The Pleasantville Problem

 

1375 Relax and Succeed - It is not possible

When it comes to storytelling, there are only so many ways in which characters and plot directions can mix. This means we often see the same essential story types in many unique and different forms.

Despite the existence of those forms, every now and again someone creates something classic. Something with themes so universal that the art can travel smoothly and easily through time. In this case I’m referring to a film that quite literally travels smoothly through time.

Pleasantville was made in pre-9/11 1998. Back then it was a more innocent story about women and their roles in society, the acceptance of people of colour, and it cast a bad light on oppression of all forms. It is an anti-conformity, pro-novelty and independence story.

Today everyone would think the story was about immigration or trans-gendered issues or race relations, which demonstrates how a Classic works in action. Even though it’s external context has changed, it remains just as relevant as when it was discussing the different issues that were being analyzed when the film was released. That ability to stay relevant by focusing on universal principles is what will allow this film to move through time as a Classic.

Even from just the film trailer, it’s easy to comprehend the fundamental plot about a brother and sister who end up trapped in a 1950’s TV show. Within that reality, no one knows any thought or feeling that doesn’t already exist within the scripts that they live out as literal and figurative black and white truths.

When the brother and sister introduce novelty and choice –and especially the variation in feelings those things cause– it’s shocking to everyone. But as other characters also engage in novelty –and the variable feelings that go with it– people begin to feel increasingly more alive. On screen, colour starts seeping into their previous black and white lives.

That premise is a great metaphor for how we will live out our identities. Most of us go to jobs we dislike, dress or behave in ways we don’t like, to please people we don’t like. We play a role in our families, and with our friends, and for our jobs. When things get difficult the range or motion for our identity can slowly be narrowed to the point of feeling more like a psychological straight-jacket.

This turns us into ego-based robots within our own lives, where we do everything unconsciously and we live by rote. We don’t want to function like slot cars or train sets. We are not fixed on some track, where we must only enact the same choices and over, all while we have internalized thought-wars in our heads about how we want change.

Like the people of Pleasantville, we must shake ourselves awake and recognize our flexibility. In watching the film again I felt like Toby Maguire. My course and this blog is nothing more than me shaking people awake. It is us that strangles the colour out of our lives. We are the ones that choose to repeat the same tones until our mind takes their existence for granted.

(Don’t watch this if you want to watch the movie, it contains a fairly small spoiler.)

For anyone who has never done it before, it is worth it to make efforts to break free of our habits –to make decisions that reflect our essence. Rather than cling to the security of what we know, we are better to leave our wombs of consistency.

We are better to escape by using our presence. Our resulting awareness will expose to us that it has always been us that was building our repetitive realities. We do that by continuing to think of the world and ourselves in the same consistent ways. But with that very same power, we can become conscious and choose instead to build ourselves entirely new realities.

Whether it is someone suddenly realizing they need to leave their job, or that they can live without someone and are getting divorced, or that they can move past their grief, or overcome a negative self-image –when we change our thoughts about who we are and what can happen, the world around us changes.

Consistency has a kind of inertia that compels us not to disrupt its predictability. But without free will, there is no actual life being lived. Yes, living in the moment without knowing what is next is a larger and more mysterious feeling than the narrow path of predictability can incite within us. But that is the point.

Yes, a more colourful life also means we experience greater intensities of fear and sadness and anger. But it also means we feel more awe, more joy and more love. This is why I most often hear from people, when they are literally so sick of their patterns that they will even consider novelty as a way out.

As scary as some new and larger reality may seem, I have yet to have anyone ask to go back to a life with less freedom or colour. That’s worth thinking about the next time any of us feels compelled to hide from life.

peace. s

The Movie of Your Life

My background is in film and television and in that world there’s a large group of people whose only job is to influence your brain in ways you can perceive but that you’re not consciously aware of. And I’m going to amaze you by showing you proof of what you haven’t noticed.

773 Relax and Succeed - So I guess we areYour mind is such a subtle thing. It’s difficult for you to accept but your version of reality is little more than a collage of your thoughts and beliefs. The influences on you are many and they are both intentional and unintentional. But in this blog I’ll prove that all day long your mind is doing far more interpreting than you realize.

A good example of how things outside of your awareness influence you; note that a talented motion picture Sound Editor can suddenly have all of the birds go quiet in an outdoor scene at the exact same moment that the lead actor says the screenwriter’s key Oh oh…” line in the film. You get a sense of dread. You think the actress is brilliant.

The actress is brilliant. But she is helpless without the line being written well, the score subconsciously defining the right mood via music, the lighting setting a tone, and the sudden absence of the birds–which triggers an ancient response in us that something is wrong, because that’s when the birds historically all suddenly went quiet. And that affects you far more than you realize.

773 Relax and Succeed - We stopped checking for monstersBut you won’t notice that any more than anyone noticed that the Wardrobe person took a character who was harsh and wore sharp, hard-edged clothes and how as the character softened so did their clothes. Smith in The Matrix looks like The Man because represents The Man. The Production Designer and Colourist will literally set tones for a project–it goes on an on. That’s a big part of what makes a TV series look like a series.

It’s also unlikely that you never noticed that the Director of Photography made the hero look good by lighting her from above, referring to daytime–when we feel safe. And that the same DOP made us not like the villain by lighting him from below, as though it is nighttime and we’re huddled around a fire listening carefully to the darkness that leaves too much room for our imagination.

Another great example is aspect ratios. You don’t even know you know about aspect ratios. But you know all kinds of things about them based purely on on the patterns you’ve seen. If one aspect ratio is always associated with certain things, then when you see it your brain begins to presume those other things must also be present. The video near the end will explain it very well.

773 Relax and Succeed - You see highlight reelsEvery talented and skilled film professional is working to move the story forward through their own artform. If they’re good and they know what they’re doing then they are intentionally manipulating wiring that you already have in your brain for interpreting the world. That matrix of beliefs is why the world appears to you as it does. And that extends beyond movies and TV shows and into your everyday life. It’s only a matter of–what did you get taught to edit into your own life movie?

To use a couple different metaphors to help make the point; it’s like your life feels like you’re cruising through an ocean with a fishing line and bait in the water, but you keep catching a fish you don’t like because it likes that bait. So you think the world tastes bad when really it’s the bait you’re using.

The same if you’re locked in a dark house with a flashlight. The house is like the universe and the flashlight is like your attention. The rest of the world/house doesn’t matter because you only process what you’re attention is on. So if you constantly shine it on things that scare you, don’t blame the house. The house is not scary. You just have a habit of focusing your attention on scary things. The house was filled with other stuff. Someone taught you to pick scary things. Or sad things. Or upsetting things. Or… enjoyable things.

Watch this video and realize how much you’re influenced by people who know more about your brain than you do. And then think about their agenda. These people just want to take you on an emotionally satisfying journey. There’s other people with less generous agendas, and there are many ways in which the world mesmerizes you with beliefs that you are convinced to turn into “actual things” in your imagination.

Your only defense is to know it happens, and to know that it means you never can be super sure you ever really know what’s going on. For all we know we could’ve been in a coma for the last 15 years and we’ve imagined this entire life from a hospital bed. So if the entire thing is that flexible you can see there’s no real way to know exactly what to do, so you can just relax. Treat the place less like a testing ground and more like a playground. Have some fun.

The world is an extremely flexible place. Your perspective is much more fluid and arbitrary and open to change than you ever thought possible. This does not make the world more frivolous. It gives it more potential. Because once we become aware of how much our thoughts change our perspective on what we see the less those thoughts affect us. And the peace that remains is what absolutely everyone is ultimately seeking. And that’s a movie we’d all like starring in.

Now go edit yourself an awesome day.

peace. s

P.S. The screenwriters who wrote the Joker’s line were Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower was written by Stephen Chbosky.

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

Review: Inside Out

Many friends have seen this movie—and several (particularly those who have studied with me or who are similarly minded) were very interested in what I thought as both a screenwriter and as a teacher of the Principles of Human Experience. Fortunately my brother and I were racing the car at the Nationals this weekend and while we were there a good friend told me she wanted to see the movie again and so we decided right then to go together.

734 Relax and Succeed - Inside outShe had loved her first viewing and noticed a lot more contributing details on the second viewing. I was very impressed with how well it was put together and I found the symbolism and message to be quite good, especially considering the limitations of the medium.

Keep in mind: there is no such thing as a good or bad movie. There are ones you like and ones you don’t. So no one is wrong if they didn’t enjoy this film. But from a professional screenwriting perspective it’s very tightly and effectively structured, its characters are consistent and are weaved with such skill by writers Pete Docter and Reonaldo Del Carmen that they serve the plot quite naturally. As we were leaving the theatre several people remarked that it seemed to be over very quickly and we felt the same way despite it being a traditional length—that’s always a good sign.

I loved a lot of the details, like how the memory storage banks held moments rather than stretches of time. I also liked they were organized like a brain structure, and how the ladders up them looked like DNA. There were so many contributing elements, including even more abstract things like the particular types of memories that children both lose and abandon and why. I also liked how it addressed how our current emotions will impact and colour our recollection of past events.

734 Relax and Succeed - Somtimes the thingMaybe even more impressive was each character’s demonstration of a dominant trait—a primary filter or emotion through which the world first passes before being optioned to other possible reactions. This is our default reaction to the world. In the daughter it was Joy, the mother Sadness and the father Anger and these would be how a large percentage of children perceive western childhoods: Dad’s seem busy and mad all the time because of mistakes we’ve made, and Mom’s appear to never want to play and they’re always disappointed we didn’t do something or other exactly the way they wanted.

Another nice touch was the use of the individual characters played in multiple heads. There were many looks for each emotion but the daughter’s Sadness looked just like her mother’s, while her Fear and Anger looked just like her father’s—illustrating the point that we inherit our traits and personalities from the dominant traits of our parents and/or the people that raise us. And, if saw correctly, especially clever was the fact that in any head where you saw Anger you also saw his partner Fear.

Mild spoiler alert—I may give away some later plot details that will give away the ending here, so if you haven’t seen it you may want to save the rest for afterwards.

My favourite aspect was the transition at the climax, when Joy comes to understand and then employ the value of Sadness. That is when the audience—and thankfully many children—are presented with the idea that sadness has value and should not be dismissed from life, and Joy’s role helps to nicely reflect the experience and growth happening within the audience member.

735 Relax and Succeed - Let it BeIn the denouement it was quite fitting that the film set up the notion that it’s not a tragedy when we change our core beliefs. That is the growth I often talk about in this blog as happening every 7-9 years, and of course Joy is I believe nine years old in the film. It is when we fundamentally shift how we see the world and how we understand it and our place in it.

Over the years we establish and fortify a new set of beliefs more appropriate to who we currently are. And again in 7-9 years we’ll tear down those core beliefs and build another set refined by new experiences. It is very healthy for people to see that process as natural. We shouldn’t get angry when things get tumultuous. We should get excited.

This film probably won’t blow kids away in theatres. But I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it becomes an important part of future realizations for decades to come. Just as Wall-E informed a generation about the external environment, Inside Out is informing a generation about a healthy internal environment.

I found this to be an excellent film on virtually every level and I highly recommend seeing it. It’s funny that parents worry when their kids become artists. And yet artists are who despotic leaders lock up first, because they’re also the people who change the world in subtle ways. Like the ways in which this film will change the stigma around being sad and how it will instill that our emotions are within our control. That’s important stuff.

Five thumbs up.

peace. s