Tuesday, 22 January 2013
Pleasantville (5 Stars)
For some reason I haven't watched this film for a long time. Years. I'd almost forgotten about it. But this is an amazing film, thought-provoking from beginning to end.
It's a fairytale, beginning with the words "Once upon a time". David and Jennifer are brother and sister (maybe twins), two high-school children of the 90's, but totally different in their personalities. Jennifer is the cool popular girl in class, dating boys, and no longer a virgin. David is an outsider who avoids dealing with the ugliness of reality by engrossing himself in a 1950's television series called "Pleasantville". One Friday night David and Jennifer fight over the television's remote control; David wants to watch a Pleasantville marathon, Jennifer wants to watch a concert on MTV with her boyfriend. (Note for my readers: the film was made in 1998 when there was still music on MTV). The remote control breaks, and a mysterious television repair man immediately appears at the door who gives them a replacement. As soon as he leaves they continue to struggle with the remote control, when suddenly they find themselves inside Pleasantville, dressed in 1950's clothing, and in black and white.
David and Jennifer have now become Bud and Mary Sue Parker, the children of George and Betty Parker, the main characters in the television series. David already knows the episodes inside out, so he quickly works out where they are in the series' chronology, and he advises his sister to play along with the situation until they find a way to escape. Unfortunately Jennifer doesn't conform to the world's moral code. Instead of just holding hands on her first date with Skip Martin, leader of the school's basketball team, she performs oral sex with him. This creates a rupture in the universe, and colours begin to appear. At first David tells her to stop, but then he begins to introduce his own changes by encouraging Bill Johnson, the owner of the soda shop, to be independent and paint.
People begin to change their ways, the young people first, and then the adults. Reflecting the inner changes, they turn from black and white into colour, one by one, while inanimate objects gain colours at random. The changes aren't just in moral issues, such as the teenagers beginning to have sex, which they had never done before. Actually, the parents had also never had sex. Their children had just appeared from nowhere. Everything not shown in the television episodes didn't exist until David and Jennifer introduced it into their world. But there are other changes. For instance, the children begin to read books, much to the disgust of the town's elders. Pleasantville's mayor considers sexual promiscuity and reading books to be equally abhorrent.
Change is resisted, but change wins. Gary Ross, the film's director, wants to present personal change as the catalyst for changing society. "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". I can see this message in the film, but to me personally the element of personal change is what I take from the film. There's a conversation between Bud and Mr. Johnson:
Bud: "People change."
Mr. Johnson: "Can they change back?"
Bud: "I don't know, I think it's harder."
This is something I've experienced in my own life. 12 years ago I went through a very big change in my life. The change wasn't voluntary, it was forced upon me by a very bad person, probably the most evil person I've ever met personally. I tried to change back later, but it was impossible. At the time I was suffering from depression and asked to be admitted to hospital for help. For a week I was doing well and improving. Then a psychiatrist, Dr. Jeremy Kenney-Herbert, transferred me to another hospital where my life was put at risk by being surrounded by violent patients. At first I accused Dr. Kenney-Herbert of incompetence in misdiagnosing me, but as time progressed I recognised that he was acting with malice. For reasons I can only speculate he hated me and wanted to hurt me. I lost 17 months of my life when I could have been discharged after a few weeks and returned to work.
Do I hate Dr. Kenney-Herbert? No. If I hated him I would lower myself to his level. He couldn't act any differently. He commits evil because it's his nature. I was unfortunate that I crossed his path, that I was put under his control at the time in my life when I was most vulnerable and least able to defend myself. I'm sure that over the years he has ruined the lives of many who have crossed his path. I can be thankful that I've now moved on. I've become a stronger person despite his attempts to destroy me. But I've also become a changed person. I didn't like the changes at first, but I now accept them. I won't attempt to change back.
I've been putting off writing a full report of my time in hospital. At first I delayed it because it was too traumatic for me to write about. Then I told myself I should leave the report until a significant date, such the 10th anniversary of my discharge. When that time arrived I didn't write it out of laziness. Maybe I should do it next month when my Five Star Month is over.