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USA 1998
Directed by
Peter Weir
103 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Truman Show

The Truman Show was written by Andrew Niccol who was the writer-director of Gattaca (1997) a sci-fi thriller about a guy who lived a fake life by taking over someone else’s identity. Although the directorial role goes to Peter Weir this time, The Truman Show, is thematically related, being the story of a man, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), whose identity has been appropriated at birth by a TV producer (Ed Harris), and made into the subject of a hugely successful 24/7 television reality show. The gimmick is that Truman lives on a gigantic film set and he is the only person who doesn’t know it. When we pick up the story the show has been running for10,909 days and Truman is just beginning to get inklings that something isn’t quite right in his water-locked world

Whilst being conceptually more interesting than Gattaca, there is a niggling technical problem that won’t go away and that is who’s watching what. Thus there are 3 audiences – us, the show’s producers, the show’s audience. The film opens with fake titles as if we are the show’s audience but in order to tell the story of Truman’s awakening we need to see what the producers are seeing but also to see what they are not and this is the niggle that won’t go away – if Truman lives in a perfectly controlled, hermetically-sealed world, what are we doing in it?  Weir manages to present the television audience POV easily enough but the double level of omniscience, ours and the show's producers, at times raises questions as to who's watching who?

Notwithstanding this conundrum (as for how this world could ever be sustained for so long, don’t even go there) there are some appealing qualities about the film that make it perfectly watchable. Firstly there’s the satire of televisual suburbia – all perfect to the eye but in reality just plywood and paint, scripted lines and fake smiles put together as a means to sell product. Here Carrey, with his hyperbolic style is good value but The Truman Show is not a comedy as such and once it starts to explore the darker side of using someone as entertainment his limitations as an actor become apparent, something which fortunately need not be said of Ed Harris as his “creator”. Kudos also must go to Laura Linney as his castratative "wife", a role which for present purposes involves bossing Truman around but, unfortunately, in other respects Truman lives a monk-like existence.

The major impetus behind the story is the exploration of the morality of Truman's deception, particularly as he brings comfort to so many people who in the "real" world live lives of quiet desperation. Not that the film explores this in any direct way, opting for a more standard “inspired-by-love” motivation to Truman’s growing self-awareness but such are the thoughts that run parallel with the narrative. At the end of the day The Truman Show is quite slight but Weir and his team do such a good job of realizing Niccol’s inventive script that you’re not going to mind. And given that the film was made well-before television audiences became obsessed with Big Brother-type reality television you've got to dip your lid to its foresight.




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