Welcome to a proposed new series of articles here at EyesSkyward in which I will pick movies I love and tell you why I love them. These movies won’t necessarily be perfect, and these articles won’t really be reviews . Just me sharing why a movie is special to me. We’ll kick off with THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998)
THE TRUMAN SHOW is one of those movies which has grown with me in the 18 years since its release. When I saw it for the first time as a skinny 17 year old with golden boy-band locks, I was high on the zany Jim Carrey of THE MASK and ACE VENTURA. A cinematic tornado, and a special effect unto himself, I ate up everything he did in the nineties without prejudice. This included his nice-guy turn in THE TRUMAN SHOW, and I shared in the communal tuts when he wasn’t rewarded with an Oscar nod. Then I forgot about it and started looking forward to stuff like ME, MYSELF, and IRENE.
I’m 35 now and THE TRUMAN SHOW has become among the saddest and most uplifting movies I have ever seen. Just as the ornate artifice of Sea Haven masks the real world from Truman’s view, so too does the movie’s simplistic story telling style and accessible performances conceal a number of of complex and sinister themes. Truman Burbank is bullied, abused, and manipulated. Phobias are manufactured and repeatedly visited upon him. Every smile he sees is insincere. Every action he has tracked. Nothing belongs to him. His life is a tenancy and voyeurism is his land lord. Robbed of all choice and inducted into a world of unimaginable celebrity without his consent or knowledge. His awakening, and ultimate liberation, is inspiring. As an atheist, it is hard not to identify with his rebellion against an all powerful creator who demands conformity. But anyone with experience fighting against accepted norms or overwhelming power, would similarly feel solidarity with Truman Burbank.
But what makes this all work so well is Carrey’s extraordinary central performance. Truman is affable and makes lots of jokes, but he is never truly FUNNY the way Carrey is in so much else. The scene in which he pretends to be an astronaut in his bathroom mirror sums this is up perfectly. He’s firmly in the “Dad Joke” lane and the guffaws which his bathroom sketches elicit from his jailers cast Truman as the target of pity.
What a delicate line Carrey walks to be naive, but not stupid. Lovable yet unloved. Desperate and yet dignified. THE TRUMAN SHOW is as much a story about the discovery of identity as it is about escape. Truman never experiences spontaneous human emotions from others. His parents, best friend, and wife were all cast to effectively execute the life Christof has written for him. In fact, the first time Truman sees real emotion from his wife is when she reveals her terror at him going off script and seizing the chef’s pal from her hand. The result is a meltdown on her part and a rare, truthful, experience for him. Until then, any time he tried to assert individuality (attraction to a fellow college student or a child’s wish to explore) he is slapped down and forced back into conformity. During one of his attempts to leave the island, his bus “breaks down” and Weir treats us to one of the loneliest shots I’ve ever seen. Truman, remaining still, on the now vacant bus. Hope snatched away once again.
Truman is forced to stay in order to live out the dreams of the creator. A Garden of Eden designed just for him, and yet conceived without any consideration for who he is or what he might want. Chistof scoffs at the idea that he is imprisoned, describing the real world as the true place of lies and deceit. Under such circumstances, what a hero Truman is. To find his identity under a mountain of lies, propaganda, and manipulation. To attempt escape from a prison he can’t see or understand. To take on his mortal fear of water and sail into the unknown. And to stand up (for all intents and purposes) to God himself.
I love Truman. I love him because he’s defiant without being aggressive. I love him because strong in a way we rarely see from men on screen. I love him because in spite of the will of a crushing and omnipotent power, he still unearths his identity, and is willing to die before giving it up.
And so I end this article with the same words Truman ends his captivity. Expressing victory and independence with a trademark gentle cheerfulness.
In case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night.
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