Movie of the Week: The Truman Show (1998)

Peter Weir directs Jim Carrey, Laura Linney and Ed Harris in this sci-fi satire where a man’s entire life is an artificial TV show; constructed, orchestrated and acted to give him a “normal” life for the world to watch.

A perfect film – simple yet complex, heartwarming yet intellectually rich, silly yet utterly involving. Loads of philosophical readings and textual analysis was done about The Truman Show the moment it was released. I’m not going to add another reading to this brilliant marvel of studio filmmaking.


* The TV scaffolding around Truman’s world falls apart with increasing escalation over the week. What is happening that lighting structures aren’t being maintained / radio channels are merging / former cast members make it on the lot? Sabotage, complacent human error, natural decline and obsoletion of the construct, something more calculated…

* The film shares a lot of DNA with The Shawshank Redemption. The perfect flow and pace of the time skipping storytelling, the messiah like Everyman breaking free, the nostalgic benevolence of the prison. Postwar Americana presented as a flawless yet superficial trap. Is the view of the recent American past of enforced retro mood and oppressive safety and homogenous community something to be rejected and overcome? Why is cinematic nostalgia so comforting but threatening? David Lynch plays around in this anomaly too.

* Carrey is perfect in this. He convincingly sells the idea that this unspectacular fake life is centred around a personality quirky yet warm enough to become global entertainment mainstay. You never see him suppress his natural anarchism. He just delivers it all in a different register. Even though it is a far more sophisticated entertainment than say Dumb And Dumber or Ace Ventura this will probably survive the test of time and be the movie a century later that represents him. He is going to be strange comedy star for the uninitiated to explore. I guess Man on the Moon, Eternal Sunshine and I Love You Phillip Morris match up nicely with this gentler brand of Carrey but god knows what future generations will make of The Riddler or Sonic the Hedgehog if their introduction to him is his more highbrow, straightfaced classics?

* There are plenty of glorious moments of explained surrealism. The personalised rainfall or wall of sky. But the moment where the moon becomes a spotlight, the town become a search party lynchmob, the friendly dog snarls is genuinely disturbing.

* Truman’s escape. He would have had to record his snoring at least the night before so it would be unnoticed by the cameras and microphones. He could only record hours of fake sleep noises undetected while he was sleeping. He’d need Meryl out of the house to do this (hide a tape recorder in his bed). So is his violent confrontation with her a calculated move to drive her off the show? Part of his unspoken, internalised long game? At what point does Truman start plotting and playing along with a break for freedom in mind? Long before his mirror wink, I’m guessing.

*Every shot in the film is an interior shot in the reality we are presented. We the viewer never go actually outside in the plot.

* His best friend Marlon played by Noah Emmerich is a slippery character. He appears heartfelt in his interactions with Truman but he is happy to spout the party line when convincing him his founded suspicions are just paranoia and whimsy. I guess he has to keep his job and no Truman… no Truman Show. It is the role of a lifetime literally and he probably would struggle to get cast in something else if the public believe him to be merely be the best mate on that reality show for three decades. So Truman’s incarceration and slavery in unreality is to his benefit. BUT… there are a few references to Marlon leaving the show for months and seasons previously. A holiday or illness or trucking job. Is this a contracted break for the featured actors so they can escape to the real world? Or punishment for some infraction that made Truman doubt his elaborate cage? Suspension as a reprimand or threat for revealing the walls of heaven?

* And the flashback scene where Marlon and Meryl try to lure Truman away from the library is pregnant with disturbing information. It is one throwaway shot setting up a situation where Truman might hook up with the extra he is not supposed to interact with. He is introduced studying hard. And his “friends” actively want him to blow that off and go have fun. Do something more entertaining for the viewers than read a book on set. Truman wants to rebel against the needs of the show and educate himself (tragically for a pre-ordained career he’ll have no say in and no prospects in). They want him to go do something less boring and audience friendly. This is the smoking gun that show as directed does not have Truman’s best interests at heart. They want him dumber and less dedicated. They (or Christof) values action over achievement. It is a silently bleak moment that makes you wonder at what other points aside from this have his ambitions and desires and hard work been stunted by conspiracy and giving the people what they want.

* The use of Philip Glass’ minimalist classical music is fantastic. Yet Burkhard Dallwitz’s pensive, paranoid original score is massively underrated. Also the pop at the school dance is 50s be-bop covers of 70s rebel rock classics. How is outside culture warped and selected for Truman? Christof has obviously filtered what music, movies and modernity can be accessed in Seahaven. What permitted hits can he listen to in bastardised form that won’t make him rebel, question or explore?

* Dennis Hopper was fired from the role of Christof after the first few days of filming. Was their original God too demonic? Should the omnipotent controller and creator be a whispering observer or a snarling tyrant?

*What is Truman’s life outside the set going to be like now? Hounded by the public who feel they own him. With no recognised qualifications or assets. All the products he is used to consuming only available via an online store tied to a TV show that must now be cancelled. How will he approach a world of random threats, pornography and drugs, where the cars don’t stop to let him pass and the crowds don’t part to allow him to be unwitting centre of the world? Where everyone doesn’t interact with him with full enthusiasm and gusto in the hope of becoming a series regular? How is Truman going to deal with a queuing system? Or a mugging? Or watching himself in reruns? Can he and Lauren co-habit based on thirty minutes of sexless interaction a decade ago?

* What would happen if Truman just stayed? What would that TV be like? A man who knows his world, though fake, spins around his every action? Would the public still watch? Would it be a ratings boost? Or a quick cancellation? And then what happens to Christof and Truman’s reality?


Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

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