The Body Snatchers of the 1950s
From The Invasion of the Body
They place two fresh pods in Miles' waiting room next to them,
to grow duplicates when they fall asleep. Dr. Kaufman explains
the benefits and advantages to them:
Less than a month ago, Santa Mira
was like any other town. People with nothing but problems.
Then, out of the sky came a solution. Seeds drifting through
years took root in a farmer's field. From the seeds came pods
which had the power to reproduce themselves in the exact likeness
of any form of life...Your new bodies are growing in there. They're
taking you over cell for cell, atom for atom. There is no pain.
Suddenly, while you're asleep, they'll absorb your minds, your memories
and you're reborn into an untroubled world...Tomorrow you'll be
one of us...There's no need for love...Love, desire, ambition,
faith - without them life is so simple, believe me.
Determined to escape, wanting no
part of it, Miles
vows to get away, but realizes that there is little
choice. Becky cries in Miles' arms:
I want to love and be loved. I want
your children. I don't want a world without love
or grief or beauty. I'd rather die.
C. Wright Mills on Americans
"Nowadays men often feel that their private lives are a series of traps. They sense that within their everyday worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles, and in this feeling, they are often quite correct: What ordinary men are directly aware of and what they try to do are bounded by the private orbits in which they live; their visions and their powers are limited to the close-up scenes of job, family, neighborhood; in other milieux, they move vicariously and remain spectators. And the more aware they become, however vaguely, of ambitions and of threats which transcend their immediate locales, the more trapped they seem to feel"
(1959, p. 3).
need, and what they feel they need, is a quality of mind that
will help them to use information and to develop reason in order
to achieve lucid summations of what is going on in the world
and of what may be happening within themselves. It is
this quality, I am going to contend, that journalists and scholars,
artists and publics, scientists and editors are coming to expect
of what may be called the sociological imagination" (1959,
C. Wright Mills,
The Sociological Imagination
of ordinary men are circumscribed by the everyday worlds in which
they live, yet even in these rounds of job, family, and neighborhood
they often seem driven by forces they can neither understand nor
govern. 'Great changes' are beyond their control, but affect their
conduct and outlook none the less. The very framework of modern
society confines them to projects not their own, but from every
side, such changes press upon the men and women of the mass society,
who accordingly feel that they are without purpose in an epoch
in which they are without power" (1956, p. 3).
Wright Mills, The Power Elite
and in Russia--in differing ways but often with frightening convergence--we
now witness the rise of the cheerful robot, the technological
idiot, the crackpot realist. All these types embody a common ethos:
rationality without reason" (1958, p. 175).
Wright Mills, The Causes of World War Three
1. What is the nature of late 1990s' America that Pleasantville opens in? What
are the major problems facing Americans in the late 1990s?
2. How does late 1990s' America
contrast with the 1950s' Pleasantville America? Is Pleasantville
really the ideal America it pretends to be?
3. Why do you think that
it is the teenagers in Pleasantville who first make the change
from black and white to colored? At what physical locations
are colored people first seen?
4. Do you agree with Roger Ebert
about one of the larger themes of Pleasantville:
"The film observes that sometimes
pleasant people are pleasant simply because they have never, ever
been challenged. That it's scary and dangerous to learn new ways.
The movie is like the defeat of the body snatchers: The people
in color are like former pod people now freed to move on into
the future. We observe that nothing creates fascists like the
threat of freedom."
5. Do you agree with Roger Ebert
that Pleasantville is a parable about the present and the
past, that the present isn't as bad as we often think it is and
the past wasn't as good as we often remember it to be:
``Pleasantville'' is the kind
of parable that encourages us to re-evaluate the good old days
and take a fresh look at the new world we so easily dismiss as
decadent. Yes, we have more problems. But also more solutions,
more opportunities and more freedom. I grew up in the '50s. It
was a lot more like the world of ``Pleasantville'' than you might
imagine. Yes, my house had a picket fence, and dinner was always
on the table at a quarter to six, but things were wrong that I
didn't even know the words for."
6. Why do you think 1990s David
is so fascinated by 1950s Pleasantville? Is he trying to
escape from his troubled life in the late 1990s?
7. What causes David/Bud
to decide to stop trying to prevent Jennifer/Mary Sue from changing
the people of Pleasantville? Why does David/Bud, like
Jennifer/Mary Sue, begin to consciously introduce change into
the lives of the people of Pleasantville?
8. Why do you think Pleasantville
focuses so much attention on Betty Parker's transformation from
black and white to colored? Is this a not-so-subtle comment
on the June Cleavers of 1950s' TV families?
9. Do you agree with Salon
Magazine's Charles Taylor that Pleasantville is a parable
about democracy and freedom:
"He's clearly working off
the now familiar equation of the present with the conformist '50s.
Ross wants to tell us that the rigid controls that religious and
political authority figures try to put on us run contrary to both
our natures and the meanings of democracy. He wants us to accept
that change and uncertainty and even inchoate upheaval are a necessary
part of democracy."
10. What is the significance
of Pleasantville teenagers' emerging desire to read books and
understand the larger world outside of Pleasantville? Why
do the town fathers later burn these library books?
11. How is Jennifer/Mary
Sue transformed in Pleasantville? What is the significance
of her reading D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover?
12. Do you agree with Salon
Magazine's Charles Taylor about the contradictory message
presented by Jennifer/Mary Sue deciding to stay in Pleasantville:
"And why does a movie that
makes such a stink about authority figures who sit in judgment
of other people's behavior wind up having Witherspoon announce
that she needs to stop being a slut (the character's words) and
hunker down and study -- particularly when her unbridled sexuality
is what begins the loosening up in the first place? The message
that teens who explore their sexuality are headed for trouble
is exactly the same drivel issuing from the cultural ayatollahs
Ross is excoriating."
13. Do you agree with James
Berardinelli that "Pleasantville is about the falseness
of family values and the need of the individual to break through
society's shield of conformity, but, most of all, it's about having
fun at the expense of nostalgia."
14. Why are Pleasantville's
black and white
people so threatened by colored people and
colors? Why do they try to outlaw colors?
15. What does the Director Gary
Ross imply with his description of David/Bud's character about
1990s' young people:
".For Tobey [David/Bud],
it's from disengagement to engagement. He's distanced, he's removed...
he's voyeuristic. He looks at life from a kind of distance, which
is so much of what cynical kids do today, that... the cynicism
is a defense against hope. And so they stay safe by judging, by
putting up a cynical veneer. By not showing that kind of vulnerability
or that kind of exposure. And the moment that Tobey [David/Bud]
turns color in the movie is the moment that he engages, emotionally."