Imagine that every moment of your life was filmed, all unbeknownst to you. From the days you spend in your mother’s womb until the very end, thousands of secret little cameras record every second you’re alive. Now think about whether or not that particular life you lead would be anything interesting. All of your secrets, desires, hopes, dreams, and peculiar habits would be broadcast across the globe for everyone to see. Sure, you can argue that it wouldn’t be that bad if you didn’t know about it. But how would you react if you stumbled through the smoke and mirrors one day and slowly come to the realization that it’s all just one big TV show. Would you run with your stardom, milking those 1,577,800 minutes of fame, or would you seclude yourself in hiding, never to be seen again? Or would you just live on like you have been, giving the world one hell of a show in the process?
In The Truman Show, Jim Carey finds himself at the center of this question. Carey stars as Truman Burbank, a genuine guy living in a not-so genuine Seahaven Island, an entire town full of props, actors, cameras, and special effects, where every waking moment of his life is filmed. He’s the star of the world’s most popular TV show, and admired by billions of people on the planet. And yet, he’s afraid of water, unsure about his relationship with his wife (Laura Linney who’s character seemingly prostitutes herself for TV), and secretly buys ladies’ magazines in hopes of putting together the face of a lost love. The Truman Show takes place over just five days in the course of Truman’s life, and we witness his discovery of the life-long TV ploy and his inevitable encounter with his own personal god- Christoph (Ed Harris).
The Truman Show is a magnificent film that has ample room to breathe, never feeling too over-bearing or even that depressing, given the revelations that unfold. Carey gives his finest performance to date, and just as the film has room to breathe, so does Carey. Director Peter Weir does a great job of letting Carey be himself, with an added dose of drama, and we see Carey have his moments his known for, with the slapstick comedy and over-the-top exaggerations becoming a part of Truman. This is the film that turned Carey onto the dramatic scene, and seeing how careful Weir was to not force too much on Carey really helps bridge the actor’s two different worlds. It only helps that by tapping into Carey’s built in likability, we’re able to immediately connect with Truman and feel for the man as his life is literally falling apart around him (stage lights and all).
The plot of the film is something that sounds, quite frankly, ridiculous. How can a movie about a constant TV show really work without the entire premise sounding like a bad reality show? Well, it works because of its cast and because of the very smart script by Andrew Niccol (who was nominated for an Academy Award for the screenplay). Instead of a focus on the media aspect at hand, the script focuses on the characters at the center of it all and the feelings that accompany a man literally coming to terms with his existence. It’s quite a over-whelming idea when you think about it, yet the pleasant atmosphere of Seahaven Island, the faux 50s nostalgia of the world, and the convincing performance from Carey helps bring it down to a level that’s not as creepy as you’d imagine. It never focuses on the dirty, sexual, or sinful moments of Truman’s life, but instead focuses on the man’s desire to break free from the mold he’s found himself stuck in and the every day happenings of someone who’s imagination shines a little brighter than the rest of us. He’s a free spirit trapped in a synthetic dome and his escape from his own “reality” drives the movie home.
The Truman Show is a classic character study that blends humor with heart ache in all the right places and elicits emotions all across the scale. It’s a tale of self-discovery in a world where nothing is private and a story of a man overcoming his fears to escape from his unnatural prison. While the idea of an entire TV show being filmed around one unsuspecting individual, the ideas at the heart of The Truman Show are something we can all relate with. It’s marvelously acted, wonderfully written, and has an innocence about it you rarely find in a film of this variety. 1998 was an incredible year for films, seeing the release of Saving Private Ryan, American History X, and The Thin Red Line, and The Truman Show was not only the perfect antidote to the heavy nature of these three films, but one of the best films of that year. And even after 15 years, it still holds up beautifully today.
The Good: The fact that the film successfully manages to turn a ridiculous premise into something so genuinely optimistic and heart-warming
The Better: A supporting cast that features plenty of character actors and their own personal coming-to-terms with the lies they have led in order to con Truman
The Best: a career making performance from Jim Carey, who showed us that there’s much more to the man than a rubber face and comedic timing