 7.6/10, 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] Metacritic assigned a score of 71 based on 32 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11]

Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars calling it "one of the best and most original films of the year".[12] Janet Maslin wrote that its "ingenious fantasy" has "seriously belabored its once-gentle metaphor and light comic spirit."[13] 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."[14] 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."[15]

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."[16] The film also received a mixed review from Christian Answers, but was criticized because "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."[17]

Time Out New York reviewer Andrew Johnston observed, "Pleasantville doesn't have the consistent internal logic that great fantasies require, and Ross just can't resist spelling everything out for the dim bulbs in the audience. That's a real drag, because the film's fundamental premise--crossing America's nostalgia fixation with Pirandello and the Oz/Narnia/Wonderland archetype--is so damn cool, the film really should have been a masterpiece."[18]

Jesse Walker, writing a retrospective in the January 2010 issue of Reason, argued that the film was misunderstood as a tale of kids from the 1990s bringing life into the conformist world of the 1950s. Walker points out that the supposedly outside influences changing the town of Pleasantville—the civil rights movement, J. D. Salinger, modern art, premarital sex, and rockabilly–were all present in the 1950s. Pleasantville "contrasts the faux '50s of our TV-fueled nostalgia with the social ferment that was actually taking place while those sanitized shows first aired."[19]


The film won the following accolades:

The film was nominated for the following achievements:


Pleasantville: Music from the Motion Picture
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedOctober 13, 1998
LabelNew Line Records
ProducerJon 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 music video for Fiona 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.[20]


  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 Archived 2015-04-19 at the Wayback Machine)
  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. ^ "Pleasantville Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 1, 1998). "Pleasantville (PG-13)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 12, 2013.
  13. ^ "New Video Releases". The New York Times. March 19, 1999. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Leydon, Joe. "Review: 'Pleasantville'". Variety. Variety Media, LLC. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  16. ^ EW Staff (October 23, 1998). "Pleasantville (1998)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved March 12, 2013.
  17. ^ "Pleasantville (1998)". Christian Answers. Retrieved December 11, 2015.
  18. ^ Johnston, Andrew (October 22, 1998). "Pleasantville". Time Out New York: 97.
  19. ^ Walker, Jesse (January 2010). "Beyond Pleasantville: Permissiveness wasn't born in the '60s". Reason. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  20. ^ Pleasantville: Music from the Motion Picture at AllMusic

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit