Monday, August 01, 2016

The Truman Show

Many ideas in Science fiction films may appear far fetched when the film is first released yet over time, some of those ideas end up becoming far more believable due to technological advances or changes in our society. For example, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY depicted computer devices which allowed one to read information from around the world, including newspaper articles. Such a device may have seemed unbelievable back in 1968 when the film was released but now laptops and the internet are commonplace. Similarly, the immense popularity of a reality tv show as presented in THE TRUMAN SHOW didn’t seem that plausible back in 1998 even though there were a few examples of such shows that already existed when the film was released such as MTV’s THE REAL WORLD. However, THE TRUMAN SHOW appeared to take the idea of a reality show too far. The film depicted a young baby born and raised entirely in front of the world via a 24 hour non-stop television show created by Christof (Ed Harris). 1.7 million people witnessed the birth of Truman Burbank and the audience kept climbing as Truman grew up into an adult (Jim Carrey). Truman lives and works entirely in the world’s largest constructed TV set, a fictional town called Seahaven, where all the other inhabitants are actors and extras employed with the sole purpose of assisting Truman as he goes about his ‘real’ life. When the film first came out, it appeared unrealistic that people would devote hundreds of hours watching Truman do mundane everyday tasks. But now in 2016, THE TRUMAN SHOW appears to have foreseen our current television landscape which is populated by hundreds of reality tv shows which depict ordinary people going about their daily activities or in some cases, taking part in a contest on a constructed set. On top of that, the rise of social media and smartphones has allowed far more reality to be presented non-stop either as entertainment or a form of news. Today, reality is always available, in one shape or form.

THE TRUMAN SHOW is directed by Peter Weir but the story is written by Andrew Niccol who is no stranger to Science fiction. Andrew Niccol wrote and directed GATTACA (1997), one of the best Sci-fi films ever made. Yet, both films could not be more different. On the surface, GATTACA is easily identifiable as a Sci-fi film due to its futuristic tone, visuals and story. While, THE TRUMAN SHOW appears to be a variation on conventional scripted television shows as there are no commercial breaks and the main star is not an actor. However, scratching beneath the surface shows that THE TRUMAN SHOW shares ideas with another Sci-fi film about reality vs illusion.

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill -- the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill -- you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

The above words spoken by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) in THE MATRIX are the direct opposite of the choice that Christof (Ed Harris) gives Truman Burbank in THE TRUMAN SHOW.

In THE MATRIX, Morpheus wanted to open Neo’s (Keanu Reeves) eyes to the reality, he wanted Neo to see the bits and bytes for what they really were. Morpheus didn’t want Neo to stay asleep. On the other hand, Christof doesn’t want Truman to wake up from his slumber. He doesn’t want Truman to even reach towards the red pill. When Truman is finally on the verge of truly waking up, Christof tells Truman: “There’s no more truth out there than there is in the world I created for you.”

These words clearly highlight the difference between Morpheus and Christof. Morpheus never proclaimed to be a God, nor did he envision himself as a creator of a world. Whereas, Christof always envisioned himself as the creator of Truman’s world. Christof oversaw every aspect of Truman’s life, right from his selection for the game show as a baby. He witnessed Truman’s first steps, first day of school and when Truman lost his first tooth. Christof controlled all aspects of Truman’s life, such as deciding where Truman went. For example, when Truman had ideas about leaving Seahaven, Christof placed obstacles in his path like a barking dog on the pier or a teacher squashing Truman’s hopes of sailing around the world to discover new places. Christof even decided when to get rid of Truman’s father on the TV show. And after a 22 year absence, he orchestrated the reunion of Truman with his father, complete with musical cues to heighten the emotional moment for a television audience.

Christof created Truman’s world and it was entirely to his advantage to ensure that Truman continued to believe in the illusion of the fake world of Seahaven. The manufactured Seahaven was Christof’s reality as well and he wanted to exist in it as long as possible. Early on in the film, Meryl Burbank (Laura Linney) who plays Truman’s wife says that there is no difference between her private and public life and that the TV show is her life. In that regard, she along with Christof continue to take the blue pill everyday. The film shows a few characters who tried to tear the fabric of the TV show but were taken away. Natascha McElhone’s character of Sylvia tried to tell Truman about the red pill but she was removed from the TV show. Instead, she is forced to continue her struggle to free Truman in the real world which lies outside of Christof’s closed off world. Christof is convinced that Truman will never wake up and mentions that “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.” These words have a resonance with the concept of reality that Morpheus talks about in THE MATRIX and have roots in Buddhism, where people accept the illusionary nature of the world before them. However, Truman does wake up. And when he is about to enter the real world, his signs off with his trademark TV show words: “In case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night.” With those words, Truman finally unplugs himself from Christof’s Matrix.

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