Reality TV is pretty great. You find the best dancers in the world and make them bruise their toenails for a car. Or the most desirable woman of the year decides if her romantic future is with the uncommitted studmuffin or the beefcake with a pet turtle. People will do just about anything for money, love, fame, and potential sponsors and we will keep tuning in because it’s absolutely fascinating. But what if the star has no idea he’s on TV? There’s no competition, no prize at the end, just the day-to-day of life. Imagine if the cast of Survivor didn’t know that they were being filmed. The result might look a little less like fashion week with a bandana and a little more like Lord of the Flies.
The Truman Show takes reality TV to the extreme. From the day of his birth, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) has been the star of a program that’s aired nonstop for 30 years. Everyone on earth knows it’s a show except for Truman. His parents, friends, teachers, neighbours, and the newspaper salesman are all actors who keep the illusion alive. Truman is none the wiser, until one day his father, who died somewhere around season 10, appears across the street. It was just for an instant, but Truman starts to suspect that not everything’s as hunky-dory as it appears. The world watches anxiously as Truman starts to ask questions and crack around the edges.
The Truman Show has been airing for so long, so unbrokenly, that it’s basically its own network with integrated sponsors. The group cast as Truman’s friends only drink beer with the label facing out and will only mow the lawn with the newest, fastest, hottest mower. Until last week, Truman never noticed. There’s something deeply philosophical about The Truman Show. If someone is raised in a box and told that this box is the whole world, why would they have any reason to believe that something exists beyond? Is space really the final frontier or is it a universe within an even greater universe? It’s the same question we pick at in Room. The cast and crew forbid Truman from trying to leave his sound stage home and learn too much about the world beyond. It was a big mistake to mention Fiji. Travelling to Fiji becomes Truman’s life-long ambition, but the crew are determined to never let it happen. It would end the show as we know it! When Truman starts to suspect that he’s being kept on the island for reasons unknown, he begins to lose his mind. The point of The Truman Show is to create a world identical to our own with no crime, no violence, no hate, and no news. The only thing it can’t control – not for lack of trying – are the dreams of its star. Tidbits of information, however harmless at the time, find a way to take root and prove that Truman is a curious human like the rest of us and more than just a set piece.
Which is why this movie is so darn interesting. The Truman Show is a comedy because Jim Carrey has made a career out of being the crazy person, and because the cast try so hard to be “normal” they eventually start to snap. It’s a sociological and psychological experiment paid for by a Hollywood network and advertisers. Everything about Truman is manufactured: his fears, his goals, even – albeit unintentionally – his dreams, and the only person who’s totally oblivious is Truman himself. We, like the viewers at home, wait for Truman to figure it out and make his escape, but his journey of discover feels as manufactured as everything else. The appearance of Truman’s father knocks him for a loop and for some reason brings up memories of a one time almost romance. This connection feels like a bit of a stretch, especially since the almost romance started and ended with a single nonsensical conversation about an alternate reality. Truman gets swept up in the possibility that life isn’t real, and the world can’t help but tune in. From new viewers to the dedicated fan who’s been watching Truman from his bathtub for 30 years, people are more invested in Truman’s life than they are in their own.
And then we have God. Truman is the star, but Christof (Ed Harris) is the Creator. He sits in the moon (the Truman version of an Ed Harris mission control) and runs the show. He commands everything from weather to stoplights. In Truman’s world, he is the power above and the unseen, almighty ruler. What does it say about philosophy and religion when Truman finally meets his Creator and decides to go his own way, out of the cradle of light and through the literal dark passageway into the great unknown?
The Truman Show could be the foundation of someone’s thesis. It’s a simple idea of trapping someone in a caged reality, but it works surprisingly well because the plan isn’t foolproof. Here’s a movie that invites us to ask questions and think about the feasibility of a manufactured world like Truman’s. Take the idea and let your imagination fly away with it. The Truman Show is a classic 8.5/10.