After sitting through a shameless amount of TV product placements, I suddenly had an urge to revisit an old favourite: The Truman Show 1998. Once again, I was instantly drawn into the intriguing world of Truman Burbank; his comfortable little existence in a comfortable little home, a charming wife by his side and the many friends and family who care about him. In short, the kind of life fished out of a 50s utopian dream, complete with unidentified objects falling out of the sky and inexplicable advertising spouting out of your wife’s mouth. And for those of you who have yet to watch this film… yes, you read that correctly.
Part of why The Truman Show is so watchable lies in the brilliant characterisation of Truman himself. By The Truman Show, I refer not only to the movie which I am reviewing, but also the television show in which he stars. Truman is sweetly comical, headstrong but good-natured; it is easy to love him. In one sense, he reminds me a little of George Bailey. Like our timeless holiday hero, Truman is trapped in a small town, determined to see the world. I think Truman is an incredibly sympathetic character, and it’s just possible that a 24 hour show revolving around his unremarkable life would have succeeded. Now more than ever, I think we can understand that craving for the extra-ordinary.
It is, of course, the premise of the film though that makes it so great. While it could be argued that the story is not the first of its kind, (the movie was inspired by elements from a Twilight Zone episode), Peter Weir executes these ideas very effectively. The concept of a perfect suburbia is eerily realised through his sunny cinematography, literally rounded off by the mannered vignetting. We watch Truman’s artificial world through the eyes of his audience (slightly pathetic couch potatoes) and see exactly what they see: an engaging style that falls somewhere between a documentary, surveillance videos and vintage advertising.
After 15 years, The Truman Show still stands as one of the most prophetic films we’ve ever encountered. Additionally, it highlights the unthinkable soft power of the media and how reality television is almost always far from real. As a piece of entertainment, the movie is fantastic, flawlessly alternating between comedy and drama. Finally, the ending of The Truman Show really is a great one, filled with new-found hope and the satisfying thrill of the unknown. As the score swells to a moving climax, we watch Truman climb the stairs and open the door to the real world.
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I loved this film. Truman was basically a prisoner in a world where his family, friends and work was a lie, and he was made to suffer pain and fear, all in the name of entertainment.
Yes, The Truman Show is scarily similar to some of the “entertainment” we see on TV today. People became so obsessed with poor Truman, and the funny thing was, when he finally went out into the world, his trivial audience just moved on, looking for some other show to watch.
I remember how Christopher wanted Truman to have a kid and repeat the process again. He was an evil man, in his own right.
I need to watch this movie again. My favorite moment is when the boat crashes into the edge of the world. You have to wonder what Truman thinks of this–all those limitations that have been imposed on him throughout his life have been made literal. He passes beyond them of course, but I would still have to question just how open his new world is. It is really just the other side of the coin, the reality TV-obsessed world that created him. I could go a bit further (reality TV places limits on the real world by creating simplified visions of real life that people mistake for real. If the world is really that obsessed with Truman, how will they react to the real person? How will Truman react to it? He basically leaves a (false) utopia only to find a dystopian world.) The movie ends on a happy note (stressing the potential romance, in addition to all the celebrations), but its world remains the same frightening place it always was.
I agree particularly with your final observation. Whilst watching The Truman Show, I remember that I just kept thinking what a lovely place Seahaven would be to live in :) But that, however, doesn’t really matter.
It is true that the world outside is cruel, and that the world Truman has always known is (falsely) faultless; yet, Truman deserves the chance to see the world as it really is, and he must be given the chance also to choose the life he wishes to lead. It may be frightening, but this gift of free will is truly precious.
I agree — this is a great movie.
I have always liked this film and whenever I stumble across it find myself compelled to watch it again. Despite feeling how very much I wanted it to be darker in tone and atmosphere, noting the struggles Weir and others had with the proper balance of comedy/drama, I think it works as intended and would probably have gotten side tracked had we delved too far into his troubled soul. I could definitely see another kind of story in this fashion, though — somewhere between Love Liza and Leaving Las Vegas centered in the manufactured reality television competition world, watching the foreplay of internal/external truths and discoveries in 24/7 chunks that haven’t been ‘edited for the screen, time or content’. Perhaps I just need to finish that script! For Truman of course, struggling ala ‘The American Dream’ frontier, any such meandering would seriously undermine what Weir accomplishes and, as you aptly point out, the landscape is an integral function of our ability to transcend the limitations of the “reality” of Truman’s situation and bridge it with that of the audience – both the audience in the film and us.
“…this gift of free will is truly precious…” This is a powerful observation and one that I’ve always felt connected me to this film, the underlying beauty of a “world” where so many people are active participants in your day to day joys and follies while simultaneously posing the greatest risk to our capacity to choose a course of action independent of others and embrace the various outcomes. Which is very closely connected to the concept of moral responsibility – that is freely acting/reacting to our world while wholly being responsible for our choices and the consequences of our choices on ourselves and others.
Lots to like here…Nice article.
Thank you Rory for your very thoughtful comments. I certainly understand what you mean about wanting the film to be darker, but like you, I think that the tone that Weir has struck is nevertheless potent. In fact, the forced sunniness that pervades Truman’s world creates arguably an even more sinister atmosphere.
You’re welcome Rachel…I guess I did ramble on a bit after looking back at it. But there is indeed a lot to say about this film, both in terms of what it reflects about society (even more today) and how it was masterfully constructed.
Curious, have you come across this article in your travels? http://samvak.tripod.com/seahaven.html
Here’s a pretty strong quote from it: “…Peter Weir, the movie’s director, takes this issue one step further by perpetrating a massive act of immorality on screen…”
Now if that isn’t a call to adventure (to write a response blog post) I don’t know what is. I better get to work. See ya’ around. cheers->