The Truman Show
Andy Warhol once predicted that everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. With the advent of reality television a lot of people are achieving this goal. A decade ago in 1998 this trend was just beginning to pick up steam with American television. MTV had a very popular series ‘The Real World’ where cameras were placed in and around a house populated by a group of twenty somethings. This was not even the first time television has come up with this idea. In 1973 PBS had ‘An American Family’ where camera crews documented the daily lives of the Loud family. It just proved the concept that people will enjoy watching he daily comedy and drama that we call regular life. It just proved something written by Shakespeare long ago that ‘all the world is a stage and the men and women are just player upon it. In1998 director Peter Weir took this concept to a logical albeit extreme with ‘The Truman Show’. It was a simple tale of a man whose entire life was made into a television series. He was the only one not in on the premise; everyone he has ever known was an actor and everyplace he ever went was a set. In the decade since this film was released so called reality television has degraded into a morass of decadence and silly concepts. Looking back to this movie it is no longer such a far fetched idea. At the time many people thought this would be just another absolutely silly and over the top comedy due to the presence of the leading man, Jim Carrey. He was best known for ‘the Cable Guy’ and Dumb and Dumber’ so no body really suspected it but this man has emotional range. This movie represents a touching and human story of something we all want to know, the meaning of our lives. The film was released to DVD in 1998 in a now discontinued version followed by a special edition in 2005. Now the movie has made it to high definition with the new Blu-ray release. This is one of those classic films that may not come to mind frequently but is so poignant and touching that it deserves a place of honor in your collection.
Handling the script was Andrew Niccol. This was only his second screenplay, ‘Gattaca’ being his first. He did go on to other scripts including the cyber oriented ‘S1m0ne’ and the Tom Hanks vehicle ‘The Terminal’. ‘The Truman Show’ stands as his finest accomplishment. In part the idea came from live web cameras most notably the ‘JenniCam’. In 1996 a college student, Jennifer Ringley decided too launch a web site where her entire live was broadcast over the internet. This included more intimate moments but mostly it was just scenes of her doing housework or at her studies. It may sound boring to watch someone else like this but millions of people paid to see this site and it soon became a media sensation. We are in a voyeuristic society ass proven by the wild popularity of tabloid magazine. In days long gone by there was a thing called the party line where a telephone line was shared by several families. It was a common practice for people to listen in on their neighbor’s conversations. This film represents the ultimate in this fascination. The thought of watching a human being every minute of every day of his life would be something that would appeal to the masses. At the core of this story is a man trying to figure out who he is. When he discovers that his life was laid out for the world to see has the additional difficulty of coping with the fact that his entire life was planned by a director. Although the script was written a decade ago the themes it explores are still relevant today; perhaps even more so. Several television networks have produced ‘reality’ series that purportedly follow people around during their days and nights. While many are highly suspect as completely staged you can be sure that the popularity of this film was mentioned during the pitch meeting.
Director Peter Weir had some heavy hits behind him when he created this film. He directed ‘Dead Poets Society’, ‘Witness’ and ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’. He would also go on to helm the period action film ‘Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World’. He is not the kind of director who feels he has to release his films in quick succession. He takes his time between projects and his attention to detail and consideration certainly shows in the quality of his work. It is a considerable demonstration of his talent that he was able to reign in the hyper active antics of Carrey. He manages to get a performance out of him that is touching. He takes a surreal situation and presents it in such a fashion that we sit there watching and buy it completely.
The film opens on the 10,909th day of the ‘Truman Show’. Truman Burbank is completely unaware that his every move is being watched by millions of home viewers. There are over 5.000 cameras secretly set up to follow him. He thinks he lives on a little island that is home to a nice middle class neighborhood. Actually it is a gigantic set built just for the show. The producers made sure that Truman would never want to leave by making sure he had a childhood trauma that would result in a fear of boats. Everything about his life is staged. His wife Meryl (Laura Linney) is actually an actress, Hannah Gill. She is paid for her role as the love of Truman’s life. One day a keg light falls from the domed set and it places a seed of doubt in his mind. As his starts to look into things he ultimately comes to learn the truth. Years ago Truman was an abandoned infant and the studios bought him for the series. His life was carefully orchestrated from that moment one. In the past Truman had a brief flirtation with Sylvia (Natascha McElhone) never knowing that she was just an extra and her name was Lauren Garland. Lauren actually felt something for Truman and has been protesting the show for its immoral and unethical behavior. She wants to break into the set to tell him the truth. Meanwhile fans of the show stop everything to watch the series as often as possible. The director, Christof (Ed Harris) is hailed as a genius for creating the most popular series in television history. The irony here is he is practically a recluse and feels that any pictures or interviews with him are a breach on his right to privacy; the very thing he stole from Truman.
This is simply put a wonderful film that will delight the entire family. It is imaginative and may have had its share if imitators but none have every ascended to the quality and sheer entertainment value of this movie. Most people think of the high octane big blockbusters when they consider a high definition format like Blu-ray. This format really shines with a movie like this. The video is so realistic and the audio so all encompassing that you will think you are there with Truman. Get this classic movie and enjoy it like never before.