Thursday, October 6, 2016

Reality Check

The Truman Show
Director: Peter Weir
Cast: Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone, Holland Taylor, Paul Giamatti
Released: June 5, 1998

Oscar nominations:

Best Director - Peter Weir (lost to Steven Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan)
Best Supporting Actor - Ed Harris (lost to James Coburn for Affliction)
Best Original Screenplay - Andre Niccol (lost to Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard for Shakespeare in Love)


The Truman Show is a movie that was ahead of its time. It's a reality show that's been following around one man since his birth, thirty years ago. Everyone is in on it except for Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey in one of his first more serious roles). Now reality TV did exist back in '98 when this movie was released (even though I never watched them, I remember The Real World and Road Rules were already established by this time), but the slew of reality TV as we know it didn't seem to really start until the early 2000s. You have your competitive reality shows like Survivor (2000), The Amazing Race (2001), Big Brother (2000), American Idol (2002), Project Runway (2004), Top Chef (2006) and you have your candid reality shows like The Hills (2006) and everyone's favorite (said nobody ever), Keeping Up With the Kardashians (2007 - hmmm, I could have sworn that's been on a lot longer...guess it just feels that way!) and a bunch of others. I have always preferred competitive to candid. Except for Big Brother, I watch or have watched the shows I listed. The Truman Show would be in the candid category and I have never understood the appeal of watching people in their real lives. I have tried to watch these kinds of shows before and THEY ARE BORING! My brother, God knows why, loved The Hills when it aired and was always talking about it so I decided to check it out, thinking I was missing something amazing. I watched the first two episodes before I decided I was out. It was one of the most boring and pointless things I had ever watched. 

Of course everyone on candid reality shows KNOW they are on a reality show and therefore manufacture drama for the show's benefit. They also haven't had their whole lives documented on TV like Truman. Like I said, everyone is in on the whole thing except for Truman himself. Everyone in the small town, also an island, he grew up in is an actor and has a role they each play. His "wife", Meryl (Laura Linney) is an actress named Hannah Gill. His "best friend" (who he's known since he was 7) is Marlon (Noah Emmerich...he plays the FBI agent in The Americans) is an actor named Louis Coltrane. Even his "parents" (Holland Taylor plays his "mother") aren't his real parents, but actors playing the Senior Burbanks. We don't know anything about his real parents, but that Truman was adopted for the purpose of this show, which was created by a man named Christof (Ed Harris).

I don't know how anyone can be so oblivious that they don't even realize that they have their own TV show documenting their life, 24 hours a day and it's shown all over the world. But the movie manages to make you believe he wouldn't have any idea, just like in Home Alone, where it's absolutely ridiculous that parents would forget to bring their kid with them on vacation, they set it up so you can buy the absurdity of the whole thing. For one thing, since everybody is an actor in the small "town" he lives in, everybody knows their place and roles. Truman may be a big star everywhere else in the world, but nobody here treats him as such. There have been a couple close calls where people have tried to tell him what's really going on, but they deal with those people pretty quickly. The biggest example is when an actress named Sylvia (Natascha McElhone) playing a character named Lauren that Truman has a crush on before he meets Meryl (or, more accurately, before Meryl literally falls into him) takes him to a private spot on the beach and tells him that her name is really Sylvia and that everybody knows everything he does and how everybody around him is pretending and that everything around him is a set. A man in a car comes up saying he's Lauren's father, but Sylvia claims she's never seen this man before in her life. Needless to say, Truman is confused and the man tells him she's been having "episodes" lately. He also tells him that they're moving to Fiji (random!) and Sylvia is obviously removed from the cast. Truman has never stopped thinking of Sylvia and is trying to find a way to get to Fiji to find her.

Another example of Truman having no idea his life is being recorded is that they make it so he never has any desire to leave the island he lives on. We see a flashback of when he was a young boy and his "father" was "washed out to sea" when they were on a boating trip. Christof did that not only to instill a fear of water into Truman, but to also see how he would cope with a parent's death at such a young age. Even when Truman decides he's going to Fiji, there are still signs warning him not to go. One is a literal sign when he visits the travel agency and there's a huge poster of a plane being struck by lightning and the caption is "IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU." That just made me chuckle because which travel agency, in their right mind, would have that kind of poster? The travel agent tells him that they're booked for over a month. Truman decides to get on a bus to Chicago, but the bus conveniently breaks down and they can't go anywhere. He then decides he and Meryl should travel somewhere and decides on a whim they should go to New Orleans, but whenever he tries to get out of his neighborhood, cars are blocking his way. He does mange to get out and even drives across the bridge, which he is afraid of. Once they are past it, there is a sign warning them of a forest fire, and then they have to turn back because there's been a leak at the plant.

Of course, we later learn that Christof has been controlling all of this. The island is not actually an island, but rather a large soundstage built inside a huge dome in Hollywood. The town he lives in is called Sea Haven and it's "enclosed in the largest studio ever constructed". They also say that, along with the Great Wall of China, it's one of two structures visible from space (though didn't they debunk that theory that you can see the Great Wall of China from space?) All the control rooms and many cameras and people who work behind the scenes, including Christof, are located in the moon structure.

And the most obvious part that Truman never notices he's being filmed is because they use small, hidden cameras jewelry of the cast members, in his car radio, and in small objects of my favorite was the camera in the electric pencil sharpener when he's at work. He's none the wiser that there are any cameras around.

After being unable to leave Sea Haven, Truman begins to grow very suspicious. He start to notice odd things...such as he always sees the same people walking around his block in the same order. Meryl always seems to be hawking some product (like cocoa) like she's on a commercial and Truman asks who she's talking to, but she denies she's talking to anyone. But, of course, she is advertising all the foods and clothes and everything else you can buy, because we later learn that the viewing public is able to order anything they see on "The Truman Show" from the catalogue! Truman starts to get more angrier and grabs her, thus making Meryl yell "Do something!" at one of the cameras. This confuses Truman even more and demands to know who she's talking to. This gets Meryl written out of the show and a new love interest will be introduced to Truman at his work.

The show decides to bring back Truman's "father" from the "dead" to boost ratings. We see a bunch of the same people always watching the show: a man who's always in his bathtub, two old ladies, a whole diner of its employees and patrons watching from the little TV up in the corner, two police men watching in their office, a few families watching, etc. Even Sylvia is watching from wherever she is now (something tells me she never actually moved to Fiji!) even though it's a little bit hypocritical for her to be watching since she's against the entire idea.

Truman begins to figure out what's going on and manages to escape through a tunnel he digs from the one place in his house where there isn't a camera view. Christof and the other producers (one of them is played by Paul Giamatti) freak out and they cut the feed for the first time in the show's existence as their star is missing. They have all the actors and crew members look for Truman on the large sound stage, but all of them come up empty-handed. They are all surprised when they find Truman on a boat in the large manmade "ocean" as he is afraid of the water. Christof orders them to turn on the boat camera and since is is able to control weather and water elements, he creates a huge storm, knowing that he will have no choice but to turn back. Truman is able to hold on and Christof orders the network producers to turn it up a notch. They hesitate, saying he could die in front of a live audience and Christof replies with, "He was born in front of a live audience."

Truman manages to make it through strong waves and  a large tidal wave. The storm finally recedes and he continues to sail on and hits a wall painted like the sea and sky. There is a set of stairs leading to the only exit out of this place. He has a conversation with Christof and it is made to look like his voice is coming from the sky, as he is talking to God. (It's not the most subtle scene!) Everyone watching cheers as they watch him exit his reality show existence. We never see anything of him once he goes through that door, but I guess that makes sense since the cameras have turned off on him. The movie ends with one of the cops asking the other, "What else is on?"

It's crazy to think this movie came out right before the reality show craze and we also didn't have all the social media and YouTube where people can post every detail of their lives for strangers to see. Of course, people on reality TV shows and on social media are AWARE they are sharing their lives with the entire world. I have no idea how Christof was never arrested for what he was doing! I guess everyone was so captivated by the life of Truman Burbank, that they didn't care. I would feel weird watching somebody who wasn't aware they were being filmed. That just seems so wrong.

The trailer of this movie gives away the premise of the whole movie and when the movie starts, it begins with interviews of Christof and a few of the actors talking about their roles on the show, so you, the audience, are already aware of what's going on. I have to wonder, though, if it would have been more effective if they hadn't given away the plot in the trailers and just started the movie with Truman and you weren't aware, just like him, that he was being filmed and his life was a show that was being shown to the world. It would be a great twist if we were discovering what was going on the same time as he was. I'm guessing they didn't do this because they were afraid people wouldn't see the movie if they didn't know what it was about. Although you would think having Jim Carrey as your star would help since this was during the time he was really popular. I would say this is my favorite Jim Carrey performance and movie. (Cuz it sure ain't Batman Forever!)

I was listening to a podcast about this movie and they were talking about how Peter Weir had considered putting cameras in theaters and having the audience see themselves on screen for a moment before cutting back to the movie. That would have freaked me out so much. I imagine they didn't do this for logistical reasons. That seems like it would be way too expensive to install camera in all those theaters, plus it would really only work on the first day of screenings as I'm sure word of mouth would happen and people would find out about it. It's a cool concept, but I can understand why it didn't happen. 

If you've never seen this one, I highly suggest you check it out. It will make you appreciate your privacy a lot more! Good morning and in case I don't see you for the rest of the day, good afternoon, good evening, and good night! 

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