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Non-Review Review: The Truman Show

One of the very few movies to get even more relevent after it was made, The Truman Show is one of the best movies Hollywood has produced in the past two decades. One part mythical fable about identity and control and another part biting satire on consumerism and reality television, it is one of those rare movies that deserves the description ‘masterpiece’.

For the world is hallow and I have touched the sky...

For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky...

There once was a boy who lived in a bubble, but he didn’t know it was a bubble. There was no pain and no suffering in that bubble. Every aspect of his life was an illusion, a trick, a fake – but he didn’t know it. The sky was simply painted on and there was a man who watched over him, living in the moon. His life was a farce, entertainment to millions around the world, but he was never in on the joke. Maybe he didn’t want to be in on the joke. If you live in paradise, do you really want to know that it is a lie?

At the time it was released, reality television was embryonic. Sure there were a few shows, but nothing like American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent. The notion of the movie – that Truman was all part of an elaborate reality television hoax shown around the world – was ridiculous. It seems less so now. Something about reality television made me uneasy – it always has. And I think the movie articulates that element fantastically. There is something… uncomfortable about the voyeurism inherent in the concept. At least in the movie the creators don’t seem to exploit the pain and embarrassment that those behind most reality shows these days seem to love doing. At least, in his own very twisted way, Christof loves Truman. He exploits him, and does some horrible things at the film’s climax, but for the most part he doesn’t take glee in torturing his subject. And the audiences in the movie – voyeurs though they may be – don’t seem to take the same overt pleasure that real life audiences seem to take in the pain and suffering of the subject (as evidenced by high ratings and people who only watch American Idol “to laugh at the failures”).

What at the time seemed ridiculous now seems almost tame.

It’s a clever movie with no easy answers. It poses these huge philosophical questions about free will and reality and control of one’s life and destiny in ways that challenge rather than patronise the audience. Truman isn’t hurt or scarred by his experiences – Christof suggests he’s even had a better life than he would otherwise – allowing the movie to cut to the heart of the matter: is imprisoning somebody who doesn’t suffer, who is loved and cared for, even without their knowledge, still wrong? It’s not an easy question, and it isn’t glibly passed over, but nor is it shoved down our throats.

Truman is a remarkable human being and Jim Carrey is a remarkable performer. He has never been better than he is here. We only spend two hours with the man but we understand why he has such a devote following. Carrey manages to do quite a bit of dramatic heavy-lifting in a role that must have been incredibly hard to pull off – and, even more to his credit, he makes it look easy. Carrey deserved an Oscar nomination at least for his performance – perhaps even more than the film deserved an Oscar nomination, but it was not to be.

In fairness, Carrey has an astounding supporting cast. Ed Harris is brilliant as ‘the creator’, who doesn’t come across as quite the monster you’d imagine he would. The Truman Show is as much his life as it is Truman’s and he has invested the same amount of time and energy in it. He lives and sleeps at the station, living far above the world Truman occupies. He can justify his actions and makes a legitimate and well-considered argument in his defense.  Harris deservedly picked up a nomination for his performance.

What is truly remarkable about the film is that it makes all its points so well without ever getting bogged down. It’s never as dark or depressing as its subject matter would seem to be. In fact, the most disturbing elements occur within the viewer’s mind as they digest the implications of what they have seen. It’s a clever and complex film that doesn’t feel the need to be ‘dark and gritty’ to justify itself.

I can’t recommend this movie enough. It represents one of those rare moments in cinema where writer, director and stars are all of the highest caliber. Food for thought, but easy to digest.

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The Truman Show is directed by Peter Weir (Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World, Dead Poets Society) and starring Jim Carrey (Ace Ventura, Man in the Moon), Ed Harris (Gone Baby Gone, Apollo 13), Laura Linney (Primal Fear, John Adams), Noah Emmerich (Copland, Little Children), Paul Giamatti (Sideways, John Adams) and Natascha McElhone (Solaris, Ronin). It was released in the USA on 5th June 1998, but the UK and Ireland didn’t see it until 9th October 1999.

2 Responses

  1. […] of the most cleverly constructed science fiction films of the past decade – possibly since The Truman Show and Gattaca. Sam Rockwell gets spaced […]

  2. […] Richard the Third, Strictly Ballroom, Inside I’m Dancing, The Third Man, Cinema Paradiso, The Truman Show. First of all – not that I’m complaining – but someone has a crush on Peter Weir. […]

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