Synopsis: Funnyman Jim Carrey stars with Oscar nominees Laura Linney and Ed Harris in The Truman Show, the dark comedy about a world famous reality star who thinks he’s just an insurance agent. When this supposedly ordinary man discovers he’s spent his entire life on camera surrounded by paid actors rather than family and friends, he sets out to find a new and truthful existence… and along the way finds uproarious adventure. Named as one of Entertainment Weekly’s “100 Greatest Characters,” Carrey’s Truman Burbank is intriguing, emotional and laugh-out-loud funny. Nominated for 3 Academy Awards this story about a man who’s on the air and unaware captivated audiences and critics alike.
The Truman Show 8.25
eyelights: the cleverness of the basic premise. Jim Carrey. Ed Harris. Paul Giamatti. the humour.
eyesores: the implausibility of the third act.
“No scripts, no cue cards. It isn’t always Shakespeare, but it’s genuine. It’s a life.”
Ever wondered if your parents are truly your real parents? Ever mused that your life was just a dream and that you will someday wake up from it? Ever imagined that your life wasn’t real, that everything around you has been contrived by forces beyond your understanding, that it’s not all random chance or the product of your own free will?
Welcome to the life of Truman Burbank, star of the world’s most popular reality show, “The Truman Show”. Legally adopted by a media corporation, he has unknowingly been on camera since his birth, surrounded by actors playing parts in a storyline that is carefully coordinated to sustain a certain amount of drama. And to keep Truman in check.
After all, you can’t have the only star of the biggest show ever quit on you.
Problem is that sustaining the illusion of reality in this fabricated life, which is designed in an idyllic Norman Rockwell fashion, is nearly impossible; there are so many variables which need to be considered and managed at once. And so it is that, one day, the cracks begin to show, and Truman begins to become suspicious of his surroundings.
His life will never be the same again.
Released in 1998, ‘The Truman Show’, which saw star Jim Carrey tackle some of his first dramatic material, was a commercial and critical hit. It not only landed 250 million dollars at the box office, it also garnered a large number of award nominations, winning a few prestigious ones at the BAFTAs and Golden Globes in the process.
‘The Truman Show’ takes us inside the ultimate reality TV show. It begins with interviews with Christof, the show’s creator and director, as well as the main actors; the credits suggest that we’re watching a documentary. But once the stage has been set, we are taken behind the scenes, into Truman’s life, as he begins to have nagging doubts about his life.
Most of the picture takes on Truman’s (Carrey) perspective, but it also shows us the viewers’ point of view, as they watch “The Truman Show” and respond to it. We also go to the control room, where Christof (Ed Harris) manipulates the events for ratings and also to keep Truman reeled in, working with the actors to move forward certain storylines.
It makes you wonder what kind of contracts these actors signed, seeing as they had to spend large parts of their lives on a set, with the understanding that they had to lead an artificial existence much of the time and be credible at it – both for the viewers’ sake but for Truman as well. What would happen if they made mistakes or decided to go off-script?
Well, it has happened. In fact, Sylvia (Natascha McElhone), who plays Lauren, a girl Truman meets in college, has crossed that line. Meant to be an extra, she became more involved and decided to reveal to Truman the true nature of his life. Before she could do that, however, she was whisked away by her “father”, who claimed she was schizophrenic.
This has left Truman daydreaming about her ever since. Now married to Hannah (Laura Linney) and leading a routine, generally contented suburban existence, a part of him wishes that he could leave Seahaven to find Lauren. Except that he can’t: through a contrivance of Christof’s, he is aquaphobic and is incapable of leaving the island.
This leads him to try driving away from the opposite direction, but Christof’s people are so well-coordinated that Truman’s efforts are immediately countered. It’s hilarious to watch just how utterly calculated everything around him is, including the extras that are supposed to pass and/or greet him on the street. It’s so absurd to see.
And yet this imitation of life isn’t entirely complete. Instead of having a fully-functioning set, to ensure that Truman’s explorations don’t reveal the lies beneath the various surfaces, they cut corners and focused primarily on the areas he was likely to spend time in – leaving themselves very vulnerable when Truman decides go “off-script” himself.
Naturally, this is meant to be both humourous and designed to move the story along, but it left me wondering just what they were thinking when they built these false exteriors. Why not simply build real, functioning buildings if you’re going to do it at all? After all, people actually have to live in Seahaven and pretend to have a real life there.
In a similar way, I wondered why the producers kept bringing Lauren back if she was evidently going off-script. Seems to me it would have been easy to just nip it in the bud by writing her out of the plot. And yet she kept returning to throw a wrench in Truman’s meticulously-groomed story. At least I would have liked to know why they allowed that to happen.
As ‘The Truman Show’ gradually picks up the pace, we find that more and more elements start getting out of Christof’s control, with key equipment going on the fritz, alerting Truman that something is amiss. But everything is well explained, like the light falling out of the sky, or when people have tried to infiltrate the show over the years, …etc.
It’s all done for laughs, naturally, and that’s one of the ways that ‘The Truman Show’ succeeds extremely well: it balances humour and drama just perfectly, giving us a serious situation, but peppering it with absurdity. Everything that we see is filtered through the knowledge that Truman’s reality is staged (to shlocky, melodramatic music!).
So when it starts to rain on him, and only him, and that the rain follows him when he moves, it’s funny as a gag but also conceptually. When the actors plug products, you can’t help but put yourself in Truman’s skin and see how strange their behaviour is. When we see disaster warning posters everywhere at the travel agency we get the irony of it.
Even if Truman doesn’t.
Jim Carrey began to hone his dramatic chops with ‘The Truman Show’ and he’s undoubtedly more successful than Robin Williams was when he did ‘The World According to Garp‘. He mixes subtlety with his traditional physical hyperbole just enough to be credible – that is, until Truman begins to lose it, which Carrey plays much more for laughs.
He’s backed by a terrific cast, however, and that helps to play out the drama to greater effect. Of particular note are Paul Giamatti, as one of the control room assistants, and Ed Harris as Christof. Both are really superb, nuanced; if you look into their eyes you see so much going on. And yet Carrey holds his own. Not bad for a first-timer.
Unfortunately, the picture unravels in the third act, which is utterly impossible. How could Truman ever have prepared his escape without anyone (cast, crew, spectators) noticing, given that there are cameras everywhere? I mean, he can’t very well know where all of them are, even if he’s aware of some of them. So that seemed implausible.
Ultimately, though, ‘The Truman Show’ is an excellent fantasy and comedy. It’s certainly far superior to the vacuous ‘EDTV’ and it’s an excellent counterpoint to ‘Dark City‘, leaving us to wonder the possibility that our reality is shaped for us – and poking fun at the notion in the process. Thought-provoking and funny at the same time. Very nice.
But it left me with one unanswered question, beyond the obvious ones pertaining to our relation to God, and that is: what would happen if the ratings of “The Truman Show” fell sharply? Expensive as the show is to run, and given the space the set takes in the real world, could they actually pull the plug and just go home, leaving everything behind?
And what would happen to Truman then?
Date of viewing: June 20, 2015