Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Truman Show (1998)

Fig 1 - The Truman Show Poster
Directed by Peter Weir, The Truman Show follows the story of a man who, unbeknownst to him, stars as the central character in a reality television show. Born into the fictional town of Seahaven, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) lives a seemingly picturesque life as an insurance salesman whose world, and everyone in it, secretly revolve around his every movement. Since birth, the show's creator Christof (Ed Harris) has acted as the shadowy puppeteer behind every significant moment in Truman's life, molding his fears and ambitions to fit the narrative of the show and keep it's star in the dark. On the brink of his 30th birthday, Truman decides he wants to travel to Fiji since it is "the farthest away you can go before you start coming back", much to the concern of his wife Meryl (Laura Linney). Things begin to escalate when Truman starts noticing unusual patterns in the behaviour of Seahaven's residents and, in his many attempts to escape the town, becomes evermore suspicious that life may not be as it seems...

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards (receiving none) and six Golden Globes, of which Jim Carrey, Ed Harris and the composers Burkhard von Dallwitz and Philip Glass won in their respective roles. Since it's release, the film has been praised as one of Jim Carrey's finest dramatic performances, even indirectly convincing others that they too were trapped in a television show. An uncommon paranoia informally known as "Truman Syndrome" has been documented by psychologists as a result of the film's popularity, bringing one individual to travel to New York following the September 11th attacks to justify whether or not it was just "all part of the script" (Kershaw, 2008).

Fig 2 - The Truman Show - Meryl and Truman
The film certainly works on a number of levels. As a satire on the nature of exploitation in television; the reality of celebrity culture; even ideas regarding societal constructs which conspire to maintain the status quo. The film is set in 1995 but could easily be seen as a foreboding vision of the future of entertainment and the moral choices involved in creating such content. With parallels to shows like Big Brother (taken from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four), it is an all too real possibility that The Truman Show may one day influence a similar premise by which life imitates art. Even within the film there is a clear divide in the viewership for Truman's release, meaning there was always a controversy to it's initial execution. The idea of the Seahaven dome also parallels Robert Nozick's thought experiment "The Experience Machine" (Anarchy, State and Utopia, 1984) in which Nozick asks the reader to choose between an artificial life in a flotation tank (void of unhappiness but ultimately fake) or to live in reality with all the good and bad that it entails. In this instance, Christof chose to put Truman in the "Experience Machine" but in the end, Truman chose reality for himself.

Additionally, I think Jim Carrey gives a perfect blend of nuance in conjunction with his famously zany shtick. I am still of the opinion that his role as Joel Barish (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)) has gone unsurpassed in terms of his dramatic abilities. However, I find Truman to be an incredibly likeable character in his naivety and I always lose myself in his performance (despite some moments of eccentricity). Ed Harris is similarly masterful in his subtle role as a Steve Jobs-style egomaniac. Although his character appears sparingly, Harris steals almost every scene with Christof's brooding gait and sense of absolute control over the situation. The final scene, in which Christof and Truman converse like deity's between heaven and Earth, perfectly captures Christof's desperation and overall affection towards Truman. It's a beautiful moment, and through a touching monologue Harris manages to convey just how important Truman is not only as a subject, but as a human being untouched by the horrors of humanity.

Overall, The Truman Show's surface concept amounts to an idea that is endlessly deep and dares to open up discussions of exploitation and the nature of reality whilst remaining consistently light-hearted. I must finish up now as I'm due to cycle past your house in about ten minutes.


Fig. 1 The Truman Show Poster (1998) From: The Truman Show - Directed by: Peter Weir

Fig. 2 The Truman Show Screenshot (1998) From: The Truman Show - Directed by: Peter Weir

Look Closely, Doctor: See the Camera? - Kershaw, Sarah (08/27/08) - Accessed: 01/06/17

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