tek's rating: ½

The Truman Show (PG)
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Caution: spoilers!

This came out in 1998. I'm not sure when I first saw it; I know I had it on VHS, and watched it at least once in that format. I may have seen it before that on TV, I'm not sure. I certainly don't recall seeing it in a theater. But I do know I have seen it more than once, without writing a review (so I assume the last time I saw it was prior to my starting a movie review section on my site, which would mean the early Aughts, though I can't help feeling like I saw it more recently than that). In any event, I'm finally writing a review in 2019, after watching it on DVD.

I hate this movie. No, that's not right; as you can see from my rating, I love it. I could have put my review under various categories, like "serio-comedy," or "weird," or "dystopian," but I ultimately went with "art films," because it's just so brilliant and thought-provoking. It's also quite funny, which is to be expected from a film that stars Jim Carrey, but I'd also say it's more subtle than much of the type of comedy movies one associates with Carrey. And the comedy is largely grounded in... well, in service to plot and character, rather than just existing for the sake of silliness. It's also a very dramatic movie, in many ways. And a rather psychological movie. And a biting satire of certain aspects of the real world. But I'll get to all that as I explain the plot. (And why I hate it.)

I don't remember how much detail of the plot may or may not have been released to the public before the movie opened, in terms of trailers or reviews or anything like that, but I don't think the premise was meant to involve a major plot twist. (Edit: I just watched a trailer on YouTube, and... it absolutely revealed the whole truth.) But I read a bit of Roger Ebert's review, and he made it sound like it was possible not to be aware of the "secret" right away. I just don't know how that's possible, though, even if you managed to avoid any trailers and such. I mean, sure, the full scope of what's going on isn't revealed until probably more than halfway through the movie, but it seemed to me that the truth was revealed to the audience from the very, I mean very beginning, with more "hints" peppered throughout. (I put "hints" in quotes because I don't even feel like that's the right word for it. More like reaffirmations of what we already realized. Maybe some of the jokes were supposed to make sense on two levels: one where you know what's going on, and one where, like the main character in the movie, you don't. And since I could empathize with the character, it was possible for me to appreciate the jokes or other elements of the story on both levels.) But then again, it has been a long time since I first saw the movie, so I really can't be sure to what degree my impressions of the movie were influenced by the fact that I did know all along what the truth was (this time), nor can I remember what my initial impressions might have been the first time I watched it. Maybe I didn't realize what was going on at first, the first time I saw the movie.

In any event, I'm not going to consider it a spoiler to tell you what the premise of the movie is. The main character, Truman Burbank (Carrey), lives in a friendly little town called Seahaven. And he is the only person in that town, or in the entire world, who is unaware that his whole life is a reality TV show. Everyone he's ever known, since the time he was born (and adopted by a corporation), has been an actor (or an extra). And there are hidden cameras throughout the town, and in Truman's house. And a ginormous dome covers the whole town, and some of the sea just beyond the town. Actually, there was a micro-camera in the womb of Truman's biological mother, before he was born. So he's been on camera literally his entire life. Over the years, some people have tried to reveal the truth to Truman, but they have always failed. It's noted at one point that there is a "vocal minority" who are opposed to the entire idea of "The Truman Show," believing it to be a violation of Truman's fundamental right to know the truth of his reality. But the only person we really get to know from that group is a woman named Sylvia (Natascha McElhone), whom we see in flashbacks to Truman's college days (as well as watching the show, in the present). Back then, she was just an extra, playing a background character named Lauren Garland. But she and Truman exchanged glances and smiles several times before they actually met. In fact, they were never meant to meet at all, so Sylvia was forcibly removed from the set before she could tell Truman the truth. (Actually, it seemed to me like she had enough time to reveal the truth before the actor playing her father showed up to drag her away, but... I guess it's not the kind of news you can just hit someone over the head with, without somehow easing into it. And even then, you'd probably sound crazy.)

Anyway, the character Truman was supposed to meet and fall in love with, according to the script, was a cheerleader named Meryl, played by Hannah Gill (Laura Linney). And in the present (when Truman is 29), he and "Meryl" are married, though Truman still secretly pines for Lauren/Sylvia, and hopes to someday find her again. Meanwhile, he works as an insurance salesman (his boss is played by Peter Krause), and Meryl ostensibly works as a nurse. Other important people in Truman's life include his best friend since childhood, "Marlon," played by Louis Coltrane (Noah Emmerich); and his fictional mother, "Angela," played by Alanis Montclair (Holland Taylor). One day, a spotlight falls from the sky (actually the dome, but it looks like the sky) right in front of Truman. This naturally seems strange to him, but later he hears a news report on the radio that seems to explain it. However, from that point on, more and more strange things start happening that could cause him to question his reality. The most significant thing is seeing a man who looks like his father, who had supposedly drowned at sea while on a boat ride with Truman, when he was just a young boy. Truman tries to approach the man, but the man gets dragged away by people who don't want him talking to Truman. Despite all the strange events, attempts are made to reassure Truman of his reality, by Meryl, and his mother, and Marlon, and the news announcer.

Eventually, we get to see the creator of "The Truman Show," Christof (Ed Harris), when he's interviewed by Mike Michaelson (Harry Shearer). We also see some of the people who work in the show's control room, most notably a director named Simeon (Paul Giamatti). This is when we learn that Truman had been adopted by a corporation, which is one of the things that has always made me hate this movie. (Or to be more precise, one of the things that makes me hate the fact that, within the fictional context of the movie, it was even legal for "The Truman Show" to exist.) This particular fact reminds me of the idea of corporations being granted some of the same legal rights as individual people, a thing that happens in the real world, and which I have always found completely unethical. The concept of corporations as people seems to be taken to an unrealistic extreme in the movie, by allowing one to adopt a baby, which is even more unethical, on a personal level, than some of the shit they get away with in real life (even if in real life, the shit corporations do can have much more widespread and in many ways much more harmful effects on real people than they have on Truman, in the movie). I do like one of Christof's lines, "We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented." That's actually a concept that can be explored in any number of real world philosophical questions about reality. But aside from that, I despise Christof for what he's done to Truman, and for his obvious God complex, and for his apparently believing that he actually loves Truman almost like a son (when in fact his utter domination of Truman's entire existence is about as toxic a relationship as can possibly be imagined). And I hate him for claiming that if Truman really wanted to discover the truth and leave Seahaven, he could... when it is obvious that Christof and everyone who works for the show have gone and continue to go to extraordinary lengths to prevent that from ever happening, including totally fucking with Truman's psyche by staging the death of his "father" when he was a kid.

Oh, man, the things I could say about why I hate this movie. I hate the fact that it's only a minority of people, supposedly, who believe that what's been done to Truman his whole life is unethical. I hate the fact that he's been tricked into caring about people who obviously don't really care about him, including his "mother", his "best friend", and even his "wife". (That last one is the worst, I believe, because not only is their love a lie, but every time they've ever had sex, Truman has essentially and unknowingly been raped.) Also, throughout the movie, we see brief scenes of people around the world watching the show. (The only one who's familiar to me is a waitress played by O-Lan Jones. Or at least she was the only familiar actor until I watched the movie this time around, when I recognized one of The Truman Show's viewers as Joel McKinnon Miller, whom I now know from Brooklyn Nine-Nine.) All the viewers seem to actually care about Truman, but I get the sense that they care about him more the way they care about TV characters than they do real people. And yet... (SPECIFIC SPOILER ALERT) when Truman does finally learn the truth and leave, all the viewers cheer. That always pissed me off. It's like, "No, you assholes don't get to cheer for Truman! You never really cared about him, because if you did, you would have been part of the opposition to the show's very existence, not avid viewers!" As for myself, and anyone in the real world watching the movie, we get to cheer for him, because we were never part of the masses enabling the grave injustice that has been perpetrated upon him for twenty-nine fucking years. We get to cheer not just for Truman himself, but for the triumph of humanity over... you know... some sort of philosophically and morally oppressive forces of... whatever. (You know, of course, we can all be guilty of various types of media obsession and dehumanizing of actors or of... I dunno... people... in whatever capacity. So I can accept the movie's premise as holding up a mirror to society, or something. But really, what was done to Truman is simply beyond the pale.) I can try to be generous to the show's audience, and believe their cheering was in some way comparable to the cheering of the movie's audience... but it's just not. So, yeah, I kind of hate them. Not as much as I hate Christof, but still.

Sigh. But all this hatred I have is not for the movie itself. The movie itself is amazeballs.


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