The Truman Show




'The Truman Show' is a film thatís both better and worse than it should be. You know by now that itís about a man -- Truman Burbank, played by Jim Carrey -- whoís lived his whole life as the unwitting protagonist of a television show -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week, since birth. Probably since conception, for all we know. Itís as though the televised Truman Show was conceived first, and he was cast as a fetus to be the star. So Truman -- the real man -- has grown up knowing only what the showís producers want him to learn and experience. Theyíve programmed every single event of his life, from losing his father at sea when he was eight, to marrying the wrong girl, to working as an insurance salesman. And now heís thirty years old and something bothers him.

What bothers him is that he lives in a town thatís just a little too good to be true. Nobody seems to leave Seahaven. Even the travel agency has horror pictures on the office wall -- lightning striking an airliner, war and devastation in vacation destinations. And the reason nobody leaves is that everyone but Truman is an actor, cast and placed by the producers, with earpieces for directions, all in place only to take part in the ongoing video, which itself is filled with thousands of hidden cameras, that record every single moment of Trumanís life. And the town is actually a completely enclosed stage set, evidently miles long, with an artificial sun and moon and an ocean along one side.

So itís a fascinating construct for a film. The script was written by Andrew Niccol, who wrote last yearís very powerful 'Gattaca.' Iím told that an early draft of the script sets the whole film in New York City, which might have been harder to shoot but more believable for us in the audience. The director is the Australian Peter Weir, who comes by this kind of thing legitimately, having done the very mysterious 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' and 'The Last Wave,' along with the very humane 'Dead Poets Society.'

The film gives us a producer of this televised Truman Show, a man who stands above his whole world and directs every move and happening, a man named Christof, whoís played by Ed Harris in a perfect sendup of James Cameron at the Oscars. In any case, he is the puppeteer, and in the climax of the film he becomes God, pulling the strings on Trumanís Job.

The content of the film, what would normally be a plot in a conventional movie -- is the dawning of perspective in Trumanís mind. Perspective on Seahaven, that itís not quite real. Perspective on his wife, and his daily life, and his work, and the ways in which none of his dreams -- of adventure, of a brief encounter with another woman -- ever seem to come true. I admire the film for its refusal to depend on plot -- after all, not much happens in Seahaven -- and for maintaining the integrity of its premise. Truman is not a hero, much less a superhero. Heís very, very ordinary, the essence of a common man, and Carrey plays him without any of the tics and smirks that Iíve always found so off-putting in his films.

At the same time, I want more from the film. Itís given us so much, and gone so boldly where others weakened, that it shouldnít settle for a simple will-he/wonít he kind of climax. Thereís a nightmare here that the film wonít acknowledge. Anthony Lane in The New Yorker says that he canít help thinking that the movie is slightly too charmed by its own conceit. If you show off the deliberate falsity of your surfaces, he says, isnít that merely rigging the evidence for your subsequent unveiling of what lies below? The dark underbelly of America hardly comes as a shock, he says, when the dorsal fin is so plainly made of plastic.

And yet the film is well worth seeing as an allegory of the banality of America, an allegory given to us in a brilliant and imaginative way.