In reviewing ‘Half-life 2’ and it’s derivatives last week, I’m a little bit behind on my reviews but that’s OK, it’s not like I’m going to forget the details and what I thought of ‘The Truman Show’. It’s one of those films that I have heard of through its reputation and that reputation is very good. Having now seen it, I can positively say that it was not what I thought it was going to be. That’s not to say that I didn’t like it, it’s just that I perceived it differently.
Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is living the perfect American life. He has a good job, he lives in a nice house in a nice neighbourhood in a nice, normal American town with his nice, normal American wife. However, what Truman doesn’t know is that the people and the world around him is all fabricated and being rigidly controlled by a production company which broadcasts Truman’s everyday life for the benefit of millions. His best friend, Marlon (Noah Emmerich) and his wife, Meryl (Laura Linney) are both played by actors who are told what to say and what to do through earpieces.
One day, Truman begins to notice odd things happening around him which makes him begin to suspect that the world around him isn’t real. Slowly, his suspicion grows until he comes to realise that he can’t trust anyone and decides to try and break out of this world.
I’ll start with telling you how I thought the film was going to play out.
All I knew about the film going in was that it was about a man who finds out that he’s been in a television show. I thought it was going to be more surreal than it was. What I thought was going to happen is difficult to explain so I’ll do my best. I thought it was going to be more ‘surreal’ than it was. Does that make sense? Rather than Truman being a real man whose whole life has been manufactured and broadcast, I thought that Truman was genuinely a character on a show and comes to realise that he is in a TV show and would try to convince the people around him that they too are characters on a TV show and nothing around them was real. Do you see what I mean? The best analogy I can think of is a book called ‘Mogworld’ by Yahtzee Croshaw which depicts the life of an undead character in a fantasy RPG but the main character is unaware that he is in a video game although the reader knows all to well and will recognise the references to fantasy RPGs. I don’t know how it ends because I haven’t finished it but now do you see what I mean?
However, it is revealed later on in the film the sheer lengths that this company have gone to, all for the sake of one man. Truman Burbank was an orphaned child who was adopted by a TV company to be the focus of a new and radical project. This child would be the most famous face on TV. His parents, friends and neighbours would be played by actors and all the major events in his life would be scripted. The town that he lives in is built within a gigantic dome that can be seen through space and the control room located within in this dome is controls what time of day it is and even the weather. All of this for one man. They explain that they’re able to pay for everything because of product placement throughout the ‘show’ but it seems unbelievable that all of this effort has been achieved for one man who doesn’t know and in the end, doesn’t appreciate it.
Sure enough, the vast majority of the TV watching public all tune in to the show and adore Truman. They are aware of the circumstances regarding his origins and a lot of the viewers have been with him since he was a baby. However, there are people who have tried throughout the years to tell Truman the truth and there is one person in particular who proves that no one can control someone’s life so rigidly, there heart wants what the heart wants. That person is Lauren Garland (Natascha McElhone) who was hired as an extra during Truman’s college days and whilst Hannah Gill was hired to play Meryl and basically throw herself at Truman as he was supposed to marry her, he couldn’t take his eyes off Lauren. When he approached her, she took him away from the cameras and tried to tell him the truth, but she was taken away before she could. Truman spent the intervening years being married to Meryl but still pining after Lauren, even going so far as to fashion a picture of her using a collage of pictures from a women’s magazine.
As he got older, Truman began to develop an interest in travelling and exploration but that would mean leaving the idyllic coastal (and fictional) town of ‘Seahaven’ so the producers decided to ‘kill’ his father during a boat trip, thereby giving Truman trauma-based aquaphobia which has prevented him from leaving.
When I was watching, I couldn’t help but think about the sheer amount of money that these actors are getting paid just to be involved with this project. Think about it. They are essentially giving up a large amount of their time, convincing a clueless man that he is living the dream. Especially Hannah because she has to be available at all hours of the day. Does she go home? This can’t be just a job for her. She was hired to throw herself at Truman, she lives with him and the topic of whether or not they should have children is discussed so presumably they’re having sex which would be broadcast to the nation. It’s not mentioned whether or not they have sex, but they must have done at some point. Maybe not recently because Truman is in love with Lauren (or Sylvia which is the actresses name) and Hannah (or Meryl) is an actress.
Also Marlon. There’s a bit towards the end where the producers are wondering whether or not Truman is actually in his house and so they send Marlon in at a moment’s notice with a six-pack of beer in the middle of the night for an impromptu visit. Did they call this guy in from his house or does he live in the set? These people must be getting paid extortionate amounts of money if they’re willing to give up this must of their time to live in a fantasy world and trick Truman into believing this is all real.
I’m in no doubt that the very concept of the show is immoral. They’ve denied Truman a real life that’s filled with genuine experiences. Of course, the whole concept is a metaphor for living in a bubble and not rebelling and towing the line etcetera and we as the audience (just like a select number of viewers in the film) are rooting for Truman to break free. It was a great bit of casting to get Jim Carrey involved because he is great at portraying really likeable characters and so I was rooting for Truman by the end.
The final sequence is very moving. Basically Truman overcomes his fear of water and having evaded the cameras and his fellow townsfolk who are really working for the corporation and are out in full force looking for him, Truman sails a boat away from Seahaven whilst the show’s creator, Christof (Ed Harris) tries to dissuade him with a manufactured storm. Even after being thrown overboard, Truman persists, and it becomes clear that he isn’t going to give up. Morning comes and Truman’s boat crashes into the wall of the gigantic dome, revealing that his whole world is fake. Truman finds an exit door and opens it and despite Christof warning him that if he goes out into the real world, he is subject to all the cruelty that world has to offer but if he stays then he has no reason to be afraid. But Truman has made up his mind and he steps through the door after bidding this world and his audience a fond farewell with his catchphrase, ‘In case I don’t see you… good afternoon, good evening and good night’. As Truman leaves, the show is taken off the air by Christof’s supervisors and the viewing public collectively check the TV guides for something else to watch.
‘The Truman Show’ had a budget of $60 Million and took in a worldwide gross of $264.1 Million as well as being nominated for 70 awards across various platforms for cast and crew, the film won 30. ‘The Truman Show’ was nominated for three Academy Awards but didn’t win any.
‘The Truman Show’ has left quite a legacy. It has been dissected by Academics and I’m not surprised because it does give the viewer a lot to think about when it comes to the visual representation of the ‘American Dream’ etcetera. There is also such a thing as ‘The Truman Show Delusion’ which is a psychological condition named by Joel Gold (a Psychiatrist) and Ian Gold (his brother and Neurophilosopher) wherein sufferers believe that their life is an orchestrated TV show. The film is also credited as predicting the onset and popularity of reality TV shows such as ‘Big Brother’.
The big difference is of course that the people that they get to be in ‘Big Brother’ are fully aware they are on a TV show as they have volunteered although their lives inside the house are somewhat manufactured as they producers very carefully interview and process the volunteers with the intention being to deliberately put people inside the house who have clashing personalities in the hopes that they’ll fight each other on live TV and their rating will go up. Another difference is that I actually liked ‘The Truman Show’.
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