Overview: An insurance salesman discovers his entire life has been presented to the world as a 24/7 television program. Paramount; 1998; Rated PG; 103 Minutes
Contextualization: The 1990s marked an interesting moment in movie history. Studios realized the full potential of movies as magic moneymaking machines. This pre-dated the internet hitting its full potential as a chaotic war machine capable of levelling the democratic cultural battlefield. Viewership was limited to a single voting method—the box office. So the flood of funding produced, with few deviations, a string of safe-bet and formulaic genre exercises and what felt like monthly epics applying apologetic band-aids on the dark wounds of history. The 90s were an undaring and unrewarding moment in film, the most boring of all film decades. Perhaps no one actor excelled in this restrictive instant more than Jim Carrey, whose films averaged $100,000,000 box office intake. Funny then that he should shelve his slapstick, pratfalls, and facial elasticity to provide the defining performance in The Truman Show—a movie that is part philosophical exploration, part pop-culture satire, part emotional rollercoaster, and in whole, a spirited expression of complete triumph and the best film of the 90s.
A Pop-Culture Prophet: Two years before the explosion of TV programs like Survivor and Big Brother, Peter Weir, working with Andrew Niccols’ script, foretells of the impending spike in our country’s voyeuristic obsession with manipulative reality programming. Weir’s application of hidden cameras, sneaky angles, and button-cams is a pointed finger of accusation; his intermingled shots of slack jawed Truman Show audiences are a mirror that reflects our donning of the proverbial dunce-cap.
Philosophy, Religion, Mythology: From a distance, the narrative arc is one of classic mythology: an everyman overcoming his creator. Truman vs. his show’s director, Christof—the naming could not be more blatant. A precise viewing serves witness to a battle of nature vs. nurture, free will vs. destiny, resulting in the ultimate vote of confidence toward the power of the human spirit.
The Epic Climax: That tiny battered boat hitting that solid blue wall with a dead thud—is there a more stunning singular metaphor in film? After cheering Truman to escape, we see him crash into the literal walls of his existence. We see a beaten man addressed by his Creator. Christof’s voice (provided with chilling detachment by Ed Harris) booms down on Truman from skyward with one last attempt at holding him back, from keeping him from his soul’s desire to grow. “You never had a camera in my head!,” Truman interjects and free will delivers a pre-emptive knockout strike. With a wave and a trademark salutation, Truman walks victoriously through a door, a solid black rectangular hole, into the unknown. The direction in which his explorer’s heart had always dared to dream.
Overall: The Truman Show succeeds in its every ambition—providing laughter, entertainment, thought, and cultural criticism. The pitch perfect film.
Grade: A +