The Truman Show (1998) (PG)
This review contains SPOILERS!
There's no doubt that Peter Weir isn't a conventional director. His breakout film "Picnic at Hanging Rock" is anything but coherent and yet somehow the surrealism the movie thrives in works. "The Last Wave" is no better, although definitely attempting at something more apocalyptic. If the sense of dread from his first two major pictures carries over into the "The Year of Living Dangerously" and then into "Gallipoli" we understand something crucial about the director: 1) he is keenly invested in interesting characters and 2) his narratives are often filled with trauma.
This is not really different from "The Truman Show" which is probably Weir's launch into Hollywood fame; and deservedly so. What differs here is that Weir doesn't just tell a story for the sake of storytelling—although "The Truman Show's" narrative is annoyingly tight, perfect, and contained—but also for the sake of a philosophical idea. "The Truman Show" has so much going on from the idea of us all being solipsistically self-made stars, to the paranoia of being watched, to the infectious desire to live dangerously and do something with your life. When the film opens, its onset starts the climax, the unrest of the character. A light falls from the sky. From here, the mysteries continue to abound, forcing Truman to confront his purpose existentially while physically escaping from a Foucault inspired nightmare.
The movie concerns a man thrust into stardom, unknowingly. He is the man that everyone is watching without realizing it. From the moment he was born Truman (Jim Carey) has been living in every television set, letting the world see the broadcast of his life. He is the material brain child of Christof (Ed Harris) who wants to give the world some small piece of an authentically perfect life.
There is so much that terrifies me about "The Truman Show". The complacence of everyday living, the routines that we must all follow, the trajectory that we will one day grow up, get a house, get married, start a family, and eventually die. Morbid perhaps, but this kind of living seems to spring out of the necessity to mimic our parents, who in turn are imitating their parents, because we live in a social society and this is expected of us. For Truman Burbank, this expectation materializes all around him at the slightest provocation, agitating the narrative with clever nods to the American nuclear family unit. But this routine seems dangerous because we all desire to be "more". Truman feels this from the beginning of the film, where hints are slowly dropped that he wants to go to Fiji. Later we'll find out that this is motivated by an obsession he has from a one-night encounter with a beautiful lady—this, in of itself, must be considered unordinary, the solitary moment that has shaken Truman's boringly, routinely normal life forever. Although this trip to Fiji seems to be for a woman, when it becomes impossible, he opts for a trip to anywhere, an ill-fated bus trip to Chicago which doesn't even let him get out of the station. The people watching in the bad ask themselves "Why does he want to go to Chicago?" A question that the film never answers aside from Truman's desire to shake up his life.
But then there's the fear of the unknown, that elusive adrenaline that pushes Truman to escape, to find a way to regain power over his life. But in this there is the loss of innocence, the gaining of knowledge, and perhaps the road to a worse life. Truman knowingly moves from comfort towards emptiness and although we all see a part of ourselves in him, perhaps that's not the case. For Truman, the best alternative seems to be for him to escape into the real world and truly "live". For the rest of us, are we really that brave or are we stuck inside our routine worlds, always saying the same things and reciting the same mottos? And, the even scarier question: are we ready to give up luxury? But perhaps that's not fair, and maybe there is a sense of security that is worth the routine.
In feeling, the movie is somehow intimate. The cast of characters is perfect, and the acting is sensational. Jim Carey has almost never been better, proving himself a viable actor and not just "the funny guy". The filmmaking reflects the world of the show, and each time the actor looks at the camera, as if to break the fourth wall with the viewer, it is cleverly understood that there is another layer between us watching Jim Carey and them watching Truman Burbank. This kind of ingenuity doesn't came around but every so often.
"The Truman Show" moves past the idea of passivity and the unknown and challenges us to ask questions. Christof, in an enlightening moment, says "We accept the reality of the world with which we're presented. It's as simple as that." At the end, maybe we take away from "The Truman Show" that accepting reality is never enough. We must question everything.
In college I had to read a short story called "The Sky Is Gray" by Ernest Gaines. Though the story is about race in Southern America and passivity towards injustice from power figures, one line rings true: "Question everything. Every stripe, every star, every word spoken. Everything." This comes at a pivotal moment in the story, like when Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens, literally falls from the sky and shatters in the middle of the road.
Posted by Micah Jones