THE TRUMAN SHOW (Peter Weir, 1998)

Andrew Niccol’s slick script has been transcended by Peter Weir’s competent direction to produce The Truman Show, a middling piece of futurism that attains a nice visual tenor. Regrettably, the film has no choice but to carry the script along with it.
     The premise is stupid. In some unidentified consumer state, a separate, self-enclosed colony exists whose inhabitants are actors performing scripted roles for an all-day live television program via 5,000 hidden cameras. The central character of this soap opera is the one soul not “in” on the artifice: Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey, more restrained than usual), an insurance agent whose managed life in front of the cameras began when he was an unwanted fetus “adopted”—translation: bought—by the corporation producing and broadcasting “The Truman Show.” (In fact, the film’s opening credits are instead the opening credits of this TV show.) The Godlike producer-director running and orchestrating the whole operation—he says, “We accept the reality we are presented”—is Christof (a name to chew on), who—a likely parody on Steven Spielberg—manipulates the emotions of a vast, rapt audience while maintaining paternal feelings for Truman, of the obnoxiously teary-eyed sort, with a good deal of homoeroticism thrown in. (Christof is especially fond of fondling Truman’s gigantic TV image.) This “son” of his is supposed to remain for life Christof’s virtual prisoner.
     Poor Truman, at 30, finally figures out that his whole “life,” including Mom and wife, is an elaborate set-up; therefore, he endeavors to escape from the cameras’ watchful eyes in order to reunite with the girl who tried early on to clue him into the fraud being perpetrated against him for the satisfaction of millions of TV-addicted, privacy-intruding, consumer-crazed fans. But at the climax, upon Truman’s escape into some alien place called Hollywood, the script stops cold; there is no winding down, no contextualization. Why was there near unanimity throughout the land that the show should continue, even though when Truman escapes viewers applaud? Has any debate been going on, in legislative or other circles, as to the decency or efficacy of Truman’s exploitation and imprisonment? What, if any, legal retribution awaits Christof and his cohorts, and if none, why none? Ironically, this trend of failing to bring a narrative to a satisfactory conclusion comes from television “movies” which generally end at the highest emotional moment; and this defect in Niccol’s script, along with its lack of curiosity about its own premise, tends to drain credibility from the film’s satirical atmospherics.
     The film, though, survives (if with a limp) Niccol’s addle-brained contribution. Weir, working “big,” has fashioned from it a funny, scary comedy punctuated by some good images. The sight of Truman alone on a hill with a rainstorm targeting him even as he playfully shifts ground tickles. Here is an early visual instance of the colony’s absolute weather control—itself a metaphor of all sorts of other kinds of control—that later plays an ominous role in the spectacle of Truman’s desperate sea flight. At night, to facilitate the search for the missing Truman, Christof countermands the clock, ordering up daylight hours ahead of schedule; this generates another startling image of absolute control and manipulation. And Truman’s walk across “water” at the colony’s limit, with a stone staircase leading to the black door to the “other side,” also is something worth seeing.
     Look at this film, then, and be delighted; but think about it and—well, there’s nothing to think about, unless, of course, you’re intent on reading something in.


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