Film Appreciation: The Truman Show

Film Appreciation: The Truman Show

It is sometimes said that a great film makes news and goes on making news. Certainly, that is the case with Peter Weir’s 1998 film The Truman Story. This is a deceptively gentle satire on corporate behavior and mass media that may require more than one viewing to register fully. The basic story is a variation on a common theme in cinema- the innocent man being manipulated by a corrupt system. At different times, The Truman Show suggests Sidney Lumet’s Network, and the films of Frank Capra.

Outwardly, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) appears to have an ideal life. He is an insurance salesman who lives in picturesque Seahaven with his wife Meryl (Laura Linney), who is a nurse. Truman is traumatized by water, having witnessed his father’s drowning as a boy. For that reason, he is unable to leave Seahaven, which is an island.

Truman does not know he is the star of a 24/7 reality show that has been running since his birth. Seahaven is a huge set, and everyone Truman knows is an actor. Christof (Ed Harris), the show’s creator, watches everything from his control booth. Copies of clothes and other items used by Truman and his friends are available for purchase by audience members; these sales finance the show.

Going to work one day, Truman spots his father (Brian Delate) in a crowd. He lunges for his father, but a couple of people pull the man away. Father and son have an actual reunion later that is engineered by Christof, but it is too late. The seeds of doubt have been planted in Truman’s mind.

Truman fantasizes about his true love, Sylvia aka Lauren (Natasha McElhone). They had a brief romance while in school, but she vanished mysteriously after trying to warn him about Christof. Sylvia feels Christof and his corporation exploit Truman, which is why they took her off the show. Now she leads a group to free him from their influence.

As Truman becomes more and more suspicious of Seahaven, he concludes escape is his only option.

At the time he made this film, Jim Carrey was primarily known for antic comic roles like Ace Ventura and Lloyd in Dumb And Dumber. He took a major pay cut to play Truman, and the role led to some other dramatic ones. Weir does a good job of keeping Carrey’s energy at a slightly lower level. The result is that we like Truman and are solidly in his corner throughout the film.

Linney and Harris have less sympathetic roles, but give strong performances. The danger for both roles is overplaying, but these two highly capable actors quickly remove any worries on that score. McElhone is touching as Sylvia.

This project took a long time to develop and film. Writer/ director Andrew Niccol completed a one-page treatment called The Malcolm Show in 1991; it took until 1995 to finalize arrangements for the script (now called The Truman Show) to be film with Weir directing. An additional complication arose when Carrey, their first choice for the lead, became unavailable due to other filming commitments. While they waited for Carrey, Weir created a book about the history of the show in the film. Niccol did multiple rewrites of his script (twelve or fourteen, depending on source).

The Truman Show was released in 1998, during the bubble and dawn of the modern Internet age. Many people feel The Truman Show predicted the reality shows and nonstop media coverage that would soon become part of our lives.

Today people are more immediately connected than ever, but the nature of that contact tends toward the superficial. By connecting, we also surrender our privacy. There may come a time when people rebel by taking back their personal space, as Truman Burbank did. Only one thing is sure-The Truman Show is a film people will continue to analyze, discuss, and take to their hearts.

Theme: Alternative Reality

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