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THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998)
Insurance man Truman Burbank slowly becomes aware that the seaside town he has always known as home is in reality an elaborate, immense domed sound stage, where his every move is watched by the world, and all the people around him are paid actors or actresses.
Directed by: Peter Weir. Screenplay by: Andrew Niccol.
Promotional Lines: "The Story Of A Lifetime."
"An entire human life, recorded on an intricate network
of hidden cameras, broadcast
What would be the next step in TV programming, of shows to come after the wild success of reality-based shows, such as "Survivor?" This powerful film, "The Truman Show," explores the possibility of a reality-based T.V. show where the star doesn't know that he is in a fictitious world where his experiences are set up for him, his environment completely controlled, and all the people around him are hired actors, who are told what to say to him through hidden ear pieces.
An ambitious, T.V. program developer and producer, Christoff (Ed Harris) comes up with this idea, and with the backing of a TV corporation, has the biggest sound stage in the world constructed in Hollywood; so big, they boast, that it can be picked up from space, via satellite, like the great wall of China. The T.V. corporation then adopts an unwanted baby, calling him Truman Burbank. They filmed his birth, showing the whole experience live as the premiere of this inventive, if unethical show, now called "The Truman Show."
The addicting entertainment factor of this show was for the world to see through the help of 5,000 hidden cameras, all the details of how Truman reacts, grows, struggles, develops as a human being, from a little baby to a grown man, 24 hours a day! "1.7 Billion were there for his birth, 220 countries turned in for his first steps, and the world stood still for that stolen kiss."
Needless to say, advertising on this show was proven to be very profitable. Advertisements for the sponsors of "The Truman Show," are cleverly shown as part of a scene, and everything Truman or the actors wear or use is for sale in a catalog that can be used by the audience. Check out how Truman's wife slips in commercials for knives, lawnmower brand, and finally a hot cocoa spot at a very inopportune time, which is a hoot.
Human love, human error, the human spirit, and the human will in this very controlling, safe set-up will eventually help to set free a man from his artificially controlled, unaware life, to a life of free choices and self determination, with no guarantee of either safety or happiness.
The story begins when Truman (Jim Carrey) is 30 yrs. old, whose constructed reality has him being married to a nurse, Meryl (Laura Linney), working as an Insurance salesman in the small, ideal town of Sea Haven, a town that he has lived in all his life, where all his physical needs are met. Truman, since he was a school boy, had always wanted to travel, to have adventures in far-off places.
In this period of his adult life, he isn't happy staying in the same town, his job isn't satisfying and he is itching to travel, do something different with his life. Uh oh! This is a reoccurring problem for the producer and the production staff. Truman goes to a travel agency, where flights to Fiji are inconveniently all booked up. He tries to buy a bus ticket to Chicago, but after getting on the bus, the bus engine inconveniently breaks down.
They try the old faithful psychological wall, his fear of water. At his office, Truman is given the task to go see a potential client on the island that is just off shore. This means that he has to walk on a walkway that is over the water to get to the ferry. He manages to buy the ticket, but can't walk to the boat, which hopefully will psychologically squelch his desires to see the outside world.
This fear of water was deliberately created by the producer, Christoff, when Truman was a boy around 10 years old. As a child, Truman had always wanted to explore new places, new worlds as an explorer, so they decided to shake up his life a bit, and develop a way to control Trumanâs natural desires, by linking water to tragedy in his mind. Truman and his father, Kirk (Brian Delate) were very close. One day they went out on the waters off Sea Haven, in a sail boat. Truman wanted to stay out longer, despite the storm warning. The producer had written into the script, that a storm would sweep the father overboard and he would drown, with the idea of making Truman have a phobia about water, as he would associate water with guilt and loss. This would help to keep him from wanting to leave his town which was surrounded by water.
While this card works again at first, some unexpected consequences really rock the boat that cause major problems for the Christoff and his staff. First of all, the emotional energy reawakened in Truman by these feelings of guilt and loss, fuels a new focused determination in Truman to fill his needs and longings, which knocks him out of his comfortable mindset, and makes him begin to reflect on the strange occurrences that he had began to notice, that just don't make any sense, giving Truman the thought that something wasn't right, getting the uneasy feeling, "that the whole world revolves around me and everyone seems to be in on it."
Another unexpected consequence from his reliving this disastrous experience also gets Truman thinking about how much he misses his father, which is most entertaining to the watching world, except to the actor, Kirk, who had bonded with Truman as his Dad. When Kirk can't stand it any more seeing how Truman was suffering because of his supposed death, Kirk sneaks back on the set as a homeless person. Truman sees him, and recognizes him as his Dad. Damage control quickly sweeps in and separates Truman from the homeless man by pushing Kirk onto the bus. This is very odd behavior from a young couple!
His Dad's quick disappearance brings to mind what had happened to his true love in college, Sylvia (Natascha McElhone), whom he still secretly pines away for, trying in a unique way to recreate her face. Suddenly, what Sylvia had tried to tell him so long ago started to make sense for the first time, right before she was quickly whisked away supposedly by her father who claimed she was mentally ill. She wasn't picked to be his wife by the producer, even though Truman was in love with her. On the rebound, Truman marries Meryl (Laura Lanning), the actress hired to be his wife, who had been manipulated into his life.
He takes a hard look at all the odd occurrences that had happened recently. (From the beginning of the story, occurrences caused by human error of the production crew happen.)
Truman begins to explore and test his suspicions, causing major damage control efforts by the producer and his staff, all to no avail. Meanwhile, the entertainment value to the watching audience swells to unknown levels, as the stakes get higher and higher.
He follows his wife to see if she really does work in a real hospital, as what she claims seems to be faulty. This actress, it seems was in need of an improvisational skills work shop. He notices repeated movement patterns of people. He finally tricks his wife into going in the car, and on the spur of the moment drive to another city, terrifying his wife, who knows her assignment was to get these thoughts out of his mind. No matter how intense the situation becomes, she must not tell, staying calm, and loving.
Emergency control manages to throw various roadblocks / disasters in front of them, and they manage to barely contain him, bringing him back to his house. Truman and his wife have a fight in the kitchen, in between a Cocoa mix commercial spoken by the wife, which annoys Truman even more. To calm him down and distract him, the producer rehires Kirk to be Truman's long lost father. After Truman shares his suspicions with his best friend, Marlon (Noah Emmerich) , Marlon reveals to Truman that he found the homeless man, who then walks back into Truman's life on the bridge, which is broadcast in close-up detail their immensely touching reunion, to the emotional delight of the watching world.
It seems that this has worked. Truman seems to calm down, even though his wife packs up and leaves. (The actress quit.). He seems to go back to his old, happy self, and his usual routine. However, Truman hasn't forgotten what he strongly suspects. He has just gotten smarter, and plans an escape that rivals any escape that Ferris Bueller would think of, temporarily outsmarting his ever-seeing observers.
The last 25 minutes depicts that last tremendous, life - threatening struggle between Truman and Christoff, that would rival any last episode of any TV series. A favorite, climatic scene is when Truman finally touches the wall of his planned world for the first time. It reminds me of that scene in "2001: A Space Odyssey," where the apes touch the mysterious black monolith, and gain revolutionary knowledge.
This powerful screenplay was written by the very gifted Andrew Niccol, who has blended elements of science fiction, fantasy, comedy and drama into a compelling, entertaining film, speculating on how far would the media go to offer popular entertainment to its viewers. He also wrote the screenplay for the more serious "Gattaca," and his 2002 project, " Simone," which he also directed.
What is interesting with this plot, is that the audience is given pieces of information as the story introduces Truman Burbank, and insights are spaced nicely in clever ways between various scenes, through flashbacks, etc., making a very involving film. How this program was started in the first place isn't revealed until the 3/4 way point, through an interview with Christoff. One doesn't have a clear picture of the whole truth until up to the last climatic scenes.
The producers hired an experienced director, Peter Weir, who not only "lightened the material somewhat, and added clever satire," but was famous for transforming, stretching well-known comedy and action actors into being able to portray successfully dramatic characters by his outstanding directing skill. He had an outstanding track record, working with such people as Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and Robin Williams.
Peter Weir did not disappoint, but helped to bring various elements together, and used his talent to bring out inspired performances from this cast, fulfilling the goals of the excellent screenplay, all which helps to create this classic film.
Jim Carrey, an extremely funny, comedic actor, for the first time portrayed a serious role, intermingled with comedic moments, and gives the audience a terrific, inspired performance that shouldÎve earned a nomination for a Best Actor Oscar. Quote from Truman: "Good morning! And in case I don't see you: good afternoon, good evening and good night!"
Ed Harris also did an outstanding job portraying Christoff, a producer/ director, that has had absolute power over a human life, for 30 years, orchestrating everything that happens to Truman, and creating a safe environment for him. "We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented," says Christoff. What is good for the show, however, takes precedence over what are Truman's personal desires. Harris expertly portrays a complicated man, who on one hand created this show to make money, create a good entertaining product, but on the other hand, deeply loves Truman as an obsessive parent would, and is crushed when the show must end.
I enjoyed Laura Linney's performance as Truman's wife, Meryl, who finds it harder and harder to play her superficial character, as the stress becomes too much to take, when Truman starts to turn up the heat. She has a comic flair as well, when she does her required commercials, like a trooper, no matter what is happening.
Natascha McElhone gives a convincing portrayal as an actress hired to be an extra on the college campus, but who falls in love with Truman as he falls in love with her. She pines for him, as he pines for her after being separated, and stands up and roots for his freedom at the end. This classic film is rated PG, because of the themes presented and some mild language.
This film is recommended for general family viewing, because it explores various values and ethical questions that can be discussed as a family.