Biblical Allusion in Pleasantville
The film ‘Pleasantville,’ the director, Gary Ross, utilizes biblical allusion to portray his ideas that it is good to bring knowledge into a Utopia, and to have free will. Ross refers to ideas in the Bible such as The Burning Bush, The Great Flood and Jesus, during scenes in the film. He also uses film techniques such as close-up shots, dialogue and music which all facilitate this portrayal.
Ross uses biblical allusion to portray David, the protagonist in the film, as a Jesus like figure. David symbolizes a messiah type figure, as he brings knowledge and free will to the people of Pleasantville who are innocent and live in a Utopia which restrains them from living to their full potential. This is depicted in the scene where David retells Huckleberry Finn as the teenagers don’t know the rest of the story. As he speaks, the pages are filled with words and illustrations, while the other teenagers surround him, listening intently. Ross includes close-up shots of the teenagers’ faces to capture their bewildered expressions which portray their utter fascination of this new information. In this scene, we can see that David symbolizes Jesus, as his actions are similar to those in the Bible, when Jesus tells parables to thousands of people, eager to hear his good news and wisdom. Ross also emphasizes David’s similarity to Jesus by positioning David in the center of the teenagers, creating a sense of leadership/importance. The symbolism of David helps the viewer understand the director’s ideas. By creating David with similar traits and actions to Jesus, we can see that he taught the teenagers powerful knowledge of reading/the art of storytelling, while also educating them on the world beyond Pleasantville through books. This knowledge expands their minds and ultimately improves the quality of their lives. The teenagers enjoyed and valued what they learnt from David, reinforcing the idea to the audience that it is in fact good to bring knowledge into a Utopia.
Furthermore, Ross employs biblical allusion in order to use the burning tree as a symbol of enlightenment. In the scenes before the burning tree, Betty, the mother of Mary- Sue and David is informed about sex by Mary-Sue, after she inquires about what teenagers do at Lover’s Lane. Betty then goes on to explore her sexuality by herself in the bath, and in doing so experiences a change within her. After this, the tree outside her house in the garden suddenly bursts into flames. The burning tree represents the Burning Bush in the Bible, when God speaks to Moses and reveals his purpose through this bush which went up in flames, representing enlightenment. Similarly to the Bible, the burning tree in Pleasantville symbolizes Betty’s knowledge she obtained, which then allows her to seek purpose and the true meaning of life. Later on, when Betty’s face becomes colored, she says, “I don’t want it to go away.” Ross’s use of dialogue here emphasizes that Betty enjoys her life now that she has learnt this new information and obtained free will, and does not want it to go back to how it was previously. We can also see from this knowledge, that she ultimately loses her innocent ideals, and after exploring her sexuality, she instead gains free will and develops a new outlook on life. She is then able to make her own decisions regarding her values and priorities in life. This shows the audience that because of free will and knowledge, Betty was able to enrich her life such as later deciding to be with Bill, therefore reiterating to the audience the director’s ideas that it is good to bring knowledge into a Utopia and to have free will.
Finally, Ross employs biblical allusion in order to use rain as symbolism for new found life. This is portrayed in the scene where it starts raining, something abnormal to Pleasantville after Margaret, David’s love, gives an apple to David. This rain is compared to the Great Flood in the Bible, which God created to wipe out humanity in order to cleanse the world of sin. In contrast to this, Ross believes positive things are also associated with sin, and these positive things are needed to have a prosperous and rich life. In Pleasantville, the rain symbolized the freedom and enlightenment of the people after they had obtained new knowledge. Ross added to the sense of positivity associated with the rain by including uplifting and rejoiceful music in this scene. The rain washed over the town, bringing new life to the citizens of Pleasantville, similar to the Great Flood, which bought life back to the once sin permeated Earth. The people of Pleasantville are ultimately happier and flourishing, emphasizing to the audience the director’s ideas that it is good to bring knowledge into a Utopia and to have free will.
In conclusion, throughout the movie Pleasantville, there are many examples of Biblical allusion. Biblical allusion has been used as a symbol for the director’s ideas; that it is good to bring knowledge into a utopia and to have free will. By using ideas/stories from the Bible such as the Great Flood, the Burning Bush and Jesus, (messiah type figure), Ross is able to portray his message in a more effective way. This symbolism depicts the director’s ideas by conveying the positive impacts on the characters lives, after they have obtained free will and newfound knowledge. Betty was able to have a new outlook on life and make decisions for herself, regarding her happiness and values. The teenagers of Pleasantville, after hearing David’s storytelling, were able to acquire the new skill of reading/storytelling and learn new information from reading, improving the quality of their lives. Finally, the citizens of Pleasantville as a whole were experiencing freedom and enlightenment. From Ross’s ideas portrayed throughout the film, we can learn that we, as individuals, and as a society, must strive to learn new knowledge as the world advances. If we live inside our own bubble, ignorant to the world around us, we will struggle to grow as human beings and live life to our full potential.