“Pleasantville” by Gary Ross cleverly employs cinematic techniques such as Mise en Scene, camera shot, sound and colour to convey the overall themes. The themes looked at are; conservative American views, racism, censorship, prejudice and the unknown. Gary Ross uses these techniques to develop these themes. The film begins with twins set in the rebellious 1990’s USA. The first of the twins, David, a stereotypical geek who leads a life addicted to a popular Fifties TV show “Pleasantville”.
The other, Jennifer is a popular girl, who smokes, has sex and is extremely rebellious. The two are one night zapped into David’s favourite TV show, “Pleasantville”, where they both face major character changes. David, the geek becomes Bud, a popular boy. Whereas Jennifer, a drop out, “Nineties girl”, becomes a steady girl, Mary Sue, who wants to try hard to move on. This is where Gary Ross depicts one of the first themes; the contrast between idealistic, conservative America and reality. The two are trapped in a radically different dimension and make some huge changes to the bland lives of the citizens of Pleasantville, with the use of the directors cinematic techniques. The lives of “blandness” are effected by unknown, freedom and sin, art and literature. Eventually they begin to question their influence, wondering if their advanced 90’s attitudes are really that much better than those of the innocent past.
In Pleasantville we can see the contrast of idealistic, conservative American views and reality, when Gary Ross uses Mise en Scene. Everyone has a routine which is strictly followed day to day, the houses are all exactly the same, everyone wears the same style of clothes and everyone has the same car. This highlights the fact that the people of Pleasantville like everything to be kept to a routine and with little or no change which is a complete contrast to realistic America.
Furthermore, freedom and sin are newly founded in Pleasantville due to Mary Sue and Bud. A prime example of this is found whilst Bus is with a girl at “Lovers Lane”. The girl runs to grab Bud an apple, but whilst she does this she changes into colour. Gary Ross uses the cinematic technique of colour and camera shot here to show significance. He uses the introduction of colour to show the transition between being “pleasant” and being “real”.
The picking of the apple signifies sin, this mirrors the events of the Bible when Eve takes the apple from the tree, bringing sin into the world. The colour of the apple changes to red. Red often represents lust and temptation which can be seen here between the two youths. The director also uses camera shot techniques here as, when the girl hands the apple, the apple is in focus whereas the rest is blurred to show the significance of the apple. Gary Ross uses a further cinematic technique in this scene – sound. He plays romantic music (a non-diegetic sound) as the boy tries the apple this is done to add further suspense.
Similarly, art and literature also plays a large part to the films themes, as there are many references to well known books and musical pieces. The adventure stories of “Huckleberry Finn” is an example where the book has been used to mirror the adventures of Jennifer and David in Pleasantville. The director uses the cinematic of diegetic sound in the film’s music, most of which was by black artists and follows the genres of jazz, blues and soul. This is important as blacks have been discriminated against largely in contemporary society and this is reflected in the sad slow music, also they are featured in contrast to the upbeat lively music of the 1950’s TV shows.
Nearing the end people effectively become racist to coloured people in Pleasantville; in one case Bud and Mary Sue’s mother puts make up on to cover her coloured body, as she is scared of the response she will get to her ‘change’. Eventually everyone feels an emotion never felt before and changes into colour. The colour changes signify the changes in a persons personal traits. There are a number of examples we can see this from; when Mary Sue decides to stay home and study, instead of going out, or when the mother has sex and when the Mayor gets angry.
Finally, the unknown in very important theme through-out Pleasantville. Gary Ross has used this theme as in the 1950’s the US was calm on the surface but troubled beneath. The US was under great threat from the unknown due to communism in the USSR and internal racial segregation. In addition there was a huge threat of the atom bomb from the Soviet Union in the Cold War. In the southern states of the US racism was still seen to be very strong, and Civil Rights movements began with African Americans demanding equal rights. Gary Ross clearly shows this very theme in a scene where a the norm goes Bud and Mary-Sue’s father returns home in the rain (a Pleasantville unknown) to find that his wife is not home to greet him. He uses a close up camera shot in this scene to highlight the shock on the fathers face and a diegetic sound of thunder to alert the audience to know that there is something very wring in Pleasantville.
In conclusion, I feel that the views of Gary Ross have been excellently put forward through very clear and clever cinematic techniques. The film has for one helped me open my eye to discrimination around me – and secondly helped me to become more open minded to censorship and conservative, idealistic views. It finally leaves me wondering how racism came around in our modern day society.