The Truman Show': Film Analysis

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In Book III of Plato’s ‘Republic’, Socrates, amid the process of constructing his ideal city in discussions with his interlocutors, introduced to the world the concept of the noble lie; in a simplified form: a lie for good. He asks: ​“Could we somehow contrive one of those lies that come into being in case of need, of which we were just now speaking, someone noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but if not them, the rest of the city?”​ (414b-c). This lie is very important for maintaining the socio-political structure of Socrates’ city, it keeps the designed order running as to what serves the designer’s agenda, which is good agenda according to Socrates. Around 2500 years later, in the beginning sequence of Peter Weir’s 1998 film ‘The Truman Show’, which was an interview-like kind of sequence talking about a reality TV show called ‘The Truman Show’, Meryl, wife of main protagonist Truman, appears for the first time in the film, right after we’re introduced to the characters of Christof and Truman respectively, the former being the creator of and the mastermind behind that TV show. ​“It’s a noble life”​, she says, talking about the show, which is quite an interesting phrase chosen to describe Truman’s reality. This is not the only wink-wink kind of wordplay in the film, given how the protagonist’s name heavily resembles ‘true man’. Everyone in the film knew that it’s a staged TV show except Truman, since the show had started, the moment he was born.

A close-up shot of Christof talking to us is the very first shot of the film, he asserts how his show is genuine, unlike those shows where ​“actors give us phony emotions”​, and how although ​“the world he inhibits is, in some respects, counterfeit”​, Truman is a real character with no scripts or cue cards. Then he ends that first shot with the sentence: ​“it’s a life”​. The second shot starts with an extreme close-up of Truman’s eyes in a mirror, the camera zooms out until it becomes a close shot of what looks like a small screen, within it, Truman talks to himself in the mirror like a madman, with the word ‘live’ shown on the screen. As if he’s talking to the Sisyphus in him, Truman speaks to the mirror: ​“I’m not gonna make it, you’re gonna have to go on without me. No way mister, you’re going to the top of this mountain, broken legs and all”​. In the same beginning sequence, Marlon, Truman’s best friend, appears after Meryl to emphasize that: ​“It’s all true, it’s all real. Nothing you see on this show is fake; it’s merely controlled”​. So, we’re confronted with strange statements about Truman’s reality, it’s a counterfeit, but he’s not fake, it’s real, yet merely controlled.

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Day 10,909 of Truman’s life begins before our eyes when we hear his wife’s voice interrupts the madman talk to remind him that he’s late to work -he cuts the talk and prepares himself to go to work. Like a good neighbor, he tells his neighbors good morning, then we see the first of what will become later in the film a frequent TV-commercial kind of zoom-in; this time on Truman. In the same scene where we’re introduced to the area he resides in, the camera angles, the decorations, the characters of the neighbors are chosen carefully to establish in the spectator a strange feeling about Truman’s reality, we see a very typical USA middle-class kind of neighborhood, yet everything about it looks too stereotypical, until a piece of lighting equipment falls from the sky, which marks the beginning of many strange encounters for Truman we see in the film. He picks the light up and reads on it ​‘Sirius 9 (Canis Major)’​, which makes it irresistible to be reminded of Sirius, the brightest star that was mentioned in Book 22 of Homer’s ‘Iliad’: “Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky/ On summer nights, star of stars,/ Orion’s dog they call it, brightest/ Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat/ And fevers to suffering humanity”​. The day goes on like a regular day, where we see in long shots the people of Seahaven, Truman’s city, going about their lives, or should I say, their roles in the show. Truman greets the people he knows, some of them he stops and do small talks of ​“Beautiful day. How are you? I’m good”​ with, where banners of advertisement are shown behind him, as if the whole point of that talk is to sell something.

Everything we see by this point is contributing to the TV show premise that was established at the very beginning; throughout the film, everyone around Truman is acting in a way to make him think that this is the best scenario for his life; the show must go on or those actors would lose their jobs. His colleague at work randomly shows him this newspaper headline about Seahaven voted ​‘the best place on earth’​, his best friend Marlon telling him he’d ​“kill for a desk job”​ like the one Truman has, when Truman opens up to him about thinking of quitting and leaving Seahaven, his wife reminding him of mortgage payment, car payments and other financial obligations they have and how they should also have a baby, when he tells her he wants them to travel somewhere, and the ridiculous warnings of life-threatening travel risks in the travel office.

Truman has ‘itchy feet’​ and feels that something new should happen in his life, he seems to not be able to endure the norm of his reality anymore, so he keeps thinking about going to Fiji, an island in the South Pacific, and the place he remembers very well because the supposed father of a girl he fell in love with during college days said he will move with his daughter to Fiji when he interrupted an unplanned date between Truman and her, where she tries to tell him the truth about the TV show, all of that was shown in a flashback sequence to the viewers of the show. But later in the film, noticeably, Fiji served as a place that resembles some kind of elsewhere that he longs for, a salvation from his boredom with everything around him; a way out. Using the golf ball as Planet Earth, he tells Marlon about how Fiji is on the opposite side of the planet from where they are: ​“You can’t get any further away before you start coming back”​, which sounds a little dark for describing a place you long for, a place where you’ll live happily ever after, a break-out from your life norms, a magical state of being where you’ll abandon that predictable life.

Another remarkable encounter for Truman, is when he sees an old, miserable man in the street, only to discover upon looking closer that it’s his father, who he thought died long ago sinking in the sea, as we’re shown in a flashback sequence earlier in the film, a traumatic event in Truman’s life that had left in him deep sadness and aquaphobia. Since, as we know, it’s a TV show where Truman is a real character, he shouldn’t suspect any signs for that. That’s why two strangers, who are basically crew members of the show, come to rescue; they kidnap the old man, run away, and get in the bus successfully while Truman misses the bus, thanks to the perfect sync between all the elements of the show that prevented from catching up with the two ‘strangers’. This encounter, and a few other ones like the film crew he saw in a hotel behind the door of an elevator that’s open from the other side, made him highly suspicious of everything around him, he starts to look at things and people differently, he starts to notice more and more the sync and the repetitiveness of all the events and actions in his world. We’re now presented with a Truman having some kind of awakening.

Throughout the film, Peter Weir reminds us every now and then of the TV show premise by showing us scenes of different viewers in various places watching The Truman Show on TVs, creating a strong sense of mise-en-abyme, with the screaming similarity between those viewers and the actors in the TV show, in terms of costumes, actions, roles in society, etc.

Like the treatment of the concept of trauma with the father story, the film has an interesting take on the concept of love; the once-in-a-lifetime unforgettable kind of love, with Lauren, as she’s named in Christof’s TV show. Her real name outside the show is Silvia, she was casted as Lauren, Truman’s love interest during college days, a lover he cannot seem to get over. Silvia had decided to tell Truman the truth regarding the TV show, she wanted to free him from that huge, arbitrary prison which he thought is his life. She’s introduced in the film as Christof’s enemy, the one who refused to participate in the big lie, the one whom Truman always dreamed of and fantasized about. Her mission was interrupted by sending the actor who’s supposed to be her father to the place she took Truman to, away from cameras so she can tell him the truth he needs to know. Love is presented in a way, as if it was one of the few things that don’t fit with Christof’s world, it invites the lover to another realm where Christof’s reasoning doesn’t matter. Truman didn’t only fell in love with Silvia, he kept falling in love deeper with the thrill that surrounds that love he cannot have, because it doesn’t belong to his reality.

Christof by now is threatened by Truman’s doubts, he needed to introduce something new in Truman’s life, maybe a ‘new romantic episode’ by casting a new actress as his new colleague at work, or what about bringing his father back to life, that would be a huge change; Truman must feel better and become happier and more content with his life. Christof, by doing something like this, he’s trying to restore a strong belief in Truman about his life, a sense of meaning in who he is and where he is now. This is basically what we do with ourselves always, we construct meanings for our existence, and it varies and develops as we grow, we make it more sophisticated every time so it can remain convincing enough for us to keep going.

After a long conflict between Truman and his reality, he managed finally to start his journey of emancipation in a massive sea of uncertainty; emancipating from Christof’s authority over his life scenarios, as well as his own extreme fear of being in the water. Christof, as a final try, orders the team to activate the ​'weather program',​ which is basically staging a massive artificial storm in order disrupt Truman from leaving. That storm, with heavy use of rhythmic montage, resembled a final battle between a person craving for emancipation from a huge prison and all the forces inside that very person, and using powerful forces of nature to represent them has definitely done justice to the comparison. Truman survives the battle, exhausted of course, but to his reward, his boat smashes the fake, constructed horizon which basically marks the limit of his reality, destroying what’s left of his belief in it, what’s left of his will to stay there, and live the life that Christof is constantly shaping for him, staged and scripted, a life where everything is certain, everything can be calculated, everything is disgustingly predictable. At that very moment, when we prepare ourselves for a pretty sight, an eternal utopian salvation, a promising light at the end of the tunnel behind the exit door that Truman finally opens, we see nothing but blind darkness, a territory too unknown for the filmmaker to even imagine. Truman, in front of the exit door, has his last conversation with Christof, who I’d rather say by now is Truman’s own consciousness, which directs his actions. The consciousness that tells him what he should do seconds before he does it, yet insists that things are real and spontaneous!

Every day we get up and live the events that we have planned ahead, and even when things don’t go according to our plans, it happens in a pattern that you can -by spending enough time observing and thinking about everything around you - get familiar with at some point. All the possible results of that pattern suddenly become imaginable, expected, and thus the magic of ‘surprise’ or ‘the unknown’ ceases to exist. After that stage, your consciousness, as well as the collective consciousness of your environment, try as powerful as is the instinct of survival in your human nature, to keep you from disbelief in that magic, about which, English poet/songwriter Nick Drake (1948-1974) says in one of his songs: ​“I was made to love magic. All its wonder to know. But you all lost that magic. Many many years ago”.​ Nick ended his own life when he was 26 after trying his best to fit in an existence whose rules he cannot seem to accept.

Christof, in vain, tries his best in that last conversation to convince Truman to stay, saying things I find striking: ​“There’s no more truth out there than in the world I created for you. I know you better than you know yourself. You’re afraid, that’s why you can’t leave. I have been watching you your whole life. You belong here, with me”.​ As if we’re listening to the last words of a desperate inner voice of a man about to commit an inevitable suicide. This is a moment in the film where the boundaries that were created in the mind of the spectator, between Christof and Truman, vanish. It’s not a conflict between our protagonist and some outsider evil forces anymore; it’s a conflict inside him, I claim.

In a world where life is taken too seriously, and suicidal thoughts are a taboo, ‘The Truman Show’ is not only a protest against life under the impact of capitalism, industrialism, TV, or social media as many would suggest, but furthermore a boisterous scream in the face of life under the human condition itself; the de facto situation that had left us in an endless conflict between who we are, who we think we are, and who we want to be. An endless conflict between discordant layers of awareness that made Romanian philosopher Emil M. Cioran say in his book ‘The Trouble with Being Born’: ​“Better to be an animal than a man, an insect than an animal, a plant than an insect, and so on. Salvation? Whatever diminishes the kingdom of consciousness and compromises its supremacy”.

‘The Truman Show’ excellently makes use of camera angles, montage techniques that offer many syntagmatic connotations, and unconventional acting methods to create that unnerving feeling in the spectators caused by the unignorable similarity between their own reality and what they’re told is a fake one. A reality which we want to enjoy the catharsis of not being part of; yet we can’t quietly do. In the film, during an interview for a TV program honoring his 30-years success making the show, Christof says: ​“We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that”​; it seems like it’s just not as simple for some, hence, Truman.

Upon looking deeper into it and noticing the loud thoughts between the lines, 'The Truman Show' explains how the human life, with all the offers and possibilities that it can ever hold within itself, is but a spoiled movie in a cinema where you happened to be there not by your choice, so you stay for some popcorn, which might be nice, or you leave.

Bibliography

  1. Cioran, Emil. ​'The Trouble With Being Born'.​ New York: Arcade Publishing, (2012).
  2. Homer. ‘​Iliad’.​ Trans. Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, (1997).
  3. Plato. ‘The Republic’.​ Trans. Allan Bloom. USA: Basic Books publishing, (1992).
  4. Drake, Nick. ‘I Was Made to Love Magic (Time of No Reply)'.​ Hannibal Records, 1987. MP3.
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5D1YSZPriPM (December 22, 2017).
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The Truman Show’: Film Analysis. (2023, January 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-truman-show-film-analysis/
“The Truman Show’: Film Analysis.” Edubirdie, 31 Jan. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/the-truman-show-film-analysis/
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The Truman Show’: Film Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Jan 31 [cited 2024 May 30]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-truman-show-film-analysis/
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