The Truman Show (1998) – Peter Weir {SPOILERS}

The Truman Show written by Andrew Niccol and directed by Peter Weir, criticises society and the ways in which we consume media. Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) has been the star of an elaborate TV show and has lived inside a set his entire life, but has no idea that everyone in his life is an actor and that everything he does is broadcast. Throughout the course of the film he starts to notice more and more the odd things that are happening around town and starts to question his reality. Comedy and tragedy are interwoven seamlessly, which is part of what makes the film iconic. Questions are raised regarding what lengths people will go to in the name of entertainment: the industry is cutthroat and Truman’s life becomes synonymous with entertainment value.

Truman is chosen for the show because he’s an orphan and his birthday aligns with the show’s schedule. This relatively arbitrary reason shows the production company’s selection process and how an ordinary man can become a star simply because he’s televised, which feeds into today’s society’s obsession with reality TV and the stars that are borne from it. The individual becomes a personality; someone to be criticised, questioned and scrutinised in the public eye – which has dire consequences on people’s mental health, seen all too clearly in 2020. His environment is controlled by Director Christof (Ed Harris) who manages Truman’s conditions and masterminds his upcoming storylines; family drama and romantic interests included. The world is constructed to be without fault, all surface level with fake smiles, yet it inadvertently interrogates the American Dream, as Truman is not fulfilled by his success and perfectly synced life and thus yearns for a deeper connection outside the parameters of the set.

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Jim Carrey is perfect in the role, as usual he brings a charisma (not too slapstick) and makes Truman immediately likeable – a character we root for as he slowly discovers what’s going on. I also found Laura Linney, who plays Truman’s wife Meryl Burbank, a stand out. Her character is not pleased with the role of playing the wife, as she holds an underlying dislike of Truman that she has to push down. So the drama arises when she’s unsuccessful at disguising her disgust. My favourite scenes with her are when she incorporates advertisements into the discussion to generate revenue, as there are no ad breaks in the 24/7 live show. Completely out of the blue she’ll start talking up a product, much to Truman’s bewilderment. In questioning Truman’s reality, it’s interesting to consider the actors’ reality also – as the show-runners are pushing for Truman and Meryl to have a baby. Of course this would drag Meryl further into this world, unless they were planning to trick him with a fake pregnancy? Either way, the amount of time the actors spend on set in itself creates a new reality for them in which their work and personal life become merged. This is shown in Meryl’s character who fears for her life at one point and breaks character – she simply cannot work in these conditions.

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To control Truman’s movement they instill fear in him so that he doesn’t have the desire to travel, so they stage a boating accident with his father when he’s a child. The environment is trapping in all senses for Truman, so Lauren Garland’s character (played by Natascha McElhone) offers a refreshing counterbalance to the controlling environment. Although originally an extra on set, she becomes a symbol for Truman of escape and also becomes a ‘Free Truman’ advocate, fighting for Truman’s release in the real world. Her character becomes a motivating factor for Truman to leave town, because their connection feels real. As Truman notices oddities around the set, he starts to act sporadically to catch the actors off-guard, which leads to slip ups and him getting closer to the truth. 

The ending of The Truman Show is great, both in Truman’s final line (his catch phrase) and also the closing shot. One of the closing lines “what else is on?” shows how detached people are from what they’re watching, even when it involves a real person. It also comments on our attention span and how we consume media. Even the ways the cameras are placed in the show, with actors having small cameras on their clothes, lets us take on their perspective and further enforce our ability to live as someone else.

Image via Film-Grab

Even though Truman leaving the set in the film’s triumphant final close is a celebratory and epic moment, the more I consider the world in which he is going into, (in which ‘The Truman Show’ prospered), clouds his potential for happiness. Again in today’s context, in which people are bombarded online due to their reality TV status, the world Truman would enter could still be invasive, leading me to question how he would fare in an environment in which everybody knows his name. Would he be happier living on set not knowing the truth, in-line with the ‘ignorance is bliss’ maxim? I believe not, but that’s part of the film’s charm – how each point has a counter. 


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