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Catching Up with Classics: The Truman Show (1998)

Welcome to July. We’re closer to 2021 than the start of 2020 – praise be! Masks are now compulsory in UK stores (good – if you can wear one, don’t be selfish and please do). The pandemic is still a thing. And to mirror how unpredictable this year has been, we have a change in scheduling; I’ve swapped Schindler’s List out for The Truman Show. Apologies Spielberg, I just didn’t fancy watching three hours of black-and-white heartbreak. Maybe once life has calmed down I’ll give it a go.

If you’re new here, let me give you a quick rundown of what I’ve covered so far. Indiana Jones – Raiders of the Lost ArkLord of the Rings – Fellowship of the Ring,Alien, The Princess Bride, Ghostbusters and The Terminator are just some of the many ‘classics’ I was yet to watch back in December of last year, and I made a resolution to change that. Some I’ve enjoyed, some not so much, but whatever my conclusion has been it’s been satisfying to tick them off my long, shameful list (my film degree shakes its head at me).

As mentioned above, July was saved for Schindler’s List, but after spotting that The Truman Show had joined Netflix (and scrolling through this interesting Twitter thread), I decided to change things up. Why? Because this is my year-long feature and I’ll do what I want…and because of the embarrassment of not having watched it yet!

July’s pick: The Truman Show

We open on Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), living a comfortable life in beachy Seahaven with wife Meryl (Laura Linney). Every day Truman packs up his briefcase, heads out the door, waves to his neighbours, drives to his office, settles in for the next eight hours, and then heads home for dinner and chores around the house. How do we know this? Because, unsuspectingly, Truman is the star of his own reality TV programme, The Truman Show.

Millions of people across the world have been tuning in to watch Truman (for the last 10,000 days!) eat, sleep, work, drive, grow, breathe, and they’ve loved every moment of it. But this streak may soon be coming to an end when Truman starts to suspect that something sinister is going on, after nearly being knocked out by a studio light falling from the sky and landing at his feet. Driving to work and re-tuning radio stations, he stumbles across one that’s the voice of a man tracking his every move. Darting around town he notices that people on the street block his path and attempt to create distractions, until Truman sees for himself – a lift leading to the backstage area of a set, with staff milling around drinking coffee and eating doughnuts.

Determined to prove to best friend Marlon (Noah Emmerich) that they’re all living in a simulation, Truman experiences flashbacks to his college days, where instead of falling in love with Meryl (as engineered by studio bosses), he sets his sights on Lauren (Natascha McElhone). Lauren was hired to play a background character, but after meeting Truman she becomes a central player in his life, attempting to tell him the truth about his ‘reality’. Before being able to break the news to him, Lauren is whisked away by her ‘father’ to start a new life in Fiji, leaving Truman to spend the next ten years searching for her face in magazines and on posters around town. As he starts to notice further odd occurrences (his dad, presumed drowned, returns to Seahaven; Meryl attempts to upsell coffee and kitchen aids to her husband; getting stuck in choreographed traffic jams), Truman sets himself a goal – conquer his fear of water to escape town.

But even as it becomes clear that he may be putting Truman’s life at risk by trying to stop him, the show’s creator, Christof (Ed Harris), continues to put obstacles in his way to keep Truman in his place and the show on the air, whatever the cost.

Written by Andrew Niccol (The Terminal, In Time…and the upcoming Monopoly movie) and directed by Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, The Way Back), the pair worked together to turn the initial one-pager from a science fiction thriller into the witty slapstick comedy drama known and loved across the globe. Carrey signed on to star as our title character, but when The Cable Guy and Liar Liar got in the way of filming, Weir and Niccol decided to wait it out – Jim was born to be their Truman.

T3

The overall look and feel of Seahaven, its characters, and the world crafted around Truman was heavily influenced by advertising, with lots of heavy lighting and product placements to remind real-life audiences that they’re watching a television show; Weir is to have said that ‘in this world, everything is for sale’.

Nominated for and awarded numerous accolades, it even has a disorder named after it – The Truman Show delusion. In 2008, psychiatrist Joel Gold met with five patients living with schizophrenia, all under the belief that they were starring in their own reality TV programmes, much like Truman himself.

Has it aged well?

Yes, definitely, and the beauty of that is in the setting and mise-en-scène. Seahaven – with its quaint, kitschy style, a homage to the perfect, all-American 1950s neighbourhood – could be a modern day suburb, just with fancier cars. The props and costuming feel too perfect, so we laugh along with the film’s fictional audience as Truman dons another ugly plaid shirt-and-braces – it’s almost too silly to be true, and that’s because it is.

Carrey, ever the superstar talent, is a blast in this semi-dramatic, semi-comedic role. Next to other titles like The Mask, Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber, this is a little more ‘serious’ in tone, but nowhere near as gloomy as my favourite, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Love him, love his career, and I love this film!

Hindsight is 2020

Looking at it now, yes, the casting could be a little more diverse. I’ll have to watch it again in slow-mo, but the only people of colour I spotted were Truman’s neighbours he greets every morning, and very few helping Christof man the studio.

In the first case, I’m going to guess the casting directors were looking for the very white, very perfect, ’50s neighbourhood ideal. In the second – it was the ’90s, there’s no excuse!

Classy or classless classic?

A thousand times yes. Much like Alien and The Princess Bride, I wish I’d watched this sooner, especially as I claim I’m a Carrey fan. It’s something I could watch over and over, spotting all of the Easter eggs and clues throughout. As a commentary on modern day entertainment, reality vs. fiction, television celebrity and morality, The Truman Show will forever be known for being incredibly ahead of its time – it’s just a shame it took me so long to catch up!

My Catching Up with Classics series returns in August with Robocop

 

 

One thought on “Catching Up with Classics: The Truman Show (1998)

  1. Pingback: Catching Up with Classics: The Shawshank Redemption (1994) | critical popcorn

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