“The Truman Show”: the authentic ingenuity of Truman Burbank’s life

Hey everyone!

Just a quick note: the following review was submitted by our very first contributor, Ms. Lara Kalenderian of ChattyChasity!

As far as controversial movies go, The Truman Show definitely earned itself a spot in this category with its thought-provoking dialogue and ground-breaking notions. Some might even go so far as to say that it was a milestone in the history of cinema.

In a nutshell, The Truman Show is about Truman Burbank, a man brought up in an artificial town, Sea Haven that has been designed to revolve around him for a TV show that airs 24/7. Every individual in Sea Haven, from pedestrians to loved ones, is a paid actor playing a character. To keep this charade afloat, a lot of measures have to be made, the most crucial of which is to keep Truman put. That is to say, to make sure that he does not have any tendencies to leave.   

  

In terms of casting choices, when you think of a movie with such a serious and satirical content, Jim Carrey is not the first actor that comes to mind. Not to say that he isn’t a talented performer, but at the time, his resumé featured the more low-brow films like Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber, Earth Girls are Easy, Batman Forever, The Mask, and so forth. Even in the not-too-acclaimed movie The Cable Guy, he was still up to his usual antics with his exaggerated facial expressions (often referred to as ‘rubber face’), his wacky line-delivery, and his downright buffoonish persona. This may’ve appealed to some niche category of audience, but it wasn’t enough to win over the critics and earn him the title of ‘serious actor’. He was still thought of as the SNL guy who could make you laugh every once in a while. But then, The Truman Show came along and changed everything for Carrey. Yes, he did go on to do more slapstick comedies that he’s known for (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?) , but he had some serious roles too like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and The Number 23, thus shying away from his typecast persona.

  
Another noteworthy delivery in this film is that of Ed Harris who played Christoph, the creator of this show. He was both distant and attached, cold and maternal. To be able to portray such an oxymoron of characteristics is not an easy task. The biggest indicator of Hariss’s talent, however, was in depicting a relatable element. You don’t have to play devil’s advocate to see where his character was coming from, even though you may not necessarily be on board with his ideology.  Ah Christoph, how does one begin to tackle such a complex and layered character? Well for starters, we’re not given a lot of insight into his past, so it’s hard to pinpoint the exact motivation behind what he’s doing. One thing’s for sure though, he’s quite the ambitious fellow. I mean, this one idea of his was a revolutionary milestone in the history of television. And if history has taught us anything, if you want to cross the bridge, you have to pay the toll. But how many eggs were to be broken to make this omelet? Does the end justify the means? It’s all up for debate. What is indisputable, however, is his will and drive to sustain the smooth flow of this project. No matter how civilized he may seem at times, he is ruthless when someone gets in the way of his vision. And yet, despite this tyrannical behavior, at times he did seem to have some emotional investment in his ‘project’.

As for the remaining cast, no particular performance stood out. Not to say that they were bad, but none was as memorable as that of Carrey and Hariss

But none of these performances would have meant anything without the stellar direction of Peter Weir, the man who brought us Dead Poets Society. His attention to the carefully quilted details is uncanny. Displace one element, and there would be diminishment in this ‘world within a world’. And to think, there was talk that Tim Burton was going to direct this feature.

  
The technical aspects of the movie are impeccable. For starters, the camera angles are odd and out of the ordinary to signify that they’ve been placed all around the site. In an exclusive interview, it is made clear that there are over 5000 cameras involved in the show. This phenomenon gives the viewer a sort of ‘fish bowl’ vibe that can be both chilling and overwhelming. It has a very peep-hole feel to it. I guess in retrospect, these cameras do symbolize the ‘peep-hole’ concept, and the viewers ‘peeping toms’.

Though everyone is ‘in on it’, they never break the fourth wall except when peddling the products that fund this whole charade. And whenever these product placements occur, the name of product in question would be placed in clear view of the cameras.

The choice of soundtrack for this movie is really on point. From the distinctive tune that plays whenever Truman is piecing things together, to the childlike melody heard when he was putting together the picture of Sylvia, his love interest, the music truly encompassed Truman’s mindset.

  
Weir made the set look like that of a sitcom is by using a 1.85: 1 aspect. That one measure changed the whole look and feel of things. But what’s really interesting is the amount of work put into the details. Everyone has very precise coordinates of where they should be at a given moment. For instance, when Truman is buying an issue of Cosmo, supposedly for his wife, behind him is always a gentleman reading a newspaper, and  a man on a bicycle that is followed by a black car. But the question remains: had the few technical slip-ups been avoided, would he not have noticed these obvious patterns that are always on cue? I mean, it’s one thing to be unobservant, but this is just absent-mindedness. It’s been 30 years. How does one not pick up the particular algorithm that one’s faced with on a daily basis within this time period? Could it be possible that on a subconscious level he didn’t want to notice? That he ‘preferred his cell’, as Christoph put it? To sum it up, one could say that Truman was exceedingly stupid but was lucky enough that it did not catch up to him. 

The close-ups were frequent to highlight the intensity of the confrontation sessions, especially that particular phone call exchange between Sylvia and Christoph. You could cut through the tension with a knife in that scene!

The one  thing that stood out the most was that The Truman Show had a Stepford Wives feel to it, though the latter was released after (even though the book it was based on was written in the seventies). Both stories center in a quaint little dwelling where everyone is so exceedingly friendly and pleasant. I guess it is true what they say, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. I would’ve liked to see the movie play out based off the grittiness and dark direction of the original script. In the Sea Haven of this version of the script, organized crimes were staged and Truman had a drinking problem. In addition to that, the confrontation scene between him and Christoph was far more brutal. 

  
I found the ending to be especially curious. I mean, it didn’t leave much room for interpretation, but it did open up a whole new spectrum to think about. [SPOILER ALERT. MOVE TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH TO AVOID THEM] After a surprisingly breezy confrontation, Truman gives a theatrical bow before leaving the ‘stage’ to signify the end of his performance. The question remains, will he make it in the real world after having grown up in a dome-like residence where he’s been shielded from real problems. On one hand, Sea Haven was a prison whose inhabitants were stripped of their free will and liberty. However, on the other hand, it is the ideal place to live. If the occupants haven’t provided consent, however, it becomes a prison regardless of how lavish the living facilities may be.Regardless of the slightly subtle undertones, this movie does not fail to deliver its satirical message on how society is consumed by its obsession with public figures. Yes, this was portrayed in an exaggerated light, but that only helped make the case more evident. Even the comic relief moments laid about the movie did not compromise the overall experience. If anything, they was added in to sustain the attention span of the easily bored, for some people may be overwhelmed when faced with content of such depth.

  
Another aspect that caught my eye was the subtle symbolism present. The film alludes to a struggle between a man and a god, and the eternal quest for freedom. In this scenario Christoph is a god (who also represents Truman’s surrogate father), while Truman is the average man in search for liberty. This analogy adds a whole other layer to this thought-provoking feature and makes for a very impactful film. I mean, do you really have a freedom of choice? Or is everything pre-planned and predetermined by a higher power with an obvious influence on your life? And can you really break free from the constraints and pull of your ‘creator’? the movie didn’t shove these questions in your face, but rather gave you the liberty to figure it out at your own pace, which is a unique way of going about it.

The Truman Show is a sugar-spun nightmare of pop paranoia that addresses the end of privacy, the rise of voyeurism and the violation of the individual” says Rita Kempley of the Washington post. Hence why, it was so critically acclaimed and well-received. Andrew Nicool had an out-of-the-box vision and it was cleverly brought to life with the upmost precision. So all in all, The Truman Show is a cult classic that every movie enthusiast should see at least once in their life.

RATING: Giving this a PG for Positively Groudbreaking!

Image Sources: en.wikipedia.com, popsci.com, thingsthataremadr.wordpress.com, Rogerebert.com, listal.com, sympatenekronemoi.blogspot.com

That’s it! A big thank you to Lara for her interesting take on The Truman Show! Make sure to check out her blog here for more in-depth analyses of movies and series! She might be new to this, but she’s definitely one to look out for!

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Reel Rambler

A review of movies - old, new, local, and foreign - as seen through the eyes of a 22 year-old based in Beirut.

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