The Truman Show begins with the opening credits for "The Truman Show", the fictional television show, and not for the film itself. What does this say about the artificiality of movies and the way we view things?
In certain instances throughout the film, Peter Weir differentiates between "The Truman Show" cameras and The Truman Show cameras, and concurrently, there are points when the film and the television show are one and the same. The opening credits are an immediate way for Weir to draw his viewer's attention to the artifice of film and television. We only know that the credits are fictional because we recognize Ed Harris, Laura Linney and Noah Emmerich as actors - but the film itself does not acknowledge them as so. Similarly, Truman has no way of knowing that the people around him are professional actors - he can only react to the information he is given.
Despite Christof's various manipulations over the course of Truman's life, Truman still feels an unshakeable sense of wanderlust at the beginning of the film. What does this say about human nature?
As Truman matures, he develops a sense of curiosity about the world, and is less gullible when Christof and his team manufacture rational explanations for every unexpected event in his life. Curiosity is an essential part of human nature, and just as Eve could not resist the apple, Truman cannot resist exploring the root of his paranoia. Perhaps he will hate the world outside Seahaven and come running back inside - but at least he will have agency over his life. His actions will be based on truth.
As Truman starts to recognize the artificiality of his world, he also takes more control over his life. Describe his journey to empowerment using key scenes in the film as examples of his development.
Truman is skeptical when the cinema light falls from the sky, but doesn't think much of it. However, he realizes that something is going on when Kirk (his father) reappears - and this time, he won't take no for an answer. He trusts what he has seen with his own eyes and can no longer ignore his suspicions. Similarly, when he hears the production walkie-talkies over his car radio identifying his exact location, he pushes the limits of his suspicion, leading "The Truman Show" crew scrambling to keep up the artifice. When he kidnaps Meryl and tries to drive away, he realizes that she is in on the lies and that he is all alone. Finally, when he outsmarts Christof and his crew and escapes on a boat, he has conquered his greatest fear in order to continue his quest for the truth.
Christof manufactures Truman's relationships to keep him in the dark. Describe how his mother, Meryl, and Marlon subtly manipulate Truman, taking advantage of his weaknesses to make him stay in Seahaven.
Meryl quells Truman's impulses to travel by reminding him about the practical concerns in life - having a baby, paying off their mortgage, retirement. Truman's mother, Angela, subtly reminds Truman of the pain and guilt he associates with traveling on or over water by suggesting that Truman is responsible for his father's death. Marlon plays an "everyman" who always tells Truman that his life is wonderful and there is nothing out there to top what he has in Seahaven. Marlon serves as a kind of therapist, trying to connect Truman's mounting paranoia to the way most human beings react to maturing and having increased responsibility.
Compare and contrast the relationships that Truman has with Meryl and Lauren/Sylvia. What do these two romances say about the authenticity and nature of love?
Meryl does everything by the book. She plays a damsel in distress and falls on Truman, she smiles, flirts, supports him, and lionizes him. She plays her role of a wife with gusto. However, she does not love Truman in her heart, and he realizes this. Lauren/Sylvia, however, only has a few actual interactions with Truman, but she leaves an impression on him. She truly cares about him and puts herself at risk when she tries to tell him the truth about his life. Truman's framed photograph of Meryl is symbolic of his relationships with these two women. In the frame is Meryl, the posed, fake, woman who shares Truman's life. Hidden behind Meryl's picture is a collage of features that resemble Lauren/Sylvia, a real woman based on Truman's memories. All he has of her is an image in his mind, but he cherishes her more than Meryl - because what Truman and Lauren/Sylvia have is real.
Christof indicates that he thinks Truman is protected on Seahaven Island, describing it as his version of a utopia. However, Truman still wants to break out - what does this say about the division between utopia and dystopia?
A utopia is a place where everything is perfect and well-ordered, and everyone is happy. A dystopia is the opposite, and the inhabitants of a dystopia are often under the thumb of a totalitarian government or dictator. Seahaven Island may seem like a utopia at first because everyone is happy, Weir slowly reveals the dystopian power that Christof possesses. All of Truman's life is a lie, and Christof has trapped him on the island using a variety of hidden barriers. Therefore, the utopia is an illusion, and when Truman tries to escape - the curtain falls away, revealing the dystopian reality within.
Describe the fears that Truman must conquer in order to face the "truth" at the end of the film
Truman is afraid of anyone finding out about his innermost desires (he makes secret phone calls to Fiji and keeps Lauren/Sylvia's sweater hidden in his trunk). He is afraid of letting people down (he is concerned when Laurence warns him about his job). He is afraid of water and air travel because of all the mishaps that seem to accompany them - notably the death of his father. However, Truman is able to conquer all his fears - he knows he has to do this in order to have a chance at figuring out the truth. Once he overcomes his fears and faces his own mortality - he is free.
Discuss the significance of the film's ending, namely: Weir never shows the audience what happens to Truman after he steps out of the Seahaven dome, and the fact that the security guards, both devoted Truman viewers, look for "something else to watch." What does this say about the audiences - both of "The Truman Show" and of the film?
While Truman ends the film on his quest for truth, his viewers are looking for another manufactured illusion to lose themselves in. Weir points out the omnipotence of the media in this way - it is a commercialization of human life, profiting off of our unfulfilled desires. Whatever we may not find in our lives, we can live vicariously through television. While Truman is able to break the chains of Christof's gilded prison, his viewers prefer the illusion to the reality.
Describe the difference in the way Weir films "The Truman Show" (the fictional show) and The Truman Show (Peter Weir's film). How do these visual choices inform Weir's message?
Peter Weir clearly indicates the images that come from the "The Truman Show" surveillance cameras. The footage from these cameras is often from odd angles or from behind various surfaces. It looks like surveillance footage because of the frequent vignette effect - like a camera positioned far away and zoomed in on Truman. Weir's own camera, however, is one step closer to Truman at certain points to reveal the artifice of Truman's world. For example, Weir shows the world outside of Seahaven Island - Christof's control center, Truman's loyal viewers, and illuminates various cracks in Christof's carefully constructed facade that Truman does not notice. However, especially towards the end of the film, there is no differentiation between these two perspectives - especially when Truman makes his grand escape to sea. This is Weir's way of drawing a parallel between the artifice of "The Truman Show" and any media that we, as viewers, willingly consume and believe as truth.
Weir never reveals Truman's true feelings about the return of his "father." What does this choice say about Truman's character at this point in the film? Do you think that Truman was convinced by Marlon's speech - why or why not?
Weir shows the audience the reunion between Truman and his father from Christof's perspective - in the control room. Christof is more concerned about how to frame the moment for the most emotional impact - zoom in, music swells, cue close-up - than about how this manipulated version of reality might affect Truman himself. Similarly, Christof bases Marlon's speech on his own perceptions of Truman - it is not rooted in Marlon's real feelings. Therefore, there is now a growing divide between the version of Truman that Christof presents to his audience and Truman's own self - the two were once much more closely linked. It is possible that Truman doubts the sincerity of Marlon's speech - but he keeps this secret hidden inside him. He is so exposed at all times that this is the only way Truman can protect himself.
There are a number of powerful images in Peter Weir's end of the millennium masterpiece but one that really sticks in the mind, capturing as it does the central theme of The Truman Show, occurs only for a brief moment in the middle of a montage as "creator" Cristof describes Truman's development. We see a toddler in a playpen gazing upwards, apparently fascinated by a children's mobile. Fluffy shapes spin around to a tinkling nursery rhyme. But at the centre of the toy dangles the menacing shape of a camera lens and it's to this that the child's curious, slightly worried expression is directed. If one of the many themes of The Truman Show is betrayal then it is this shot that sums it up more eloquently than any other.
It's one of the ironies of science fiction movies that while they concern themselves with either the future or at least technology that doesn't yet exist, they generally have more to say about what's going on in the present than any of the other genres. By the end of the 90s, media saturation, anxiety over privacy, encroaching media power and, with virtual reality, the increasingly unreliable nature of the real world were the prevalent preoccupations. Peter Weir's film was not alone in broaching these themes. The Matrix took a different approach for a different audience. But it is Weir's film, which is certainly science fiction in that the technology required to create a whole artificial world for its protagonist is not (yet) possible, which caught the public's imagination, partly because of the sheer relevancy of the idea but also because of another element unusual in sci-fi, a performance of incredible warmth and vulnerability from Jim Carrey.
The conceit is pretty much summed up in a screaming voice-over at the beginning of the Tru Talk segment of the show itself. "One-point-seven-million were there for his birth... 220 countries tuned in for his first step... An entire human life recorded on an intricate network of hidden cameras broadcast live and unedited 24 hours a day, seven days a week to an audience around the world!" Truman himself is only aware that he lives in Seahaven, an impossibly sundrenched, pastel-dappled island town which, owing to a carefully implanted fear of water, Truman cannot leave. (In fact the screenplay originally had Truman in a Seven-style, grim rain-sodden city which Weir rejected, opting instead to shoot in a Florida retirement village.)
Starting quite literally with a falling star — a studio lamp marked Sirius 9 tumbles from the "sky" — Truman begins to suspect that he is at the centre of a conspiracy. His wife insists on shouting product endorsements at the most inopportune moments, an elevator has no back walls revealing what looks suspiciously like a caterings service table surrounded by bored extras. Finally making a run for reality Truman is nearly killed by show creator Cristof before opting for the real uncertainties of the world outside the TV studio instead of the his ersatz existence.
Newspaper headlines like "Who needs Europe?" rub shoulders with posters showing lightning striking planes ("It could happen to you!" reads the slogan) and hokey TV sitcoms which announce that "You don't have to leave home to discover what the world's all about" all conspiring to counteract Burbank's curiosity. There's also tremendous fun to be had reading interpretations onto the movie. There's the "Garden Of Eden in reverse" take in which Truman is Man fighting his way out of paradise, stopped by a terrified "creator". There's the anti-Capraesque angle, in which American smalltown life is not the very essence of perfection but stifling, repressive and false. There's even the fact that the whole premise is contained within its central character's moniker: the True Man's second name is Burbank, the LA suburb where the studios reside.
In Truman he creates a true hero for the times whose humanity shines even as he realises the extent to which he has been manipulated.
It's easy to poke holes in the film. The show itself would in reality be deadly dull. The audience is as complicit in Truman's plight as Cristof, yet they are presented sympathetically. And why does Cristof attempt to make Truman stay once he has rumbled the game? But then, The Truman Show is best seen as a modern day fable (and no-one nit-picks the Hare And The Tortoise). It's a cautionary tale about the invasive, corrupting nature of a society that believes it has the right to watch everything. And it's a point that gets more, not less, prescient as we edge into the second millennium. With real life shows like Castaway 2000 and Big Brother defining millennial TV and communications technology advancing with increasing rapidity, a real Truman Show becomes ever more likely. The events of Terry Gilliam's Brazil famously take place 20 minutes into the future. The Truman Show may be a lot closer than that.
A movie with wit as well as ideas, it's an all out attack on the media's need to control, package and present real life, which may explain Carrey's disgraceful Oscar snub.