Stars: **** out of Four
Summary: A true modern classic, delving deep into philosophy while not compromising its broad appeal.
Review: Wait. ‘The Truman Show’. Classic? It’s only 11 years old! It’s not as famous as films from the same decade, like ‘Jurrasic Park’ and ‘The Matrix’!
Yeah, that’s right. I just read your mind.
Well, not really. ‘The Truman Show’, directed by Peter Weir and starring Jim Carrey in a role that took him from strictly comedy to dynamic drama, came out in 1998 and was the 11th highest grossing film of the year. I remember going to see the film in theaters, while my brother went to go see Roland Emmerich’s ‘Godzilla’ (which I still hold to be a fun B-movie). I didn’t get the philosophical backbone of the story at the time, but looking back on it, I realize it is very rich. It’s a dystopian sci-fi drama about a man, Truman Burbank, whose entire life is faked. He lives inside the world’s largest structure, a dome containing an island and a faux ocean. The first child legally adopted by a corporation, he is being viewed, unawares, by an audience of millions on television. Christof, the creator of the show, fancies himself Truman’s caretaker and a true artist, but some disagree. Conscientious people are constantly trying to break in and warn Truman that his life isn’t what it seems.
The story is very close to the philosopher Plato’s allegory of ‘The Cave’, which I’ll let you look up on your own. The idea being that Truman, once he discovers that his world is a fake, cannot go back. He has to get free. Since everybody around him in the dome is an actor, he starts breaking his daily routine to throw them off. He erratic behavior is especially affecting to his “wife”, who ends up breaking character in front of him in a moment of desperation. Carrey’s performance, as he goes from happy, to discontented, to dangerous and rebellious, is utterly convincing. Equally convincing is Christof, played by Ed Harris, who shows us a man so obsessed with his work that he fancies himself a god.
So far I haven’t mentioned why this is a classic. Obviously, it just hasn’t been long enough- and isn’t popular enough -to be considered universally a classic film. Some do, however, citing it as “prophetic” of the coming of reality television in the 2000s. I would agree. It is an excellent, excellent movie, both funny and heartwrenching, with an excellent score to boot. The visual effects seem a little subpar, especially in contrast to the following year’s hit ‘The Matrix’, but they are adequate.
‘The Truman Show’ is dystopian, in that it shows us just how far we can take our entertainment. When we treat people as objects, who knows what lengths we will take to ensure perfect entertainment. The motivation for trapping a human being in the dome is a desire for genuineness. Truman, Christof explains, lives in a fake world, but his every feeling is real. Christof seems convinced that he has the right to give Truman life or take it away, for the sake of the show. Truman is an object to him. From Truman’s point of view, freedom is the ability to take control of his own life and to live from his heart. The film illustrates why the doctrine of free will is so instinctual; we have to be in control of our own lives, whether in the end we are good or evil. Determinism threatens this, and makes human desire seem irrelevant. If desire is irrelevant, then so is creativity, exploration, love. All that makes us human is stripped away. Truman made the decision to be free from the shadow world (look at ‘The Cave’, please), and in doing so preserved his freedom. He had only an illusion of freedom previously, but since he was enlightened, he couldn’t turn back. It is established that he has a crippling fear of water early on in the film, and as he approaches the film’s climax, he overcomes it and takes a boat out on the faux sea. His humanity gave him the strength to overcome his fear.
Most definitely a 4 star film. I heartily suggest you rent it, or buy it. Take a good, long look at ‘The Truman Show’.