Lost in the Garden of Eden?
Director Gary Ross really nails the complexities, hypocrisies and core values of American life in this underrated debut tale of life, love and the trouble with choice.
Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon play teenage siblings who, through a glitch in the division between reality and TV, find themselves trapped in a fictional '50s suburban sitcom world. Instead of wasting this premise on cheap jokes about the difference between modern and recent society, Ross injects an incendiary concept into the mix: what happens when a town that's designed to operate under a complete absence of independent thought is exposed to the forbidden fruit of free will?
When Maguire (via logic) and Witherspoon (via lust) challenge the simplistic belief systems of the "one-dimensional" citizens of Pleasantville, the questions their actions raise rupture the status quo. The townspeople begin to think for themselves, and doing so causes them to see their black & white world in color - literally.
The special effects employed in the film are complicated yet subtle, but their power is unmistakable: when you start marching to the beat of your own drum, your old world will never be the same.
(Political backstory note: Ross's father, Arthur, was a Hollywood writer who was blacklisted during the McCarthy hearings. That Pleasantville rewards the characters who take the hard way out and challenge conformity, rather than subjugating themselves to it, can easily be seen as Ross's commentary on his father's own tumultuous career.)