Musings on The Truman Show and Pleasantville

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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29 Responses

  1. Avatar North says:

    Yeah I loved both those movies.
    Also the music that plays when the Truman show’s creator confronts his creation is mind meltingly gorgeous.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I love the Truman Show, largely for the reasons you describe. (Also because Jim Carrey is amazing when someone keeps him in check. Will Ferrell too, though the only example I know of is Stranger than Fiction.) Pleasantville seemed much dumber, because it was so focused on sex.Report

    • Avatar Wardsmith says:

      The Matrix covered much of the same ground, unfortunately it was so focused on violence people missed out on the philosophical message.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Never saw it. All I know is what Futurama thought.


        [Leela]: Their bodies are used to generate electricity. The idea came from an old movie called “The Matrix”
        [Bender]: But… But wouldn’t almost anything make a better battery than a human body? Like a potato… or a battery?
        [Fry]: Plus no matter how much energy they produce, it would take more energy than that to keep them alive.
        [Leala]: I know, I know, it sounds absurd. In fact, when “The Matrix” first came out, it seemed like the single crummiest, laziest, most awful dim-witted idea in the entire history of science fiction.
        Report

        • Avatar Wardsmith says:

          Oh it is still worth a watch. The battery idea was preposterous on its face but I think they were just busy trying to hide all the truly subversive themes in the movie. When you see it, you’ll recognize all the ideas that were ripped off by every director afterwards.Report

        • Avatar Glyph says:

          That’s awesome.

          It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s not great either. See Dark City instead.Report

  3. Avatar zic says:

    The Truman Show is one of my favorite movies. Never seen Pleasantville. Sadly, neither is available to stream from netflix. Will go check if they’re available on Amazon.

    (And did you know that many movies are available for streaming free with your Amazon Prime account?)Report

  4. Avatar Zane says:

    Thank you for this post. I also really enjoyed these two movies, and found that I was left thinking about them long after I’d watched them.

    I know one of the reasons I found Pleasantville moving was that I grew up a closeted gay kid. Living my own life meant eventually leaving behind the black and white world I’d grown up in. Leaving that world behind brought both loss and joy. The movie really resonated with my experience.Report

    • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

      I think that was the real theme of Pleasantville: it was not so much a satire or critique of television, but of the repressiveness of pre-60s American culture, and how what appears idyllic through the lens of nostalgia was actually something that approached cultural fascism.

      The Truman Show I never cared for, because I thought it was a bit too “on the nose.” But Pleasantville is such a resonant movie that I re-watch it every few years.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        You guys are right on about Pleasantville. And it was definitely sexual, and that’s OK too – at both levels you identify (Zane at the personal, Snarky at the societal). Leaving behind the black-and-white simplistic morality of childhood for an adulthood that’s altogether less safe and more ambiguous, with (as Tod’s OP also points out) all the possible pleasure and pain that comes with that.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          To be honest, the movie rubbed me a bit the wrong way because I felt it was rather heavy-handed in its presentation. “Ohhh, the characters had unapproved SEX. They’re FREEEEEEEE (and in live color)!!!”Report

          • Avatar Glyph says:

            Was it “unapproved sex”? Or just “sex”? It’s been a while since I saw it but IIRC nobody knew what sex WAS, to approve or disapprove of. Even married couples had the TV-standard separate twin-beds with a nightstand in the middle.

            It wasn’t so much “transgress a taboo” as it was a metaphor for loss of virginity & childhood innocence and blossoming into adulthood (and I thought was tempered with some sadness at what was lost, in addition to joy at what was gained).

            But it’s been a while since I saw it.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              Well, I guess I remember less nuance than you do.

              (To be fair, I disliked “Sweet Home, Alabama” because I had a real problem with its message and undertone. To which my wife asked, “There was a message?”) (“Yes! One of personal and spiritual regression. Not only an inability to escape, but an embrace of being stripped of your autonomy and pulled into a fabricated identity assigned to you at birth.”) (“What are you talking about?”) (“That movie.”) (“The one we just saw?”)Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Heh. I actually started to go into something about how even The Cable Guy is a smarter, weirder, sadder, darker movie than the OP indicates, but figured that was a lost cause.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Actually, I completely agree on TCG. A really dark and twisted look at the the isolation of contemporary American society.

                Coincidentally enough, I have been thinking of Liar, Liar the last couple days. About three days ago, I introduced Lain to “The Claw” (which I got from my father, not that movie). She giggles and flinches when I do it. Soooo cute.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                O, I think TCG was dark and smart. But it was still a Carry Hamming It Up movie.Report

              • Avatar Annelid Gustator says:

                Yes on all counts. I love that movie.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            I don’t get this take. The transitions from B&W to color in the film are sparked by a huge number of things. Sex is one of them, but so is art, literature, poetry, love, civic duty, bravery, even passionate bigotry.

            I have to say, I think it might say more about guys who remember none of the metaphors except the sexual ones than it does about the script. Is it possible you all first saw it in your teens?Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              I will watch it again and get back to you.

              I didn’t recall sex being the only thing. But I remember it as the most colorful (haha) part of a pattern of self-indulgence as being the heart of liberation.Report

              • Avatar Zane says:

                For me, sex in Pleasantville didn’t just represent self-indulgence. It represented identity and self. When sex is just sex, as it can be for folks who aren’t marginalized by their sexual orientation, it can be just another appetite to be enjoyed and managed. But for me, and probably most gay folks of my generation, sex was far more than that. Because our sex was forbidden, forcibly repressed, and not to be spoken of, it was not just an appetite. It is bound into desire, love, family and self in profound ways. Sexual freedom represented Freedom and the opportunity to be an authentic person.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Not to take away from your experience, nor compare the sexual repression faced by straights in the same time period to the much greater repression faced by gays, but I think this resonates a bit even with straight people raised in a somewhat sexually-repressive (say, hyper-religious) environment, if not quite to the same degree.Report

              • Avatar Zane says:

                I fully agree with you, Glyph. I was just wanting to point out that people can be differently situated in relation to the “freedom/identity vs. appetite/indulgence” thing. Gay folks certainly aren’t the only folks who have a different perspective on that issue, it’s just the point of view I have easiest access to.

                (Yeah, I know that’s a poorly constructed dichotomy. It was constructed on the fly.)Report

          • Avatar Pinky says:

            Not just “they’re FREE”: they’re free and wonderful, and anyone who isn’t having sex is ignorant and malicious. I’ve seen WWII movies with a more sympathetic portrayal of the other side.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              I think it’s pretty clear that you’ve never seen the movie (only parts, yes?), since this isn’t remotely what happens. I think you may you brought a lot of stuff with you.Report

      • Avatar Barry says:

        In fact, in one scene of Pleasantville there was a sign ‘no coloreds’ on a store (the characters becoming ‘real’ were shot in color; the rest were in black and white).Report

  5. Avatar Pinky says:

    Loved The Truman Show. There were definite religious themes in it, but I saw it more as an anti-statist, particularly anti-communist, story.

    I’ve only seen portions of Pleasantville, and I don’t recall Jeff Daniels in any of what I saw. My reaction was a lot like Mike’s, that it seemed to deify sex. Also I wasn’t impressed by the self-important use of the term “coloreds” for the people who’d turned. I’ve got a strong anti-boomer streak, and that treatment of sexual liberation as equivalent to civil rights just ticked me off.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I never saw The Truman Show as a retelling of Job.

    Probably because so many good things happened to him too… but what an exquisite torture! To be given things to only have them taken away. To have them taken away only to be given them back… to somehow make sure that, no matter what happened in your life, it was good enough for television.

    I’m going to have to seriously chew on that.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    My memory of Pleasantville is Jeff Daniels seeing a painting of oranges and saying “oh, golly”.

    Like it’s the first time he’s been seriously turned upside down, shaken, slapped around, kissed, then put back.

    He says “oh, golly…”, because his vocabulary fails him for pretty much everything. He’s looking at oranges for the first time. It’s better than sex. It’s better than church. It’s *REAL*.

    How can you say “the people who have been lying to me my entire life had no idea that they’ve been lying to me” in a universe where you are the first person who has ever said that?

    “Oh, golly” is pretty much all you have.Report