The Truman Show

  • Title:  The Truman Show
  • Director:  Peter Weir
  • Date:  1998
  • Studio:  Paramount Pictures
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Natascha McElhone
  • Format:   Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Seahaven is the way the world should be.” – Christof

“Cue the sun.” – Christof

Imagine if your whole world – everyone you knew, every place you’d ever seen, every memory you had, was, in a sense – not real. Your very life had been manipulated from before your birth, and that all of this was completely unknown to you. That’s the theme of The Truman Show, one of the most innovative and unusual films ever made.

Truman Burbank has an almost perfect life, living in the small island community of Seahaven. His wife is a nurse, and he works selling insurance. Truman sometimes dreams of going off on an adventure, or of being an explorer, but his daily life is quite dull, though perfect.

Then one day, as he’s about to get into his car to drive to work, a studio light crashes to the ground, nearly hitting his car. Truman thinks it’s strange, until the radio explains a plane flying over Seahaven began shedding parts. Yet, slowly, but surely, more and more strange things begin happening. Truman remembers a girl he was interested in, Lauren, the girl with a red sweater and a button that said, “How is it going to end?” but before he could really pursue a relationship with her, another girl, a cute blonde is literally dropped in his lap. Truman meets Lauren again at the library – and they try to run off together, but she is picked up and dragged away by her “father”.

As we know from scenes in Truman’s present – he marries the blonde, Meryl. But in his present, another encounter is harder to explain – he sees his father on the street. His father had died years ago, falling overboard and drowning when their sailboat was caught in a storm. Truman is disturbed by the encounter, and doesn’t quite buy the explanations offered by his mother and his wife. He meets up with his best friend, Marlin, and they have a heart-to-heart. Yet we see the Director, Christof, feeding lines to Marlin over a hidden earpiece. As the conversation concludes, a man walks out of the fog and smoke. It’s Truman’s lost father. But we see this momentous event through the eyes of the Director and his technical aides – as he orders the fog machine to back off, orders the arrangement of shots and cameras, and even has the music fade up.

Then we see the title sequence of “The Truman Show” which explains that Truman was born on camera, he was legally adopted by a Corporation, that millions had watched his first step and his “stolen kiss” (with Lauren), etc. Next is a cut to a talk show, “Tru Talk”, and an interview with Christof, the Director. Truman’s entire life is a TV show – aired 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without interruption or advertisements. It’s revenue comes from product placement – and everything on the show is for sale in “The Truman Catalog”. The rest of the cast are actors, paid to interact with Truman. The Director manipulates everything to create “good television”.

Yet, despite the return of his father, Truman continues to question, continues to push.

He walks into a travel agency – an agency with posters, not of beautiful island paradises, but of planes hit by lightening, and of dire warnings of other Bad Things that can happen to the unwary traveller. When Truman tries to buy a plane ticket, he’s told there’s nothing for two months.

Next, he kidnaps his wife and spontaneously drives off. He gets her to drive from the passenger seat with one hand on the steering wheel of the car over a bridge over water to the “mainland”, something Truman himself is afraid to do. As they continue to drive, they hear sirens – and find an accident at a Nuclear Plant, with men in hazmat and fire-proof suits. A uniformed police officer tells them they can’t continue – but the cop makes a mistake when Truman agrees to turn around and says, “You’re welcome, Truman.” Truman tries again to escape, but he’s captured.

There’s a clip of Christof explaining that Meryl will leave Truman and a new “love interest” introduced. And that he’s “determined to have the first on-air conception” on the show.

But Truman has other ideas. He pretends to go back to his old self, continues to sell insurance, and “acts normal”. But one night, he sneaks in to his basement, creates a sleeping dummy with a recording of snores, and hides in a closet, then breaks out through a hole. This is discovered by the Director, who’s in his control room on the moon. First, Marlin is sent to find out if Truman is really sleeping (he discovers the deception). Then the entire cast and all extras are sent to search for Truman, they step in a long line, perfectly in time, arms linked, to a frightening sound reminiscent of goose-stepping. The group even has barking dogs. Having already ceased transmission, Christof is desperate to find his star. He uses the moon as a searchlight. Finally, even though it’s too early, he turns on the sun.

Christof realizes the one place he hasn’t searched is the sea. He finds Truman on a sailing boat, and begins transmitting pictures again. The audience begins to root for Truman’s escape, especially Lauren who leads some sort of protest group that wants Truman freed. As Truman tries to make his escape, Christof orders a storm. When his orders to stop Truman escalate to killing him by capsizing the boat – the other directors and technicians finally protest and refuse. Christof increases the storm and Truman falls off the boat and into the water. Christof turns off the storm and Truman, not drowned, coughs up the water and makes it back onto the boat. At this point, Christof says he wants to talk to Truman.

Christof’s voice appears to come from a break in the clouds.

“Who are you?” asks Truman.

“I am the creator of a television show that gives hope, and joy, and inspiration to millions,” replies Christof.

“Who am I?” asks Truman.

“You are the star,” replies Christof.

Christof then tells Truman he has watched him since he was born, saw him take his first step, watched him cut his first tooth. Truman still is determined to leave Christof’s giant television studio. He’s awakened when his boat hits the wall of the studio, and he walks, apparently on water, around the edge, until he finds a stair case. Finally, Truman climbs the stairs and exits the door. Christof orders “Cease Transmission”.

But the meta of the film is carried over into the credits which are listed in three parts: Truman’s World, Christof’s World, and the Viewers. Only the characters in Truman’s World have names – other than Christof and “Chloe” in Christof’s world characters are listed by their job description, “Control Room Director”, “Network Exceutive”, “Keyboard Artist”, etc. Similarly, the audience members are listed by descriptions, “bar waitress”, “Man in Bathtub”, “Japanese Family”, etc.

The Truman Show is a deep and fascinating film. Originally almost dismissed as a commentary on the “new” phenomena of Reality Television, it’s actually a deeply philosophical film. The Director is God – he’s created Truman’s entire world. He controls all of Truman’s encounters. If an actor becomes difficult or complains – they are removed from the show. New characters are introduced – giving the Director the show he wants – creating situations that Truman should respond to in predictable ways, such as dropping Meryl in his lap. Even what the actors say is at times scripted or suggested by Christof – such as Meryl insipid product placement lines (which she always delivers badly) or in a more serious scene, Christof feeding lines to Marlin to give to Truman. When the reality starts to break down, Truman’s search to find Lauren, to escape to Fiji, is really an attempt to understand his world and discover who he really is. It’s not accidental at all, that when Christof first speaks to Truman, it’s a voice, from the sun, peaking out from clouds, after a storm. That’s  a very Christian image. Though the entire story is of Truman’s fight to push the boundaries of his world and control his own fate, rather than stay safe, in a world created for him. Christof loses his battle, when Truman wins.

Besides the Christian implications, there’s another whole level to the film – the meta implications. Although the first half of the film stays in Truman’s world, but often with lens hazing or a curved perspective (like the really old shots in films that indicated a character was looking through binoculars or a telescope), once he meets his father, we are introduced to Christof’s World. We hear Christof defending his perspective. We hear Lauren, an actress named Sylvia, attack Christof on the “Tru Talk” call-in talk show program. And we see the audience watching the show and making comments – and eventually rooting for Truman’s escape. It’s a film, about a fictional television show, that shows us the director making that show, and the audience watching that show. It’s just so meta it practically defines the term.

And in many ways, this seventeen-year-old film predicts in a non-specific way, our world of constant Social Media interaction. The give-and-take and interaction between viewers and makers of film and television via websites, social media, Live Tweet Events, etc. The creating of profiles to emphasize what we want others to know about us and de-emphasize or even hide what we don’t want others to know about us. The putting on a friendly face, that can be an act as much as Truman’s wife and best friend act a certain way towards him. Though, to it’s credit, Truman’s world isn’t a totally paranoid or scary one. And in our world, Social Media does much good – giving voice to the voiceless, and in times of crisis turning us all into citizen journalists.

The Truman Show is an underrated classic and it is a film that really must be seen. I highly, highly, highly recommend this movie.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: UHF

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