Two teenagers are magically transported into a 1950s television show rerun, and their modern unrestrained ways trigger unprecedented change. [Dir: Gary Ross/ Tobey Maguire, Joan Allen, Reese Witherspoon, Don Knotts/ 122 min/SciFi-Fantasy, Drama, Comedy/ Social Tolerance, Individualism & Independence, Government as Bigot]
Pleasantville is a 1950s black-and-white television show about a fictional small town – a placid, static place much like that found in The Andy Griffith Show, My Three Sons, and Leave It to Beaver. This imaginary town is disrupted when a mysterious television repairmen with magical powers transports into it a 1990s teenage boy and his sister. The sister, a licentious young woman, quickly introduces to the town the heretofore unheard of concept of sex. The brother introduces literature and art. The result is that these new experiences change some of the static black-and-white residents of Pleasantville. The remaining (majority of) residents are unhappy about all this, having grown used to the way things were and always have been. So they pass regulations to stop all the change. Some of the residents defy these regulations, and it all comes to a head in a climatic trial. This film is a transparent attack on social conservatism. The placid, unchanged homogeneity depicted in Pleasantville, and so beloved of social conservatives, just doesn’t happen accidentally. It has to be maintained by a spirit of intolerance and (ultimately) force. That is readily apparent here. Another lesson from the film is that people in a uniform world must settle for less than what they really want, when what they really want is unacceptable to those around them. One size never really did fit all. The film overdoes the violence angle a bit, but even so, it’s fair entertainment. It has an interesting story, good colorization effects, and the casting of Don Knotts as the mysterious television repair man was ingenious. Milton Friedman once commented that although the world has lost a degree of freedom in the last century due to the growth of government, in other ways, in a social sense, it has become freer. A greater variety of human expression is now tolerated; people can dress differently; and so forth. This film is a celebration of that change, and more generally a warning not to idealize the past so much as to stop progress.
This article was reprinted from Jon Osborne's Miss Liberty's Guide to Film and Video: Movies for the Libertarian Millenium, available in the Advocates Liberty Store.