Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.
I really love The Truman Show. It represents a particular example of what I think makes a film truly great and meaningful. First, it’s a great story, one that is engaging all the way through. It’s a unique spin on a story that I think everyone has had the feeling of at one point or another—that somehow everything is literally about us. It’s a masterpiece of solipsism, deceit, and paranoia. I love the way it works and I love the way it ends. While not perfect, it’s pretty damn close.
Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) has lived his entire life inside a television show. Literally. An unwanted child at birth, he was legally adopted by a corporation and placed inside the single-largest physical structure in the world, a massive enclosed studio with its own weather system, series of lights representing the stars, sun and moon, and ocean. Inside this massive structure is Seahaven, a small island community stuck in a vague memory of the 1950s. His life is broadcast 24/7 to the world at large. All of this is done completely without Truman’s knowledge. I think Seahaven is alleged to be in California (after all, the sun sets over the ocean), but every time I watch this, it has the feel of a town situated in Massachusetts. There’s something about it that feels like it belongs near Cape Cod.
As the show approaches the Truman’s 30th birthday, things slowly begin to fall apart, giving Truman a glimpse into the reality of his world. One fine morning as Truman prepares to drive to work, a light fixture falls and crashes near Truman’s house; the light is labeled with the name of a star. Truman also sees a homeless man who looks nearly identical to his father, who supposedly drowned 20 years earlier, which is also the source of Truman’s crippling fear of boats and crossing the water to the “mainland.” An elevator in the set of a building is revealed to be a set and Truman gets a look at the people behind the set walls. His car radio malfunctions, allowing him to hear a few minutes of stage direction as they follow him during his morning commute.
Through all of this, the other people in Truman’s life attempt to keep him unaware of the real nature of his world. These include his wife Meryl (Laura Linney), his mother (Holland Taylor), and his best friend Marlon (Noah Emmerich), all of whom are actually actors. Through flashbacks, we learn that Truman is still obsessed with Lauren (Natascha McElhone), an extra he met in college who tried to tell him about the reality of his world and who was subsequently removed from Seahaven because of it. As the film progresses, Truman determines to find out the truth of the world he lives in, all under the watchful gaze of the show’s creator and director, Christof (Ed Harris).
The most common way to view The Truman Show is as a morality tale regarding both the media and our relationship with the media. Some have seen it as a treatise on the rise of reality television, and I can see that, but I think that’s too limited of a scope for something as large and sweeping as this film. The virtual slavery of Truman, the equally slavish devotion of his fans, the moral questions brought up by life Truman is forced to lead—all of these are questions that strike out our relationship with the media and with media responsibility to us, the people who live in a love/hate relationship with them. This is not the way I choose to see this film, although I think it’s a perfectly legitimate read. My take on The Truman Show involves the ending, so it’s best placed under a spoiler.
*** SHOW TIME! ***
I look at The Truman Show instead as one of the closest things we have to an atheist parable. Truman (whose name is impossible not to see as “true man” in this reading) lives in a world specifically designed for him, where everything is geared perfectly to his survival and his well-being. Nothing too terrible will ever happen to Truman because his creator is literally watching over him and looking out for him at all times. And who is that creator? Christof. Flip the two syllables of his name, and you get “of Christ.”
Throughout the film, all the “true man” wants is the truth. He seeks after it, but is denied at every turn. Ultimately, he decides that this quest for the truth is worth as much as anything—worth his life, and he journeys to find it. Doing so causes his creator, who is “of Christ,” to attack him, batter him, and try to kill him. But the “true man” sails through until he finally confronts/is confronted by that creator—who literally appears as a voice from the heavens. This conversation is packed with meaning, too—when he introduces himself to his creation, Christof’s words are “I am the Creator (pause) of a television show…” Truman, the “true man,” rejects him and leaves the artificial world where everything is controlled by an all-powerful and benevolent creator and opts instead for an unsafe reality, a world where nothing is planned and the answers don’t come from a guiding hand from above because he’d rather live in reality.
*** SHOW’S OVER ***
Based on that, is there any question as to why I love this film? It doesn’t hurt that it’s beautifully filmed and acted. I’ve never been a Jim Carrey fan, but I’m the first to admit that when he’s given something like this, he’s capable of doing something both great and grand. Carrey is the perfect choice for Truman because everyone goes into the film with expectations of Ace Ventura or The Cable Guy and instead gets something very real. I’m not sure a dramatic actor could have pulled off this role. It required the sensibilities of a comedian to really make it work. The only reason I can think that Carrey was not given an Oscar nod is, well, because he’s Jim Carrey.
This is a must-see film. I’m finding over and over that Peter Weir is a director who makes films I like quite a bit, and this one is top of the list.
Why to watch The Truman Show: It’s boy-damn-howdy good and it has a powerful message.
Why not to watch: Paranoia.