Two friends sit at the edge of a cliff. In the dark of the night sipping beers, reminiscing on the childhood trauma which pains them today. For Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), that trauma was the untimely drowning of his father. Truman’s best friend of 30 years, Marlon assures him that he has answers to his existential crisis. Backlit and appearing from the mist, Truman’s late father appears and embraces his son. A team of people in a blue lit studio cue music and choreograph the scene as it plays out in real time. The violins swell and so does the drama. “I never stopped believing,” Truman says ignorant to the truth that his life is a 24/7 reality show and his father’s death was just an orchestrated plot twist.
The Truman Show is a classic for those who are a fan of movies that are real “meta” or “trippy.” The famous quote by the show creator in the movie Christof (Ed Harris), puts the film’s central theme into words. Christof says, “We accept the reality with which we are presented.” As Truman begins to question his free will, he reveals the truth about his existence. The viewer takes this journey with him. A film that could be so simply about a man who’s life is really a TV show, is at its core an existentialist masterpiece. It’s the story of a hero’s journey in a way you haven’t seen before.
Without any prior knowledge, The Truman Show reveals its plot slowly but surely. Beginning with a call to action, a strange piece of machinery falls from the sky is leading Truman to discover oddities in his life. He realizes how his idealistic middle-class American life never deviates from normal and any inconsistencies are explained away. The details of how his existence is revealed to the audience before Truman, so the viewer isn’t completely left in the dark throughout the movie and can follow the journey one step ahead.
The cinematography of the film is integral to its complexity. Every shot in the fictional town of Seahaven is from the perspective of hidden cameras. This results in angles that are often visually awkward, but demonstrate the function of secretly recording Truman and a sense of limited perspective. This alludes to the way in which Truman only knows his life within the confines of this manufactured town- Seahaven. Which is evidently a set.
It’s easy to see how Truman’s life could feel so real to him. Jim Carrey’s reactions are believable and authentic even if Truman’s life is not. For example, seeing the sun and moon one on top of one another is obviously staged to the viewer, yet Truman cherishes its beauty and thinks nothing of it. The way we all naturally appreciate and accept the conditions we’re given. The fun of watching Carrey perform is not lost in this heavy and intricate role. At times, Carrey’s goofy facial expressions and humor add entertaining levity to scenes with heavy symbolism.
Truman’s relationships with other characters is notable as well. At first supporting roles like Meryl Burbank (Laura Linney) and Marlon (Noah Emmerich) feel flat. It seems their only purpose is to push this toxic-positive attitude onto Truman and suppress his thoughts. Once their character is revealed to be an actor, hired to fill the roles of wife and friend to Truman, Linney and Emmerich’s acting choices make more sense. Dry and seemingly improvised lines are clearly intentional displays of acting out acting.
The Oscar Award nominated film, The Truman Show reveals truth on how we view our free will. How as a modern society we are often blind to the ways in which our society influences our decisions. Subtle product placement, the power of nostalgia, and media influences are symbolic aspects exposing the production narratives in Truman’s life. The film calls attention to these things and inspires the viewer to take a look at their influence in our own lives.
We may not live in Seahaven, but how produced are our lives? Do we make our own decisions or have we accepted the reality we were presented with?