90's-vember : The Truman Show (1998) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

90’s-vember : The Truman Show (1998)

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Look at the poster behind him, another way they keep him from getting adventurous.

Most people have done it before: in a time of hurt, anger, helplessness and countless other emotions, people have looked up to the sky and said “why God why?”  People do this not expecting an answer; they do this to let off steam in a time of great pain.  Yet, what if you got an answer from the heavens and the heavens said it was all for entertainment? Your hurt and pain was just done for ratings.

How would you feel if everything you knew was a lie and all the great and awful times in life were not real but the brainchild of someone with a God Complex?  This is why I squarely put The Truman Show under the genre of drama instead of comedy.

The Truman Show came out in 1998, which predates the reality generation that we are in now with TV by a good year or two.  Sure, The Real World was a staple of MTV at that point but this was before E! gave any celebrity a camera crew and followed them as they played to the camera and did mundane tasks.  The Truman Show premiered at a time when we, as viewers, would question whether people would just watch a person do absolutely nothing interesting. (The sad answer? We will.) The film was a great peek into the psyches on why we have a need to watch people and was immensely better than EDTV and Series 7, but that's not what intrigues me to this day.

Truman (Jim Carrey) is a very typical person.  He has lived a life that is extraordinary in its ordinariness.  He has a job in insurance, he's got a nice house with a white picket fence and has done what all middle class Americans are supposed to do: nest, travel and buy name brand products.  Truman would not argue with anyone saying that he lived a vanilla life, and he would probably even say that he wants it that way.

Truman's "God" watches over him

Yet in reality Truman is anything but a typical man.  He is a superstar and an institution on television.  He'ss the biggest thing on the air, and millions love and worship the man.  Yet Truman doesn't know this because Truman lives in the biggest stage in the world and is completely the unaware of being the star of his own show.

What makes this so tragic is that these circumstances have proven that he really doesn’t have an identity.  His friends were picked for him, and his love life was manufactured and progressed only for ratings.  He was not able to forge his own path or learn of his passions and fears by himself, but was made fearful of things to stay within the confines of the world in where he lives.  The man controlling everything, Christof, is a God like figure for Truman but unlike the Christian God, Christof does not grant his people free will.

While Truman does not have a true sense of freewill, he does find it in him to fight and dream for what he truly wants and desires: the love that got away.  Lauren (Natascha McElhone) was a woman that struck Truman from the second he saw her.  Was it her eyes, her lips, the way she handled herself?  Truman doesn’t know but he is instantly stricken by her even though he is in a relationship with Meryl (Laura Linney).  Even though Christof moves heaven and earth (or the set and extras) to keep them apart, the two share a kiss and Lauren tries to tell him the truth before her “dad” whisks her away to Fiji.  Truman moves on with his life but never forgets her, even if his God would want nothing more.

This subplot could go towards romantic or creepy, I am definitely on the romantic side.

Another aspect the movie touches upon is how much do we want to question our life.  While Truman might not have the perfect life, he is very happy in his peaceful little world that he puts blockers on to some of the strange things that happen to him.  His wife may be pitching products for no apparent reason and to nobody in particular but he lets it slide. A light falls from the sky, but he goes with the explanation from the radio.

Another film of the 90’s that took a hard look at what was real and what wasn’t was 1999’s The Matrix and it too discussed how perceptive we want to be.  When Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) is back in the Matrix in the film, he is enjoying steak and savoring it, even though he knows it isn’t real.  He wills himself to forget that fact and just enjoys something he can’t get in the real world. when he betrays his people, he might be promised wealth and power but what he truly wants above all else is to forget about what is real.

How much does Truman do this himself and what makes him finally question his reality?  Was it the dad coming back from the dead, was it his marriage breaking up or was it just time for him to leave the nest?

I believe that the last 20 minutes of the The Truman Show are some of my favorite moments from any film from the 90s (or any other decade for that matter).  Here we find Truman, who has a deep fear of the water, sailing out into parts unknown.  By now he knows his world isn’t real, but he really doesn’t know what is.  Like explorers from hundreds of years ago, he decides to risk his fate on the unknown.

Here his God becomes wrathful, throwing rain, wind, storms and many other elements under his power to make him turn around and go back to living the life that Christof dictates.  Only when Truman pushes back and goes against his wishes does Christof try to almost harm his creation.  Truman makes it through the storm and his boat smashes the wall.  With a beautiful score rising in the background, Truman gets out of his boat to investigate with fear, excitement, uncertainty and determination etched on his face (Jim Carrey was excellent in this film by the way).

Only here does God finally speak to Truman and Truman gets something most people never do, a one on one conversation with his creator.  Christof, in his nicest voice, explains to Truman he is the star of a TV show. Everything in the world was tailored for him for his happiness.  Truman is safe, secure, and content in Christof’s world.  If Truman goes out the door, all that will be gone.  There will be no control, no “higher power” looking out for his well being exclusively. Truman takes a moment to think about this, gives his catch phrase one last time, and opens the door and enters the unknown.

Scenes don't get much more beautiful than this.

I am glad that after he goes through that door, the movie does not follow him because it is better to imagine what happens next.  Would I love to see a sequel that finds him 10+ years later? That is a hard question because I think Jim Carrey, Director Peter Weir and writer Andrew Nicol created a masterpiece for all times. I would love to see what else they want to say, but I think the movie ends perfectly.  It is up to us to decide what happens next.  In my world, he searches for Lauren (or the actress Sylvia) right away and uses her as his center for this crazy world because his feelings for her are the only thing that he knows as real.  Yet, ask 5 people and one might get 5 different thoughts on what happens next.

The Truman Show is billed as a comedy and there are funny parts to the movie, but to think everything is all punchlines and jokes is far from the truth.  This film says so much about the world, where the entertainment world was going and about the human condition.  The movie has many different layers and can be interpreted in vast amounts of ways.  The 90’s might have been Jim Carrey’s decade, and he will be remembered as the guy who talked out of his butt, made funny faces, and owned the comedy scene for about 10 years.  Yet, long after he is gone I believe that the movies people will remember Jim Carrey for will not be for his broad comedies but for his more nuanced performances in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Truman Show, and that is not a bad legacy to have.

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Posted by Ryan

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