Truman Show, The

Reviewed By PyThomas
Posted 02/25/99 14:04:06

"Give 'em hell, Carrey!"
5 stars (Awesome)

It's not often that a motion picture comes along and makes you think about society's relationship to popular culture.

Not often at all for a major-studio picture to do that task, even. But danged if Peter Weir didn't pull it off with The Truman Show. It basically satirizes our love of television by creating a world where greedy network execs will do anything - even fuck with some innocent person's mind - just to keep the ratings up. And the public just watches the mind-fuck and eats it up.

That's what happens here with our hero, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey in drama mode, with a bit of his manic side thrown in). His whole life, ever since birth, was one big television production, broadcast 24 hours a day. His parents, friends, wife, neighbors, and everyone he comes in contact with are all actors and actresses, there to interact with him and get paid for doing it. The "island" town he lives in, Seahaven, is really one big honkin' soundstage, full of name-brand cars and carefully placed ads for corporate sponsors.

Overseeing all of this is Christof (Ed Harris), an enigmatic artiste-type who carefully controls Truman's world and makes sure he doesn't stray from his artificial world and find out the truth of his existence. Which is a problem in itself because Truman has always been a wanderlust at heart. It took the (faked) death of his adoptive father at sea to strike a fear of water in Truman and keep him in Seahaven.

Christof, ever protective of his profit-making machine, is shameless enough to deploy psychological tactics to lull Truman into complacency with his picture-perfect hometown. The travel agencies have frightful visions of traveling, including a bolt of lightning striking an airliner. The newspapers constantly trumpet Seahaven as the best place to live. The films all have the same moral: that home is the best place to be even if you try and find your fortune elsewhere. And these tactics work, to the chagrin of the show's detractors.

One of those critics, Sylvia (Natasha McElhone), planted the seed that would eventually lead to Truman's rebellion against his artificial world. Sylvia was the "other woman" in Truman's high school years... while Meryl (Laura Linney) was trying to get Truman to date her (translated: go along with the script) - Truman longed to be with "Lauren" (Sylvia) and never lost his affection for her... even after she was forced to leave, a result of a failed attempt to tell Truman the truth about his life.

And ever since her departure, Truman had always wanted to go to Fiji, the place that Sylvia supposedly moved to. This desire to find his lost love - along with a few miscues, studio accidents, gaffes, slip-ups, and awkward discoveries (Meryl, it turns out, crossed her fingers during her wedding to Truman) - makes him a lot more suspicious, a bit paranoid, and ever determined to overcome his fears and break free of Seahaven. However, Christof won't let Truman go that easily - not when there's still ratings and money to be made off of him.

This is the central question driving the movie: How far would we go to manipulate a single soul for the sake of entertainment? And are we so caught up in getting entertained that we don't mind if someone really gets mentally wrecked, so long as it makes us laugh? Hell, we almost did it to the stars of Star Trek, the Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island. The film actually made me wonder about how pervasive TV culture could get.

The Truman Show is that good. And although some may think it might have been better in the hands of David Lynch or Terry Gilliam, Peter Weir forges together a fascinating world that is altogether surreal and picture-perfect. The premise has an easy learning curve. And once you're well aware of Truman's situation, you realize the darker, Twilight Zone-esque atmosphere surrounding him. It doesn't hurt to have plenty of comic moments during the film, such as the zany ways his wife and his drinkin' buddy insert commercials into their conversations. And Jim Carrey... the guy keeps his ass-ventriloquism in check and turns in a quirky and moving performance.

If you haven't seen this film yet, you're missing out on that Hollywood rarity... an intelligent movie that gets you thinking.

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