Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Truman Show (1998)

The Truman Show – IMDb 222/250

It’s a lovely bank holiday Monday, the sun is shining, the drinks are flowing, and I am inside writing a review for my IMDb 250. What a life.

My review this week is number 222 on the list, The Truman Show (1998), the comedy drama film starring Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, the first man legally adopted by a corporation, whose life is made into a reality TV show without his knowledge. With a wife and good job Carrey seems to have the perfect life, but he begins to slowly realise that his reality may not be as real as it seems.

I first watched The Truman Show when I was younger and was a big fan of it, for no other real reason than I thought it was a good film well told, so I was intrigued to see how I would see it now as a more mature (cough cough) adult. The first thing I really liked about the film which I didn’t truly appreciate at the time is simply the idea and concept of the film. Writer Andrew Niccol created a truly unique idea which is well worth exploring and debating.

In the last twenty years since its release The Truman Show has only become more relevant with the birth of reality television, social media and ideas around surveillance. Perhaps the father of all reality TV shows, Big Brother debuted (sadly) on British television just one year after the release of this film, and what it has birthed is ‘structured reality’ TV shows like Made in Chelsea, Love Island and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. Structured reality, essentially meaning not reality in anyway shape or form, is similar to the life Truman lives, only he is an unwilling participant in the show. He lives a ‘simulated reality’, and the audience gets to watch him grow up and live his life.

This may sound like boring TV and ludicrous to watch, and when pitching the films idea to executives I bet director Peter Weir had a hard time explaining it, but as the last twenty years shows us, we can’t seem to get enough of other people’s life and ‘reality’, no matter how tedious or trivial it is. This film wonderfully depicts our early obsession with another persons life before the birth of reality television. I would call it a cross between 1984 and Keeping up with the Kardashians, with Carrey adding some Ace Ventura type comedy in the mixer too.

Did The Truman Show inspire reality TV like Big Brother?

Another interesting theme for me that The Truman Show explores is religion. Although Truman is the central character of the film and show, it is Ed Harris as the creator and ‘God’ of the show Christof that is more interesting to analyse.

He sits in a TV station in the sky looking down on his subjects as the ‘creator’, and this allusion to religion mixed with the idea of the media as a type of God is very interesting. When Truman is trying to escape from Christof and his created world he is attempting to escape his God or father figure, and Christof tries to dissuade him from doing so, trying to say that the real world is far worse than the reality he currently lives in. Without going into theology or depictions of utopias, its possible description as an atheist film, it is something worth looking in to, and gives the film an extra edge and piece of interest for me, and the film has been analysed before in its allusions to Christianity, which is worth looking up.

Ed Harris plays TV exec Christof, but he could also be an allusion to God – his performance earnt him an Oscar nod.

A key element to this film outside the thematic ideas and drama is humour.  I found it to be well executed, not taking away from its overall foreboding message regarding surveillance, the media and reality, but adding to it in its ridiculousness. The people around Truman have to stay in character, and their attempts to do this while he is clearly on to them is very amusing, and I particularly enjoyed Meryl Burbank’s (Laura Linney) attempts to advertise during inappropriate times with Truman.

However a lot of the film hinges on your opinion of Jim Carrey as an actor. For some you may find his over the top acting adorable or charming, whereas others may find it cheesy and grating (pun intended). For me I think he is well cast in films such as Liar, Liar, The Mask and The Grinch, but I can’t help feel he is a little poorly cast here. With a different leading actor this film could have been greater, and possibly easier to digest as a genuinely thought provoking piece of cinema rather than a comedy film with some dramatic elements and cool ideas.

Although the humour worked and the concept brilliant, I did feel its execution was lacking. Director Peter Weir struggled to keep the world together and the story fizzles out during the latter stages, and the emotional depth of the film was shallow, lacking any real punch or even much sympahty for Truman, which should have been easy. The focus instead was too much on Carrey’s antics and felt like a vehicle for him to get into serious acting rather, than a film about the medias intrusion on public life. I can see why it is in the top 250, but I feel there is another story to be told here which could be far superior.

The Truman Show: 6/10

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