Thursday, January 24, 2008

Symbolism in Pleasantville

I. We were fascinated by the role of symbolism in Pleasantville, as well as the ultimate realities symbols construct within the movie.

a. In particular, we discussed the change of colors, the concepts of veils and rain, and the differences/similarities between the two worlds.

i. Change of colors. The characters awaken into color in Pleasantville when they experience something they were afraid to experience before.

1. Example: Jenn reading the book; Dad admitting his true feelings for wife

ii. Veils. The concept of veiling and unveiling is mirrored in the film. The first time we see the symbolic action of veiling is when “Bud” becomes his mother’s accomplice by helping her cover up the color that has crept into her face. Later, when she visits the soda shop man while he’s painting, he symbolically unveils her by taking off the make-up. Meanwhile, when David returns to his own reality, he balances his previous act of veiling by then “unveiling” his true mother, wiping smudged make-up off her face. Why is this ultimately significant in the film? The act of veiling and unveiling always revolves around the mother, regardless of which reality is in question. Traditionally, the housewife/mother is one of the most repressed figures in American lore. She is passive; she is a victim of circumstance and social convention; she is in desperate need of liberation. It therefore makes sense that Pleasantville, which deals with the issue of social awakening from stereotypical perfection, should depict this curious interaction.

iii. Rain. The presence of rain serves as a segway within the film; it signals that momentous changes are about to occur. In the beginning of the movie, a thunderstorm is what prompts the magic handyman to come and “fix” David’s TV. Shortly afterwards, David and his sister get transported into the world of Pleasantville. Meanwhile, the thunderstorm that sweeps over Pleasantville comes on the night that Jenn discovers her book, the mother abandons her house and husband for the soda shop man, and Bud goes on a date. The next morning, the town is in uproar over the painting on the soda shop’s windows, and Bud’s friends have all become colored.

iv. The two realities. In the beginning of the film, David leaves his broken home for one that he initially perceives as warm, loving, and perfect. However, we soon see that the family bond in Pleasantville is truly superficial; the mother’s love reaches to the extent of her domestic chores while the father’s love seems to consist solely in his cheery presence. They are never cruel or negligent, but there is not a true spiritual connection within the family nucleus. By the end of the film, things have changed. Everyone’s genuine feelings have been expressed, for better or worse. Even when David returns to his reality, we see him connecting with his mom, who has returned prematurely from a trip and seems to be in a mid-life crisis.

1 comment:

Religion&Film said...

I think the veiling concept fits quite well with why the mother is the only character to change colors in a gradual manner. Obviously, there is a sense of self-veiling of emotions here, something that is indeed an expectation of women in this time period. If we are to believe that there is a metaphorical nod to racism and sexism in the film, then it makes sense too why there would be this percieved neccesity to veil emotion - the mother in this film had a very different, if even existent, role in the feminist protest than more youthful, counter-conventional women had. Thus, it isn't likely that the mother would immediately change colors.

When you bring up the end scene with the real mother, it makes me think of something interesting. To console his mom, Bud tells her that there is no right way to live. What do you make of this? If this is the unveiling scene, is the implication that the only "real" way to live is to live a life of risks? It's also interesting to compare the veiling and unveiling scenes together in concerns to Bud's development. In other words, there is most definately a change between Bud in the veiling scene and the Bud in the unveiling scene. Is this character change the result of his acknowledgment of female repression (think of the scene where he protects his pleasantville-momma), or simply due to his realization of responsibility to others? Hmmmm.

-Johnny