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.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.