Review: The Truman Show (1998)
Have you ever wandered if the whole world is in on something? Do you ever feel like you're being watched?
In 1998 director Peter Weir and writer Andrew Niccol sent audiences into a paranoid frenzy with The Truman Show - the story of a man whose entire life, unbeknownst to him, is a reality TV show. In credit to the films effectiveness, in 2008 'The Truman Show Delusion' was coined as a term to describe a person suffering from the delusion that their life was a staged production, cameras were on them everywhere and all of their friends, family and acquaintances were actors. With some very inventive cinematography, a brilliant plot arc and inspired performances from Jim Carrey, Laura Linney Ed Harris, The Truman Show is a satirical melodrama which slams the media and its need to control and script real life.
A search for freedom.
An unaware prisoner.
Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) lives on Seahaven island, an idyllic, quaint town where the 50's never ended. There's an eerie old school charm in the mood of the town reflected through its timely set design and demeanour of its inhabitants, all of whom are almost permanently smiling for the cameras. Truman's 'wife' Meryl or Hannah Gill (Laura Linney) as she is known in the outside world is the brightest of the bunch, with a painfully wide grin 24/7, she constantly dotes on Truman to the point of smothering. The crew and the creators who watch from their control centre in the roof of the sky painted dome and secretly control and choreograph Truman's world and life. Truman, of course, is an insurance salesman - whether he likes it or not - and not a particularly good one. He spends his days reminiscing over a woman he met years ago and the sudden and bizarre manner in which she departed Seahaven. Overall Truman is bored with his life. Bored with the monotony of his job, bored of the sickly sweet townsfolk, of his wife and the all too linear route his life is taking. Truman, since he was a boy, had a hunger for adventure - he wanted to explore the world, but Christof had very different plans.
Jim Carrey, whilst often known for wild rubber-faced antics, gives a career-best performance in this mature and grounded role and still gets to show his wacky side in small doses, particularly in extremely private and personal scenes of Truman alone, lost in his thoughts, talking to his bathroom mirror. He is fully believable as a shy, reserved individual with an adventurous soul.
We accept the reality of the world with which we're presented.
Without him realising, his entire world, friends and family are manipulating him at the behest of Christof - the 'Televisionary' whose corporation adopted Truman as a baby. Since that moment Truman has been both his property and his prisoner. Ed Harris is indeed a perfect choice for the calm, collected and calculated puppet master. Whilst not present much at all in the first two thirds of the film, his presence is felt through the leering gazes of the camera lens' and by the time he arrives on screen he steals the show. He is a true megalomaniac, believing himself entitled due to his talent to own Truman and decide what's best for him.
Laura Linney delivers a hugely entertaining and painfully honest performance, ironically as a career liar. She gives Meryl a sickly sweet demeanour, she is a manipulator who must always remain in control, something she finds increasingly difficult as suspicion around her intensifies. Truman's only "real" friend is Marlon (Noah Emmerich), a life long high school buddy who he shares intimate and personal secrets and plans of leaving Seahaven Island with. Little does he know that, of course, Marlon too is "in on it" and used in part to gather psychological data on Truman. It's both Marlon's false warmth and kinship with Truman that make this possible, of course on Truman's side the kinship has been genuine from day one giving these sweet scenes of camaraderie a satisfying bitter edge.
Meryl and Marlon also hilariously act as sales people multiple times throughout the movie by heavy-handedly recommending consumer products to a bemused Truman - Meryl's commercial for "Mococoa" takes place at a particularly pivotal point and is masterfully worked into the scene by Laura Linney to superb comedic effect.
The Truman Show
Incase I don't see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night.
- Truman Burbank
An indomitable character.
In all too real and tragic fashion Truman resigns himself for the most part to his mundane life and drifts through visibly disconnected from his wife, his job and his community. When Truman's thinks he spots his long-presumed-dead father living as a homeless man in Seahaven his whole world and mind begin to unravel in a dizzying frenzy of paranoia. Truman finally, after years of being completely unaware of his imprisonment, attempts to take control of his life and uncover the truth. Of course, Christof uses his legions of trained actors do everything in their power to dissuade Truman from his quest but the adventurous Truman proves he cannot be controlled forever. As events escalate the townsfolk are sent to increasingly ridiculous lengths to retain entertainments most valuable asset. Truman is forced to face multiple challenges including his completely manufactured fear of water, in truly gut wrenching emotional displays of his indomitable character.
Truman is continuously paraded around like a caged animal.
The perfect meta-narrative.
The Cinematography in 'The Truman Show' is simply inspired and integrated directly into the narrative with great effect. Often cutting to "button cams", we see the world through the eyes of the fans - candid shots of our protagonist framed by the edges of the button the camera is imbedded in, breathing life and personality into the camera's we are usually made to forget about in more conventional movies. Although 'The Truman Show' is an insanely popular show in its fictional universe it is not without huge opposition manifesting in the form of a "vocal minority" of protesters. On the other side of the divide are the fans, who are numerously cut back to throughout the movie, an assortment of "average Joe's" who live and breathe the show. Throughout the movie they watch events unfold from their sofas, bathtubs and bars and truly love Truman and are utterly compelled by the narrative Christof has created but find themselves even more mesmerised by Truman's daring attempts at escaping his cage and discovering the truth.
The Truman Show cleverly depicts an exaggerated version of our reality in regards to the level of control mass media has on our emotions and daily lives. Truman lives in a controlled utopia, complete with reassuring, tailor-made broadcasts to make him wonder why does he crave the disruption in his life he so clearly seeks. Parables drawn between us, the real world audience and the fictional audience encourage us to look at our own relationships to numerous forms of media that have not only existed at the time of this films creation and but also countless others that have sprung up since. It's the synergy between all the films elements - most notably Andrew Niccol's screenplay and Peter Weir's meta-narrative that truly elevate this movie and make it an unforgettable and and timeless experience.
© 2020 Joe Reynolds