Before Survivor, Bad Lad's Army or even Big Brother, The Truman Show latched onto the possibility of the then un-coined genre “Reality TV”. What if a fly on the wall documentary goes one step further? What if, instead of capturing facets of someone's life in a contrived, condescending, insipid manner like Big Brother, a whole life is watched from birth to death? Clearly, the subject can't actually know that he is the subject of a TV programme; that would make this new show is just as bad as all the rest. No, this must be done in secret - the artificial world should grow as the subject grows from a single room at birth to a whole state in adulthood, complete with towns, universities, harbours, indeed everything someone could humanly want. In fact, the studio will be so big that, to anyone inside it, it would appear as if they are living in a natural environment. Thus The Truman show is born, so to speak, with the birth of the eponymous Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey).
The movie itself starts just as things are going wrong in the millennium-dome-on-steroids style studio. Truman is now married and enjoys a bland existence as an insurance salesman. On the way into work one day, a light fitting falls from the studio roof (or sky, in Truman's reality) and lands in the street. This faux pa is casually dismissed to Truman via the studio controlled radio broadcast transmitted as he drives into work: Apparently, an aircraft began shedding parts... However, when the false radio station is accidentally interrupted by the studio communications network, describing everything Truman is doing, more fundamental questions are raised. And so begins the movie proper, as Truman tries to escape from his false reality into the outside world where, like it or not, he would be greeted as a star.
Most of these “Top 100” movie lists that the industry professionals - directors, critics and so on - come up with often infer that no movie after 1975 is any good. Surely, none of these upstart amateurs can hope to compete with the grandiose Godfather or be as original as Metropolis. May I humbly suggest that these folk have their collective heads situated where sunlight is rarely found?
To put it bluntly, Truman Show is one of the very best movies ever made, not only for its flawless presentation and direction, but also the emotive, portentous, story. Everything in Truman is interlinked in perfect unity. At no point do you think that this scale of entertainment is impossible, so watertight is the verisimilitude of the setting. Every conceivable aspect of this type of show has been thought of from invaders into the show trying to become famous to none sanctioned love interests to falsely inducing a fear of water so than Truman could not sale out of the studio.
Carrey is perfectly chosen as the lead, giving a performance that really should have won the film an Oscar, and one that Carrey has yet to match. While some of Carrey's unreal performances of the past fleetingly surface as he boldly proclaims “...and if I don't see you again: Good afternoon, good evening and good night!” it fits in with the falseness of the world Truman lives in. Seahaven is the epitome of the picket fence American ideal with uncongested roads, permanent sunshine and zero crime. Yet the town itself has a pre-packed genetically engineered aesthetic that just reeks of falsehood. There are no slums, no tramps, no smoking or no buildings over three storeys. Speaking of buildings, the houses in which the fair actors of Seahaven live are all so perfect it's eerie.
Acting alongside Carrey are a well selected supporting cast including the marginally irritating performance of Truman's wife played by Laura Linney who plays pseudo-actress Hanna Gill who plays the Truman Show's character Meryl Burbank. A difficult part to grasp, seeing as there are three personalities vying for screen time. The part is played very well with a stilted characterisation harking back to the B&W BBC days. Truman's best friend, Marlon (Noah Emmerich) has one of the most poignant scenes trying to persuade a jaded Truman that this is the real world and as his best friend, how could he lie to the one he has spent so much time with? As Marlon, tears in his eyes, pulls on all the strings there are to pull, the scene brilliantly dovetails into the studio proper where we see Truman show creator Christof (Ed Harris) feeding the lines to Marlon. The scene is charged with emotion, not only for Truman, but the viewer as we see the artifice of the whole setup. This one scene encapsulates with succinct brilliance the entire movie and as the scene closes leaves a bitter taste in ones mouth. It also, unfortunately, introduces us to Christof, easily the worst part of the movie. Clearly, the late addition of Ed Harris (replacing Dennis Hopper, apparently) to the cast left little time for any true character development. Instead we get a good, but distinctly unimaginative, bad guy.
At the end of this movie, when I first watched it, I do remember actually shouting at the screen willing Truman to fulfil his journey against all odds. And Truman Show is a journey and one that all of us make, in one form or another, many times through our lives. We can easily identify with the situations that Truman faces: the uncertainty, the pain, the loss and the sense that our lives are governed beyond our own freedom of choice. The difference, here, is Truman does make a difference and he does succeed cutting the controls of, dare I say it, big brother society. That is why, no matter what background you are from, what religion or what type of movies you like, Truman Show is definitely one of the classics.
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