Seahaven Island is a nice place to live. Or, at leas that is what is said on the license plate. In Seahaven Island resides Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey). Truman has lived in Seahaven for his entire life, and now is a married adult with a steady career.
However, known to everyone else but Truman, his life has been completely controlled from the moment he came out of the womb. Nothing is organic or random, from his best friend since seven years old, Marlon (Noah Emmerich), to his wife, Meryl (Laura Linney). Truman is the star of the most popular television show in the world. As things begin to get odd, he starts to question just how authentic his life is.
It’s often been said that art imitates life. Well, life can, on occasion, imitate art, and yours truly believes that looking at The Truman Show. No, reality TV did start before the film came out in 1998, but it came before reality lynchpins such as Survivor and Big Brother. It simply wasn’t the phenomenon that we’ve been inundated with today, and who knows how many reality TV producers have been influenced by this movie? All at once, it equal parts funny, disturbing, prophetic, and ultimately unforgettable.
First, the premise is just so damn ingenious. While not exactly Big Brother in Orwell’s sense, the themes of constant surveillance and little choice is ever-present, and these themes and parallels feel fleshed out thanks to strong writing by Andrew Niccol (Gattica). A great job is done by introducing little pieces to Truman’s character that eventually, by the end of the movie, have a very emotional payoff. The script never feels like there’s too much going on, yet also doesn’t make a mistake of failing to say anything. Its stance on letting an individual live his or her own life is clear, but it also asks some thought-provoking questions. My personal favorite is how it could be argued that maybe it isn’t so bad to place an individual in a fabricated life if the real life is nothing but horror. Perhaps just the broadcast element is the one that deserves criticism.
The whole cameras everywhere thing allows director Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society) to play around with some different vantage points and angles. All are designed to make us the audience feel more voyeuristic—even dirty in this case—than usual when watching a movie, and Weir succeeds. He also does an excellent job with using flashbacks that progress the story and make sense, instead of stalling the story and breaking up the rhythm. It’s a great production all around, with the only flaw being that it isn’t long enough. Clocking in at just under two hours, I believe an additional 15-25 minutes could have explored to give a few more story details and even a more resounding ending. The ending is fine, one just wishes that more of the aftermath could be seen.
As the complete focal point of The Truman Show, Jim Carrey absolutely carries the movie. There’s a heavy darkness that exists in the film, but at the same time, there’s an inherent goofiness aspect that is present in one’s life being shown to the entire world and everyone except for one individual so complicit in keeping up the charade. What the long sentence is trying to say is that Carrey is perfect at convenying both ends of the spectrum. He’s emotional and introspective when needed, as well as humorous when the time calls for it. Above all, Truman is a character who is easy to get behind, and reacts how most people would react if they found out their lives weren’t real.
Carrey, like Truman, is the obvious star of the show, though others fit in as needed. Ed Harris, clearly serving as the inspiration for Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs, is a perfect casting choice. He’s not in the film a lot, but makes his God-like presence known immediately in his first scene and just possesses this disturbing-yet-still-semi-rational reason for doing what he does. Roles by Laura Linney, Paul Giamatti, and Noah Emmerich (though the latter has standout scenes with Carrey) aren’t all that memorable, but serve to further the illusion that Truman has thought of as real for his entire life, and they all react differently when the foundation begins to crumble, which is also pretty funny.
It isn’t a requirement that films must age well, but I’d think that a lot of directors would like their works to be remembered and hold importance in any year viewed. With a stellar lead performance and an original premise, The Truman Show is absolutely one of those films that will always be relevant, and serves as a reminder that reality TV can—and maybe will, one day—become worse.
Photo credits go to Youtube.com, theguardian.com, radiotimes.com, and movieposter.com.
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