Written by Katie Constantine
Edited by Kathryn Cooperman
*Beware: WandaVision Spoilers Ahead*
WandaVision took over everyone’s lives, and for good reason. With its nostalgia, mystery, and sitcom approach, it was unlike anything we’ve seen from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But while everyone was focused on which old show each episode referenced, all I could think about was how the entire first season seemed to draw inspiration from the critically acclaimed 1998 movie Pleasantville.
Starring Reese Witherspoon and Toby Maguire, Pleasantville is about two teenagers who are sucked into a black and white 1950’s sitcom. While Toby Maguire’s character David finds respite in the simplicity of the alternate universe, Reese’s character Jennifer tries to knock some reality into everyone, much to David’s frustration. This duality of two people being stuck in a simple world with one welcoming the escapism and the other hating the fake niceties is exactly what the basis of WandaVision is built on. Wanda, played by Elizabeth Olsen, is so desperately hurt by the real world that she takes solace in a black and white, surface-level sitcom, but the people trapped with her hate being fake and controlled. Even Vision, played by Paul Bettany, becomes upset when he learns that the world isn’t real.
When Jennifer challenges the alternate world by introducing the different characters to bits of reality, things start to change from black and white to color. The same thing happens in WandaVision – when Wanda begins to lose her grasp on the fake world she created, the town goes from black and white to color. In Pleasantville, this introduction of color represents a loss of innocence, but with that loss comes the gain of an exciting and well-rounded view of life. In WandaVision, a similar excitement occurs when they switch to a color format, because she gives birth to two sons she never thought she’d be able to have with Vision after his death. While the townspeople in WandaVision don’t fight against this change – they can’t because they’re under Wanda’s control – Tyler Hayward, the government agent monitoring her, does because he’s intimidated by anything new that Wanda creates. This mirrors the reaction by the conservative townspeople in Pleasantville who physically resist the loss of naivety by bullying anyone and anything colorful because they feel threatened by things they don’t understand.
So, what do the similarities between WandaVision and Pleasantville mean? What can we take away from such a comparison? Well, we’ve had decades to analyze what makes Pleasantville special, so now we can use what we learned from that to tell us exactly what is so special about WandaVision. The mystery of the worlds and how they adapted into a new reality generates interest from the viewers. As soon as the viewers get used to one world, it changes, whether that be WandaVision transitioning into a new decade of T.V., or Pleasantville going from reality to a sitcom and then merging the two. The audience is never allowed to be comfortable, and that doesn’t just perpetuate intrigue, but it also aligns them with every character who is in emotional turmoil throughout the movie and the series. The forces at play, those that fight against change and those that want it, are what keep people coming back to the series and staying for the entirety of the movie. At the end of both WandaVision and Pleasantville, both worlds are completely different than what they were at the beginning. This is because Wanda has to keep opening the town up to change in order to prevent her emotions from catching up to her. Eventually, she’s the one who has to change to accept life without Vision so that she can become the Scarlet Witch and give the townspeople their freedom. Jennifer has to convince David and a number of other people that change leads to complexity, yes, but it also leads to freedom, even if that looks different for each person.
Each piece of the movie and show puts its own spin on things, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to accepting the complexities of life and knowing that good things can come with change, even if there are devastating consequences as well. Things aren’t black and white, reality is messy, and the act of coming to these conclusions is what makes a show and a movie great.