Meaning of the movie “Pleasantville”

Quotes from Stephen Gilligan, PhD, one the most fruitful students of Milton Erickson, MD. Steve’s remarks slightly expanded on for clarity.

In the movie “Pleasantville”, a teenage brother and sister from the 1990’s find themselves transported back into a 1950’s black and white TV sitcom landscape based on the old show “Father Knows Best”.

While on the surface everything seems perfectly “normal,” people have no depth, no mystery, and literally no color. The lack of color represents their lost contact with their own essence in the black-and-white 1950s Pleasantville mindset.

The two from 1990s perceive those around them as living in an enclosed yet “pleasant trance” devoid of real liveliness, a mindless “Brave New World” based on old ideas of Father Knows Best. The two modern teens instigate a series of happenings. These precipitate individual awakenings in people around them; and finally, in themselves. Individual awakening occur when a person connects with a hidden or undeveloped part of his or her being, embraces it and brings it back to life and conscious awareness. For a teenage athlete, it’s romantic love; for the kids’ “mother”, awakening comes from discovering the sensuality of her body; for the father, it comes from recognizing his longings; for the 1990s girl, it comes from discovering and reading classic literature; for the boy, it comes from finding his fierceness.

In each case, the experience and expression of undeveloped parts of one’s self transforms the person from black-and-white into “living color”. Then they and others around them have then to deal with the myriad of responses arising in response to living with feeling more alive.

The Pleasantville trance is all around us in various forms. It keeps us asleep through false smiles, violent threats, unspoken fears, disembodied thinking, numbness, consumerism, and other practices of the modern and postmodern world.

Reframing life’s problems as solutions

The way out is through ~ Ron and Mary Hulnick of USM

Normally people perceive unexpected changes in their life as “problems,” as wholly negative. What if disturbances of the normal order of an individual’s life was evidence of “something is waking up;” as in, a new capacity “trying to be born.”

This can happen to individuals. This can happen to couples. This can happen to a community of people who share values and time together.

Life disturbances such as a death, divorce, illness, or addiction can be viewed as double-edged.

On the one side, such disturbances can destructive, people and things are lost. Authentic grieving must be admitted and allowed. The individual may, or may not, descend into depression, acting out, or other problematic behaviors.

On the other side of each such “crisis” hidden opportunities for major growth may be waiting. Most of us, for example, can recall an event initially perceived as negative which led to one or more significant positive growth spurts in our lives.

It’s too glib to say, as some do, “the problem is the solution.” That’s too many steps scrunched together. Most people can’t chunk this down, unpack this, into steps they can manage.

When a client visits a therapist, counselor or coach, how we regard the disturbances in their lives — the experiences and events throwing them into what they believe is “chaos” — makes a great deal of difference.

The over-giving response is to help the client overcome the threats to their well being. The “problem” is an “enemy” to be defeated, through any means possible.

Milton Erickson (1980a; 1980b) pioneered an entirely different approach, one based on accepting and working with a person’s “problems” as unique presences which; under the proper conditions, be the basis for exploring new inner capacities which may be trying to in a birth process.

For example, in the 1940s or 1950s, a young secretary was utterly convinced that a large gap in her teeth made her ugly and undesirable. Erickson had her learn to squirt water through the gap in her teeth until she was able to hit a distant target. He then got her to lay in waiting at the office water cooler in order to “ambush” a young man (to whom she was attracted) with a squirt of water. One thing led to another, and the couple lived happily ever after.

bd: In this way a personal problem was reframed into an ability; and with practice, an opportunity to create something new.

Health Intuitive, author in Los Angeles,CA