O Felix Culpa

One of the good things about Netflix is that you can get minor movies that are only a few years old to watch again. I don’t think Pleasantville was too hot at the box office, but like Groundhog Day, it is a fascinating fantasy film with strong theological themes.
The plot involves two contemporary teenagers from a broken family who get sucked into a black and white TV show. It’s called Pleasantville and its a 1950′s Andy of Mayberry, Dick Van Dyke Show, Leave it to Beaver world. Every night Dad comes home to pot roast, ice cream and home made cookies. Everybody smiles and is polite all the time. Everybody is a virgin, everybody is nice, everything is neat and tidy and ‘just so.’
But the brother and sister bring sin into this little Americana Eden. The results are interesting to watch. People start seeing things in color. One by one as the characters are enlightened they start to become colorful as well. Chaos and corruption start to creep in. Mom has an affair with the local soda fountain man who has discovered a talent for painting. Violence erupts as the little town’s neat and tidy, black and white world is shattered by color.
The fascinating thing about Pleasantville is that, while it has strong theological themes it isn’t really preachy. It shows that sin brings suffering and corruption and violence, but it also shows that human choice brings beauty, love and real freedom. Through sin the characters of Pleasantville lose their artificial, neat and tidy perfection, but they gain something more. It can’t be said that this is an overtly Christian film, and some Christians will find the sexual content and artistic nudity portrayed as disturbing. However, it is a thoughtful, entertaining study of free will, self righteous repression of freedom, and the effects of the fall.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07346012062816580296 Rich

    Hell Fr. Longnecker -How strange that sounds – the last time we talked, you were just “Dwight.” But I take great pleasure in addressing you by your new title – the loss of my familiarity in manner is the Church’s infinite gain. (And to end the mystery, we last met when you visited Ave Maria, and I took for you shoe-shopping, ending up with your old ill-fitting pair – which by the way have stood in me in good stead).(And the shoes can almost make me forgive you for having stolen Joe Pearce away from us to Greenville for half the year!)But I agree with you about both NETFLIX and Pleasantville. Some real gems get lost int he shuffle, having fallen out of rotation on any of the movie channels…and Pleasantville is one of them. At the time I recall I fared it would be yet another tedious Hollywood deprecation of the sterility and repression of 50′s culture, brought enlightenment by our superior, millenial selves. In fact, there’s a great deal else going on.Definitely worth adding to that Netflix list for those who haven’t yet.best regardsRichardNaples, FL

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Hi Rich! Let’s make sure we meet up. I’ll be at AMU again in March.I’m glad the shoes are still going strong! I actually thought of you while shopping at the Greenville Dillards last week.Good to hear from you!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00553184194930512732 and also with you

    Do you drive from Greenville to Naples? I’d offer to buy you lunch on your way through, but in reality I’m probably a couple of hours off your route.I agree about the themes in Pleasantville, a great movie. But (somewhat off-topic), what are your thoughts on the line from the Exultet you made into your post title? We had a debate on its meaning in my last Franciscan formation meeting:O Happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I think ‘O Felix Culpa’ is actually the theme of Pleasantville. You can’t have love and freedom and art and beauty and color without the possibility (and perhaps the necessity) of the fall. The redeemed perfection of man is greater than the created perfection of man…I hope that’s not a heresy!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13753776175726884530 Rowena Hullfire

    I’ve had conversations with my WWII era parents about such themes. Is virtue really virtue when it is rigidly enforced through fear in a homogenous society? –The brittle world of their young adulthood. As generational Traditionalists, they and their cohort did a lot out of a sense of duty and obligation, but sometimes without love.Now that we’re full blast into a very sinful and corrupt society, anything goes. So virtue takes more will, since it is not socially enforced; and it has more merit. Nothing is for duty or obligation because you can get off the hook for anything. You have to embrace virtue consciously and expect more of yourself than the world does.The brittleness of b&w; Pleasantville is painful; there is much silent desperation.I’ll take a messy, colorful world any time.


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