The Truman Show (1998)
December 8, 2014 11:40 AM - Subscribe

CRFC7: In The Truman Show, Truman Burbank lives what seems to be the perfect life: a sunny city with friendly people, a loving wife, a stable job and a devoted friend. However, he is haunted by a lost love who was taken from hom many years ago, and a longing to venture outside of the town that he has never left. Amid a series of bizarre occurrences, Truman begins to formulate his escape.

Welcome to the seventh Constructed Reality Film Club (previous threads here). This week we're discussing one of the best known films in the genre, and next week we'll be watching Charlie Kaufman's superb Synechdoche, New York. Although Synechdoche isn't on streaming, you can search for local libraries that hold the film at worldcat.

The Truman Show is available for streaming on Netflix.

Here is the original NYT review. And, Siskel and Ebert's opinions.

Here are a series of discussion questions from a philosophical film course at the University of Tennessee.

An essay on Descartes and Truman.

An article in Aeon about 'The Truman Show Delusion', a condition where people with Schizophrenia develop delusions of being the subject of a reality television show, much like the protagonist of our film.
posted by codacorolla (26 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Ed Harris seemed to be having fun here.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:14 PM on December 8, 2014

Truman should have been played by a young Neil Patrick Harris.
posted by sammyo at 2:48 PM on December 8, 2014

I watched this movie when it first came out and loved it. But then I moved on and never really thought about it until a week or two ago when I happened to catch it on TV. I don't know how I didn't realize how terrible and depressing this movie was the first time I saw it. Truman is in such a bad situation and as he starts to lose his shit the tv people just keep manipulating him.

The scene where he is in the house completely going crazy and his 'wife' starts doing an advertisement for pancake mix or whatever, and she is crying into the I seriously haven't felt so shitty about watching a movie in a long time. I feel like this should be considered psychological horror rather than a drama, as it is listed in IMDB.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:30 PM on December 8, 2014 [9 favorites]

Hey! Want to hear a fun story? Back in the late nineties, I was an aspiring writer in Hollywood, working as an assistant at a company that designed movie posters, and I came up with the tagline for the main one-sheet for this film (the one with jumbo slumbering Jim Carrey). The Truman Show kind of gave me an advertising career.
posted by roger ackroyd at 6:22 PM on December 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

I don't know how I didn't realize how terrible and depressing this movie was the first time I saw it. Truman is in such a bad situation and as he starts to lose his shit the tv people just keep manipulating him.

This is why I think this is such a great movie!
posted by latkes at 6:50 PM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

I can't stand Jim Carrey and I think he is excellent here - his standout role, besides "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". It stands up to repeated viewings, too - a testament to the writing, directing, and casting, I think.

Small part for Paul Giamatti, too, in the control room (love the control room scenes).

Thanks for linking Siskel and Ebert, that's a nice touch. (Great post!)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:45 PM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

On the air. Unaware. ?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:48 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I never knew his last name was "Burbank". Perfect.
posted by telstar at 2:51 AM on December 9, 2014

The more I think of this as a psychological horror film the more it resembles Cabin in the Woods.
posted by 2ht at 4:59 AM on December 9, 2014

I love this movie, but I thought it was slightly too on-the-nose from the beginning. I would have loved it if we didn't know, up until the third act, if Truman was actually on a television show or if he was just going insane. It would have given the end a lot more impact for me.

Not that there's anything wrong with the way the movie is as it is. It's a fantastic film, I just think it gave itself away far too early.
posted by xingcat at 6:18 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love this movie, but I thought it was slightly too on-the-nose from the beginning. I would have loved it if we didn't know, up until the third act, if Truman was actually on a television show or if he was just going insane. It would have given the end a lot more impact for me.

Yeah, I like it a lot too, but there is a lot of explanation. I actually like the montage that explains the major premise of the movie, but I found myself wondering what it would've been like to have that all explained organically.
posted by codacorolla at 8:06 AM on December 9, 2014

I saw it when it first came out, and I was a teenager at the time. Like others, I think I was just a little too young to really get all of the horror implied by the premise. I hadn't matured enough: you have to have a mature empathy to really get the implications of Truman's situation. Especially with all the characters so happy-smiling all the time, especially with the soundtrack, and Jim Carrey's (spot on but distinct) performance.

Now, as an adult, the thing I can't get past is his wife. I can't get past what this is like for her. Not just his 'going crazy', but her entire life up to that point. What was the audition like? What compromises did she make with herself, to accept the role? What keeps her there? What is her inner life like? When she segues so naturally/unnaturally into the commercial while Truman freaks out, what is it she is feeling? Clearly, she is scared and nervous -- but to what depth?

Somehow, I find her position, her role in all this, more disturbing and horrific than Truman's. Truman at least feels what he feels. But she doesn't. Truman is, she performs. Is she a monster? Is she vacant? Is she suffering? ....But, I think, these aren't the questions the movie really wants us to be asking and, after a point, answers aren't available.
posted by meese at 11:07 AM on December 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

Yeah, that's something I caught on this rewatch as well. Through clues in the movie, you get the idea that she was drafted into the constructed reality performance at around college age. That means that she must have been an amazing actress. You have to wonder if she's ever loved Truman (when he starts going 'crazy' she definitely seems like she does not love him, and is having a breakdown of her own). You have to wonder what the actors and actresses would do after this. They would have to be ruined, right? How could you ever go back to normal life after living through that? If a regular actor is typecast after appearing in however many recurring super hero roles, then imagine how people would treat you if they'd spent 24 hours a day with your "character" over the past 30 some years.

I think that questions like that are things that could lead to this being an interesting television show. You could get a season and a half out of Truman escaping the dome, but after that there's a huge world of possibilities.
posted by codacorolla at 12:22 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Apart from the wife, the childhood friend character would be even more screwed. I'm pretty sure that they've been friends since boyhood, but he has literally no life outside of the show, whereas the wife could have been brought in from the outside at some point around college.
posted by codacorolla at 12:23 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite movies. If you want more, check out this 22-minute in-universe mockumentary that aired on Nick-at-Night back in the VHS days.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:30 PM on December 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

One of the things that I kept coming back to in my most recent rewatch was, "Would the TV show 'The Truman Show' be interesting in the slightest?" Current reality TV shows that are just "slice of life" type shows can barely sustain enough drama for a half hour per week, and often the subjects are getting tweaked by the writing/production staff to keep things interesting. Would the secretive, ultra-invasive nature of the show make it so dramatic as to warrant such an obsessive following?
posted by Rock Steady at 2:22 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

What would Truman's job be on the outside? Assuming he wants a quiet life away from celebrity (and he doesn't get run over by the first car that isn't driven by an actor), what skills does he have? Sure he's worked in insurance, but presumably he was selling policies to actors who were told to just agree or disagree as their script says...
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:47 AM on December 10, 2014

Presumably he would be very sought after on the celebrity speaking circuit.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:06 AM on December 10, 2014

Like most reality show "stars", he would probably just end up guesting on other reality shows like "Big Brother" (which, of course, he would totally win) and "Celebrity Apprentice".
posted by briank at 6:14 AM on December 10, 2014

"Would the TV show 'The Truman Show' be interesting in the slightest?"

I always kind of figured that the show grew in popularity because it was like visiting with a friend. Sort of like Prairie Home Companion: it's not really funny, and it's not really exciting, but it's just nice and comforting. It's like having a friend you check in with once a day, and, even if the most exciting thing they have to tell you is that they bought a new lawn mower or have a quirky new coworker, it's still interesting because it's them.

The Truman Show is, I think, an exploration of loneliness.
posted by meese at 6:36 AM on December 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

The Truman Show is, I think, an exploration of loneliness.

Yeah, this points to another thing I really liked about it: it works on several levels, including fairly overt social critique but also a deeper dive into the human condition more generally.
posted by latkes at 7:46 AM on December 10, 2014

The implication is that Truman will be sought out by those who were trying to free him, including his possible True Love. He will not be getting a job; he will probably become the most famous member of the new Abolitionists. Because he was an actual slave, he was bought from his parents, owned as property, and his labor made his owners immensely wealthy. So the America he is escaping into is one which has explicitly allowed legal slavery to return, with corporations as owners. In which he is actual property and not a person at all. He possibly cannot legally sign a contract or be paid wages as a result.

Were he to succeed it outlawing what happened to him, he would be owed massive restitution and all such future projects banned. But, if his society is so far gone as to let The Truman Show happen at all, what are the odds of that?

It really isn't a comedy at all.
posted by emjaybee at 9:06 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

This came on HBO while I was flipping through the channels, and it was at the flashback scene where Truman is in college. I didn't notice it before, but there's a rockabilly 50s version of "20th Century Boy" by T. Rex being played at the dance! That's a funny bit of 50s fetishism that pervades the rest of the film's universe.
posted by codacorolla at 5:25 PM on May 5, 2015

I love that cover; it's by a British group called The Big Six and there's a full version on YouTube.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:50 PM on May 5, 2015

So: I've been rewatching The Prisoner and it struck me how much this is exploring a lot of the same themes.

The constructed and constrained reality, full of people playing roles, questioned and rebelled against by the protagonist; ever-present panopticonic surveillance; a directorial/dictatorial overlord running the show with the help of a staff of lackeys. Truman's wife is revealed to be an actress; in many episodes of The Prisoner Six has friendships with women who are revealed to be not what they appear. Six attempts to escape the Village by boat multiple times; Truman escapes Seahaven by boat. The "and if I don't see you, good afternoon, good evening and goodnight" catchphrase even feels like an echo of the Village's "be seeing you".
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:31 PM on May 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

WhatCulture's "Twenty things you didn't know about The Truman Show" lived up to its promise in my take. He cites several examples of the obsessive detail the film makers went to: the fact that the daily newspaper has a current date and issue number -that allows us to infer that its first edition was created on the day of Truman's birth about 29 years ago, for example. Or Truman's habit of taking vitamin D - important when it turns out you are living in a dome and never ever see the sun. Even the fact that the "lightening" we see during the final storm sequence lights up the moon - in a way we would see in a dome but never in real life.
posted by rongorongo at 11:09 PM on October 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

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