Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Truman Show (1998)

Now here's an interesting one. In my second year of high school, my English teacher chose Peter Weir's film The Truman Show as the movie we would analyse for a short critical essay. Technically, therefore, I've already looked at it in detail, and gone through each significant line and camera angle thoroughly enough to make myself nauseous at the very mention of the name Truman. But that hasn't happened at all. When I saw it on today's TV listing, I decided it was actually worth another watch.

This is, at least in part, due to the fact that the premise is irresistable and fascinating. Truman Burbank is a man who has had hidden cameras filming him since he was in the womb, the focus of a huge-scale reality show that aims to document his entire life. He is the only occupant of a massive dome, containing a full-scale town called Seahaven, who is neither an actor or the disguised crew, and he is completely oblivious. However, Truman begins to notice minor faults with the world he lives in (a spotlight falls from the sky outside his house, a woman cycles past him on a regular loop) that makes him curious about what is really going on.

Writer Andrew Niccol adapted his idea from a Twilight Zone episode, and it's not difficult to imagine. There is something very Rod Serling about the concept of an entirely fabricated world occupied by a man who is entirely at the mercy of a television producer who cares more about the television programme's entertainment value than its star. When one of his assistants says, 'You can't kill him in front of a live audience', Christof quickly replies, 'He was born in front of a live audience.' It's a frightening idea, but in today's world it doesn't seem completely ridiculous. All it takes is a cross between Seven Up and Big Brother.

It's interesting to think that this film was released two years before the first series of Big Brother was broadcast. We think of reality television criticism as something modern, but people have been concerned with it for years. This is a nightmarish vision of what is possible in the future. Truman is manipulated with rather frightening techniques to ensure that he never wants to leave the fake island community he has lived in since he was born. The only time he has ever left was on a family trip to a brilliantly awful recreation of Mount Rushmore inside the dome. Since the programme has no breaks (having kept running non-stop for thirty years), it only gets its budget from blatant product placement by the terrible actors who make up Truman's neighbours, friends and family. Despite its dwindling viewership, it still remains popular, with some people leaving it on as they sleep for comfort. Would we really question it as much as we would like to think, if this were a real programme? After all, it's been running for thirty years. People have been born and died within that time. It would just be another staple of television that we don't really ask about, one that appeals to our voyeuristic nature as humans.

Warning: if you think too much into what I'm about to say, it might give away the ending.

One of the most crucial and frightening aspect of The Truman Show is Christof's narcissism, seeing himself as Truman's father and god. When he introduces himself to his subject, he says, 'I am the creator... of a television show'. The meaning and importance of that pause is very significant. This is what the idea of religion is concerned with. An unseen prescence somewhere beyond the sky influences everything that happens to you, and makes the decisions that affect your destiny. It is the idea that everything happens for a reason. This film, to me, takes quite an anti-religious stance. Christof decides everything that will happen to Truman, whether it improves his life or whether it rips his true ambitions away from him. It takes Truman's realisation that there is a man who dictates his life for him to decide that he would rather leave this world and become free to decide his own destiny.

Having all this information on the deepness of the plot and its messages, it might be surprising to find that Truman himself is played by none other than Jim Carrey. However, it turns out he has been hiding some considerable acting skill. There are times where his old trademarks of face-stretching and odd moaning noises return, but he can certainly handle the more profound moments when it's necessary. Ed Harris as Christof is a more understandable choice, and he handles the obsessed, demented character perfectly. This is a film with more interesting and necessary messages than most, and it's worth having a watch for education as much as for entertainment. Because, as The Truman Show shows, you must consider what you're watching rather than just letting it pass by.

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