A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 105 – The Truman Show

The Truman Show – June 13th, 2010

Obviously we used Jim Carrey as today’s connection back to yesterday and if you’re savvy about Kevin Bacon movies you might be able to easily figure out tomorrow. But for tonight we have another Jim Carrey movie, in which Carrey does an amazing job showing that while he is and always will be a man with a rubber face who can do over-the-top better than many a comedian wishes they could do, he can also do so much more. He’s the star of this movie on two levels and he does a fantastic job conveying the growing confusion and desperation of a trapped man who doesn’t know the nature of his cage. In some ways it’s a story about growing up, but only if you’re going to go playing movie analysis games. Then again, it’s kind of impossible not to with a movie like this. It’s practically begging to be analyzed as a parenting analogy or as a commentary on our society.

See, it’s about the ultimate reality show. Truman Burbank lives in a created world and is filmed 24/7 without his knowledge. Everyone around him is an extra and commercials are all product placement in his world. We get a little bit of info on this at the beginning, with quotes from people involved in the show talking about how real it is. And we see a stage light fall into the street. A stage light labeled as Sirius from Canis Majorus. And Truman starts to wonder just what’s going on. He realizes people are watching him. He knows something’s wrong. But he doesn’t know what and he lives in a world where everything’s orchestrated around him. Where the trick to most long-running television shows is to keep viewers interested, the trick to this show is keeping Truman interested. And at thirty years old, it’s getting harder and harder to keep him both focused and unaware.

It’s an hour in before we really get the full back story. Sure, there are enough hints and outright pointers to what’s going on. But the facts are given during an interview with the “creator” of the Truman Show: Christof (Ed Harris). Truman was an ‘unwanted pregnancy’ and cast by his birthdate, which coincided with the air date for the show. He was adopted by a corporation and has lived his entire life in a gigantic dome that contains a set made to be the island of Seahaven. It’s so big it can be seen from space and is indistinguishable from a real town on a real island. At least to Truman. Everyone around him is an actor, from his neighbors to his coworkers to his parents, best friend and wife (played sadly and brilliantly by Laura Linney). The buildings he doesn’t need to go in are sets. Traffic is all just started when he drives through. It’s all about him and the whole world is fascinated by him. His audience is displayed by our glimpses into their homes. Two little old ladies watch while hugging a pillow with Truman’s face on it. A middle aged man watches while taking what seems to be a neverending bath. There’s a family in what might be Japan and a pair of parking garage attendants and a bar, the Truman Bar, themed entirely around the show and broadcasting it on their televisions all the time. Everyone in the bar is watching, including the employees. Everyone knows Truman. Everyone loves Truman. Everyone watches him eat and sleep and go to work and do goofy things in front of the bathroom mirror.

The whole show is Truman’s life. And the corporation that’s raised him has never told him, and they work very hard to keep him unawares. People who break onto the set are swiftly dealt with and Truman’s first love, an actress he wasn’t supposed to fixate on at all, tried to tell him before she was whisked away. And he’s been thinking about her ever since. Her name was Sylvia, except her part’s name was Lauren. And she’s one of the people on the outside who’s started to question the whole thing. Just how moral is this endeavor? Doesn’t Truman deserve to know the truth? But the key to Truman’s charm is that he doesn’t know. He’s not pandering to the cameras like the folks on The Real World or Jersey Shore. But to keep that innocence, he has to be kept in the dark and some people, like Sylvia, wonder just how far that will go. When he meets her, she’s wearing a button that reads “How will it end?” An excellent question.

Eventually, of course, Truman questions enough that he tries to escape. Which is where the creepiest images in the movie come in. All the extras and many of the crew team up, arms linked, to search the town with dogs and night vision goggles. The moon, in actuality the control room where Christof oversees his creation, turns into a spotlight, casting a searching beam around the island. And Truman is nowhere to be found. Unsure of where he is or how to find him, they go from night to day, setting everyone at their marks for the morning. It exposes the whole thing for what it is in a way nothing has until then.

There are undoubtedly creepy aspects to the movie. The whole premise is creepy, really, but it only gets worse once Truman is out in the ocean and Christof is willing to put Truman’s life in grave risk for the sake of ‘realism’ and keeping him on the air. Truman is to Christof what many celebrities are to those of us who watch them: Not really human. Not people with lives we don’t get a say in. Not human beings who might want a bit of privacy now and again. Truman’s never had privacy and he doesn’t even know it. But as he says to Christof at the end “You never had a camera in my head.” No matter what control Christof has had, or how much he’s seen or we’ve seen, every person still has their own thoughts and hopes and beliefs and opinions. I think that’s why while last night’s movie freaked me out enough that I dreamed about it and spent the night restless, I find this movie hopeful. Everything about the Truman Show, Truman’s whole life, was guided and directed, but he himself was genuine. Who he is at his core has never been compromised. And in the end he gets to make his own decision.

June 13, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Truman Show

June 13, 2010

The Truman Show

The truth of the matter is that I often wonder if I’m living in a Truman Show like contrivance. Maybe it’s something that all people wonder about once in a while. If so then my life must be more in the nature of some kind of social experiment, because I can’t think that there’s much about me that makes for entertaining television. Or maybe it’s more like a complex full immersion video game. And I then ponder the fact that if there are people observing my hum-drum mundane life then I have a responsibility do do something momentous with it. I should be providing an example for the people who are watching me and live up to my true potential. (My terrible purpose, since I’m just now re-reading Dune.) But instead I’m frittering my life away. At least I have this movie blog to show that I actually exist. Enjoy!

The story behind the Truman Show is that Truman Burbank is a young man who is unaware that his entire life has been a reality television program. He has been raised in an enormous studio lot set from before birth. Everybody he has ever met has been an actor or an extra. Every momentous event in his life has been a plot point orchestrated for the ratings. He’s been manipulated to keep him complacent. (The producers killed off his father to impose upon him a deathly fear of water. The travel agency in Seahaven is plastered in implausible warning posters about the dangers of air travel.)

Truman is played with a kind of trapped desperation by Jim Carrey. At times he gives into his more, well, Carreyesque tendencies, becoming more madcap than I think the character calls for, but most of the time he’s very restrained. Truman’s antics and catch-phrases seem odd coming from a supposedly normal thirty-year-old guy. I guess it can be explained away by saying that in his childhood he was trained to be eccentric so as to make for good TV. Overall it’s not as moving a performance as we saw in yesterday’s movie, but it’s still something different for Carrey.

The driving force behind everything in Truman’s life is the man behind the show: producer/director Christof, played by Ed Harris. Christof, with his god complex, (I see what you did there, writer Andrew Niccol, with the Christ thing in his name) believes that he has created the perfect world for Truman. He thinks that the reason Truman truly hasn’t allowed himself to realize the nature of his confinement is that he wants to accept the world he’s living in. But Truman begins to suspect that something is wrong with his world. Stage lights plummet out of the clear blue sky. The radio in his car picks up stage directions. He begins to notice that there’s something odd about the people around him.

It’s a cleverly put together film. The opening credits for the movie introduce “Truman Burbank as himself,” as if you are simply watching the show itself. Everything is shown from the point of view of the thousands of cameras in the artificial structure that is Truman’s world. It isn’t until about half way through the film that you begin to see the world outside the dome and the people who are caught up in watching and obsessing about the show. Which is my favorite part of the entire film – seeing how Truman’s life and actions touch all these devoted fans and viewers who are caught up in watching the show.

Everything leads up to a final desperate confrontation between Truman and the man who has been father/god to him for his whole life, even if he didn’t know it. And, yes, there is a lot of resonance to this story of a guy who actually finds an altogether unique way to escape from his mundane life. Maybe it can be viewed as some kind of midlife crisis movie, or maybe it’s something about taking control of your own destiny and becoming a responsible adult. There’s a lot of cheese to this movie, (what with Jim Carrey hardly able to contain his inner Ace Ventura) but also some kindness and truth, and I still enjoy it. Sometimes I, like pretty much everyone I think, want to escape my life like Truman does.

June 13, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment