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The movie “Pleasantville” (Produced and directed by Gary Ross in 1988) is more than just your ordinary film. Pleasantville sends a message within a message. Not only is it a great film, (made popular by New Line Cinema) it contains numerous biblical references. Some of the biblical references in this film may be easier to see and understand than others. But when asked to analyze this film and critique the biblical references you will understand just how many there are.
To me the most obvious relation to the bible is in a scene where the main character David (Tobey Maguire) is the first to see a fire that breaks out in a tree in his front yard.
Ironically enough, the tree is on fire, but is not consumed by the flames, it’s burning but not disintegrating. David then ran to the fire and distinguished it while commanding the fire fighters on what to do.
How does that relate to the bible? In Exodus 3: 1-15 is the story of the burning bush.
The burning bush was also on fire and not consumed by the flames, this was when God appointed Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Much like how David was then appointed a leader of Pleasantville. The only real difference is that the biblical story says that the burning bush talks to David. (The burning bush being God).
Another obvious biblical relation in the film goes along with the story of Adam and Eve. The biblical version of the Adam and Eve (Genesis 2 and 3).
story says that God created man (Adam) and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work and watch over it. God allows Adam to eat from all trees except from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”. God tells Adam “ for on the day you eat from it, you will surely die”.
Later on in Genesis 2, Adam needs a help mate to look over the garden, but none of the animals in the garden are to Adam’s satisfaction, so God then makes a woman (Eve) out of Adam’s rib while he is asleep. On a side note, Adam and Eve are both naked and neither one of them are ashamed of themselves.
Finally the serpent is introduced in Genesis 3, the serpent is said to be “ slier then every beast on the field“. The serpent eventually persuades Eve to eat from the “Tree of Knowledge”. After she eats from it, she has Adam eat from it. Shortly after, they finally notice they are naked and become self conscious and cover up. God then asks about what they have done and Eve blames Adam, while Adam blames the Serpent. God curses them, and makes Eve suffer through labor and banishes both of them from the Garden of Eden.
The relation in the movies comes from a scene in the end involving David and another girl from his school. Color starts to fill Pleasantville, and the girl he is sitting with in the lawn gets up and grabs a fruit of off the tree, and then she hands the fruit to David to eat, much like Eve did with Adam. As soon as they ate the fruit, it started to rain in Pleasantville for the first time ever, symbolizing God’s anger, and color now completely filled Pleasantville. The discovery in books also reminds me of the “Tree of Knowledge of good and evil”, the books being good, and the reading of them being evil because it made people curious to as what else was out in the real world. Therefore there is an effect in both cases, the biblical one, and also the movie.
Pleasantville, (before David and Jennifer) is a “dream world” if you will, everyone is always happy and there are never any conflicts with anyone. Once the two of them arrive however, everything changes. In Pleasantville everything is black and white, but after Jennifer has sex with someone in Pleasantville, the first sighting of color comes out. To me, this symbolizes sin. The more people sin in the movie, the more color there is. So this biblical reference doesn’t necessarily correspond with any specific part of the bible, just sin in general.
The people that sinned were turned into color, and at first if you were colored, you were frowned upon. But as more and more people “sinned” it became the “ new norm”. So at first sinners were looked at in a negative way, but as more and more people sinned it became okay, and there was a neutral outlook on them.
If I had to match a few characters in the movie to people in the bible I would say that Betty Parker (housewife) is most life Eve. I say this because at first she is so innocent and has no idea what sinning (or having sex) is. Then when she finally did sin she didn’t even understand or realize what she was doing was wrong. Jennifer ( Mary-Sue) to me, is most closely related with Satan. I say this because she was the one that first had sex (sinned), and she also spreads the knowledge of evil (sex).
For example, in the movie Jennifer teaches her mother how to please herself, and she was also the first one to bring sex to Pleasantville. I would also say that David reminds me most of a Prophet because he is sent to Pleasantville and all in all he “delivers a message” to say the least.
Another biblical allusion in the film that most people do not catch, would be the scene where David, and the soda shop owner paint a mural on the wall. They are expressing themselves, but, after doing research and seeing a picture of the mural that they made, I noticed something. On the left side of the mural there is a picture of a snake wrapped around an apple that is half eaten. This reminds me of the Garden of Eden and the serpent persuading Adam and Eve to eat the apple. At first glance you may not notice this, but after looking at the picture you can. The snake comes off us a very sneaky creature, much like the Serpent and how he tricked Even into eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
I don’t think that the film maker (Gary Ross) necessarily had an agenda when making this film, I think he just put in all these biblical allusions in the film to make people think. If I were to watch this film without trying to draw a connection with the bible, I wouldn’t have noticed any reference to it at all.
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