I wanted to do something special to mark the fifth anniversary of the debut of my site. There have been certain movies I’ve always wanted to write about, but couldn’t think of the best format to address them in. So I came up with this movie spotlight series which will focus on discussing and analysing films rather than on critiquing them like I usually do. If you’ve read the Movies That Used to Scare Me post the write-ups for that post will be similar to this. There will be next to no critiquing in this series, but so more appreciating as most of these movies I really like. Although I do intend to not limit myself to movies I like as at some point I also want to dip my toes into some of the more polarising films and focus on the parts I like in those movies. I don’t think I’ll be making a schedule for this series as I have learned that schedules are often difficult to keep up with. But I will try to do at least one Spotlight post every month or two, only because I already have two in mind that I would like to cover. Anyway, for our pilot post, I just happened to rewatch one of my personal favourite movies The Truman Show, so let’s analyse that.
This post will be very spoiler heavy as I’m going to go into detail with this one and every other Spotlight post.
I’m not exactly sure when I first saw The Truman Show, but it was definitely over six years ago because I was a teenager watching it with my parents on the first watch. I remember really liking it and more so being wrapped in its high concept of an entire man’s life being broadcast without his knowledge. It wasn’t really a love for the film that I only came to realise until my third, fourth, and now maybe sixth viewing. I think I have unwarily been watching The Turman Show for the last three years, which doesn’t feel like an accident. The Truman Show is only an hour and a half long and is lightweight with a timeless quality to it. The most important part for me, watching this almost every year since that initial viewing, is that now I feel very confident in saying it’s in my top 5 favourite movies of all time. It’s one of those movies that I can easily watch at any time with no issue.
I also find the film rather inspiring, especially from the character of Truman. He’s in his 30s and has never left his childhood home and is sick of his everyday life. Add in the sci-fi element of Truman slowly picking up on the fact that his entire life might be a sham and the realisation that the entire collective that Truman would call the society of Sea Haven is out to make sure he never leaves that island. Sea Haven is such a fitting name for this town, it’s as great as calling Truman, True Man. Though Truman doesn’t let that stop him and refuses to give in and almost becoming a representation of true humanity at its finest. The general audience of this show has no idea Truman is currently having an existential crisis, as even the show’s creator, Christof, just writes that up as a part of his masterful writing. Yeah, I always intended for my main star to have a mental breakdown on camera. This time rewatching The Truman Show I also viewed it as a documentary that chronicles Truman’s escape from the people that kept him on that Island for commercial gain, whilst also exposing Christof and the producers for the inhumane monsters that they are. This theory all clicked for me right at the beginning of the film where the actors for Truman’s wife and best friend were giving those interviews about always living on the set and absolutely loving it. Another thing that stands out is Andrew Niccol’s outstanding screenplay. The amount of layers the Truman Show has to unravel as there is always something new to pick up on each watch. Most importantly on this watch, I have come to realise just how dark and disturbing the whole thing really is under that nice friendly surface. So, The Truman Show is technically a black comedy, which is just another thing to look forward to on my next watch. Apparently, Niccol’s original intention was for The Truman Show to be a psychological thriller, which explains why the film can be so dark at points. When Peter Weir came on to direct, he wanted the film to be funny, but he must have liked the darkness enough to keep that under the surface, thus giving us the best of both worlds. This formula certainly made this film stand out along with the high concept of a man questioning his own reality.
The Truman Show will be 25 years old this year and it hardly shows its age. Apparently, this movie came out just before the boom that was reality television. I can’t really imagine the landscape when The Truman Show first came out as I was literally born into what I guess was the dawn of reality TV, so I have no comment on if The Truman Show predicted reality TV or perhaps even was the inspiration for it. Anyway, I can imagine that back in 1998, documenting the lives of average people would be super appealing as not even the internet was a big thing yet. I’m thinking something like Big Brother in the 2000s where the whole appeal of the show was just watching regular people hang out, chatting, and the drama was created by the contestants, not by the producers. Though long gone are those days as by the 2020s I have no doubt the producers are heavily involved in the drama of the contestants. Reality TV shows like Married at First Sight come to mind as everything is so obviously manufactured, scripted, and the drama is clearly fake. The point of this tangent is in-universe The Truman Show despite being marketed as watching the actual everyday life of Truman Burbank, it’s really as manufactured as modern-day reality TV. This is why I believe The Truman Show has aged incredibly well as it was ahead of its time because I guess it foresaw what reality TV has become. As the producers of The Truman Show literally control every single aspect of Truman’s world to the point where they have completely lost sight of the original concept.
A really good example of this is the flashback of Truman falling in love with Sylvia in high school. Truman is quite literally experiencing an actual love-at-first-sight type of deal with Sylvia as they both cutely smile at each other which brings up the perfect opportunity for the show to have Truman experience something real. The show is so scripted that Truman’s future wife, Meryl is literally shoehorned into his face, by clumsily tripping over him and lifting up her mini skirt to force that immediate sexual attraction onto Truman. Humans are very instinct-driven creatures, and you can’t force someone to instantly fall in love with someone they’re not attracted to. It’s very clear in this first interaction and later on in their marriage that Truman shows no attraction or love towards Meryl. It’s interesting when Truman tries to talk to Sylvia in the library as Truman is pouring his heart out, but she can’t have a genuine conversation with him, because she is just a background extra, unexpectedly talking to Truman the biggest star on the planet, and she knows she’s not supposed to talk to him. Really reeling in the lack of free will Truman has on his own show. The whole Truman and Sylvia stuff is framed on the show as a forbidden romance, which really brings up that the actual in-universe writing for the Truman Show relies a lot on soap opera tropes. Another very clever example of that is during the interview with Christof where he explains Truman just had amnesia this whole time that his father supposedly drowned. Brilliant.
I think my favourite portion of the movie is Truman trying to expose the cracks in his fake world to Meryl. We have Truman pointing out the looping extras and the sudden vanishing of traffic, while Meryl ignores him and desperately keeps up the façade by framing her husband as a crazy person. It’s also just a really good series of scenes that highlight how perfect Jim Carrey was in this role where he can pull off his zany comedy whilst layering it in personal drama and tragedy. Laura Linney is fantastic as well, especially in the kitchen scene where she ignores Truman’s serious question about their sham of marriage so she can talk about that new delicious Mococoa drink with a smile that looks like she is ready to burst into an insane fit. Another thing you pick up about this movie over time is the product placement as the camera literally zooms in on the product forcing Truman and the audience to look at it because those houses they rent out on the show can’t be the only way the show makes its money. I think my favourite instance is Marlon with that beer by his face, just because the shot looks like something you would see in a real beer commercial.
That final product placement scene of Truman getting up and intimidating Meryl also features one of the numerous examples of the tiny cameras they have all over the town. That one I think was either on Meryl’s badge or one of her buttons, as there are also cameras on Truman’s buttons and inside his speedometer. The creative cinematography is incredible not just from the little fish eye lens of the tiny cameras, but just about every other shot in this movie is iconic in one way or another. There is that famous shot of Truman stopping the cars with his hands or looking down at the sunken paddle boat on the jetty, or pretty much every shot from that blue sky staircase in the ending. All of this great camera work is accompanied by one of the most underrated scores ever created. Most of it is very soothing whilst also being awe-inspiring at the same time. Anthem Part 2, the song played when Truman chooses to not go to work and watch all the extras, along with stopping those cars with his hands, is one of my favourites.
Now focusing on Christof and, I’m with Sylvia, he is truly terrible to Truman. Christof is essentially a hack Hollywood writer with a god complex who has convinced not only the world but also himself that everything he touches is a stroke of genius. He is a visionary who treats Truman like his own son, Truman is also Christof’s gift to the world as because of him the world got to see Truman born, take his first step, and get married, but most importantly Christof will make sure the first onscreen conception happens because of him. A thing I noticed on this rewatch is that all these things are things Christof wants to see happen, but Truman never suggests he wants a baby, especially with Meryl. So, this pretty much tells you Christof has no real interest in what Truman actually wants and is lying about it. In fact, he purposefully prevents Truman from achieving what he actually wants, in order to bottleneck Truman on the set narrative that he has constructed for him. We explored this earlier with the forced meeting of Meryl over the genuine love for Sylvia, but Sylvia is only one of the reasons why Truman wants to get out of Sea Haven.
Next, let’s touch on the ways Christof and Co keep Truman from wanting to leave Sea Haven. There is the darkly funny example of Truman’s primary school teacher putting the little boy down for wanting to be an explorer when he grows up by stating that our entire planet has already been fully explored. A more cruel and rather sick example is the death of Truman’s father. It’s probably the darkest aspect of the movie and that the Truman Show producers were able to get away with faking a father drowning at sea in front of his child, which the child didn’t even know was staged so he would then grow up to have a real psychological fear of the ocean. Though to be fair, the dad was also a paid actor along with everyone else Truman has ever met, which is a whole other array of messed up trauma to attach onto Truman. I’m sure Christof had good intentions for Truman and at the very least has deluded himself into thinking he is looking out for Truman as he even says Truman is much safer in Christof’s fake world than the real one. Sure, he never actually hurt Truman (until the very end where he was okay with trying to kill Truman), but regardless he did abuse him, just in very unconventional ways, kind of like God’s mistreatment of Jesus. These are the reasons why Christof is a very underrated villain in my opinion and Ed Harris was certainly really convincing, making me like Christof until this most recent watch. Also, that line Christof says that Truman was the first child to ever be adopted out by a corporation, has always stuck out to me as rather humorous, but also kind of scary. (I had to insert that line in somewhere.)
Let’s wrap up this post by going over the ending. It’s certainly unique as while it is a happy ending as Truman does escape, Christof is in ruins and Sylvia is presumably running over to meet with Truman, there is still a sense of ambiguous bittersweetness. What happens after the broadcast is cut off is all up to interpretation. What’s the aftermath of Truman escaping the show? Did he and Sylvia hook up? Did they fly away to Fiji? It’s more likely to presume that Truman and Sylvia did meet, he’ll probably go on a bunch of talk shows about his experience, which will lead to the next 5 to 10 years with him and Sylvia trying to sue Christof and the other producers for breaking every human rights law there is. Thus, making that line Christof says to Truman there is no more truth in the real world than there is in the world he created for him. I can only imagine Truman’s exit would be big news and would create the biggest scandal in television history. Very much like the final shot of this movie of the two security guards asking what else is on, Truman’s grand escape will eventually be forgotten about as we move on to the next big thing as is the never-ending cycle that we consume our media. A perfect ending to this movie that is uplifting and inspiring, that is all dripping in some tragedy.
The concept for The Truman Show is so rich that I’m surprised no one else has explored this more thoroughly. A TV show like The Truman Show would be awesome if it was up to the quality of the movie. We have had multiple Groundhog Day rip-offs and remakes of beloved 90s movies, but there really hasn’t been anything else like The Truman Show. The closest that I have seen is the first season of Westworld, which focuses on the oblivious robotic hosts trapped in a cycle of not knowing they are abused for our entertainment. Whilst also giving us the behind-the-scenes drama of the writers and staff who are trying to keep that park afloat, which I guess is something that wasn’t really explored in The Truman Show.
Anyway, that’s a wrap. I hope this was something worthwhile and different. The next movie I’m planning to spotlight is Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. I might as well announce these posts in advance in case you want to get around to watching these movies yourself. Though this next one might not be the best example for this model as even though this is a prequel, I would strongly suggest you watch the TV show first to get the best possible experience. I can explain further when that comes out. Until then Blog Complainer, signing out, but just in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.