In my previous post concerning The Big Lebowski, I mentioned that the movies I find most interesting are ones that make me think and that have a quirky element to them. Today’s cinematic selection is a perfect example of what I was talking about. The Truman Show was released in 1998 and starred Jim Carrey, Laura Linney and Ed Harris in the main roles. Originally written as a science fiction movie about alternate realities, The Truman Show is most noted for accurately predicting the reality TV show trend that would come to dominate the airwaves in the decades since. It also predicted our fascination with social media and living our lives in the spotlight’s glare, even if it is just to share photos of our cats on Caturday each week. Much like how The Big Lebowski was made, The Truman Show is a movie told in layers. It is the attention to detail that helps to elevate this movie from merely being good to being a great film. One of the keys to understanding the organizational structure of the storyline is by how music is used throughout the film. So, grab your popcorn, put your cell phone on silent and get ready to learn all about one of the most thought-provoking films of the last quarter century, The Truman Show.
In the movie, Jim Carrey plays a man named Truman Burbank. Truman has lived his entire life in the idyllic community of Seahaven, Florida. Everything is perfect in Seahaven. All of the homes are neatly painted and have manicured lawns and small gardens in the front. Everyone who lives in Seahaven is friendly and neighbourly. Truman has grown up surrounded by love and the friendship of many other children. He has found love and gotten married (to Meryl, as played by Laura Linney). He has a good job. His colleagues are all pleasant. The weather is consistently good most days, only raining when the “lawn needs a drink”. The only thing about life that has created a bit of an empty space in Truman’s heart is that he had always wanted to travel and seek adventure. But, no matter how hard he tries, who he talks to about it or where he turns for help, he is always told that he is best off staying exactly where he is in Seahaven, Florida. Eventually, as Truman settles into adulthood, he begins questioning certain aspects of his life. SPOILER ALERT!!! At a certain point, he begins to realize that something is actually wrong with the people in Seahaven, which leads him to attempt a dramatic escape from there to anywhere else beyond the limits of his town. This escape attempt leads him to learn that Seahaven isn’t actually a real place. It is a television studio set and that his entire life has been staged for television audiences and controlled by a director named Christof (played by Ed Harris). Everyone he thought he knew…his parents, his childhood friends, his wife, his work colleagues, his neighbours, the citizens of Seahaven…were all paid actors! Everything he thought was real was revealed as being fake. Every aspect of his life was a lie. And now, at the end of the film, Truman has learned the first real, true thing in his life, and it leaves him shattered and disappointed, and yet he is now free, so those emotions are at play as well.
When you watch the movie The Truman Show, you are really watching a play within a play. We are a movie audience who, in turn, are watching other people (a television audience) watching characters on a TV show. The entire storyline is built upon a foundation of how we perceive reality. What is real and what is fake, and how can we be sure that we know the difference? Twenty years before a reality TV star named Donald Trump cried about “fake news” and successfully blurred the lines of what the media promotes as news, The Truman Show was taking us behind the scenes and showing us how easy it was to trick people into investing their hearts and minds into something that was manipulative and phony in all regards. Not long after The Truman Show aired, Fox TV aired one of the very first reality shows entitled The Joe Schmo Show which was a Big Brother-style competition set in a house in which all of the competitors competing for a prize turned out to be actors and only one person….Joe Schmo…turned out to be really playing the game. From there, we had the debut of Survivor, Big Brother, The Bachelor, The Real Housewives series, The Kardashians and so on. All of these shows are completely staged and totally fake, and yet we have willingly become that audience shown in The Truman Show. We are no longer one step removed, as we were as a film audience for a movie. Now our perception of real life comes to us from staged shows and from social media “friends” we have never met and from online influencers who act as the new “Christofs” of our time.
When we watched the actual movie in 1998, the producers knew that they had to let audiences in on the secret of what was going on. We weren’t just seeing the movie unfold in Seahaven through Truman’s eyes, we were shown the television control room where Christof presided over Truman’s world. We saw the building facades. We listened as the television director voiced instructions to the onscreen actors. We knew what Truman didn’t know. What helped us to be able to differentiate between the movie we were watching and the fake television show being aired within the movie was how music was used throughout the entire film. The Truman Show movie employed two different composers named Philip Glass and Burkhard Dallwitz. These two composers were tasked with the job of using music to create two versions of reality. So one composer (Burkhard Dallwitz) wrote music for the onscreen, in-movie “TV show”. His compositions tended to reflect the inner emotions of what the character of Truman was feeling or experiencing at any given moment in the reality show that was his life. Philip Glass, on the other hand, composed the music used in scenes in which we, as a film audience, are taken into the confidence of the movie’s producers and allowed to know that we are watching a play within a play. One of the most touching of Philip Glass’ compositions was one entitled “Truman Sleeps”. It is an instrumental composition that is played as we watch Christof, in the control booth, watching Truman sleep in his bed. The scene is relatively short, but it allows us, as an audience, to realize that even though Christof has dedicated his life to manipulating the existence of another human being, he still possesses an ounce of humanity because we can clearly see that he has come to care for Truman based on his actions while Truman sleeps (much in the same way that a parent lovingly looks in on a sleeping child at night).
The Truman Show was a major career turning point for Jim Carrey. Leading up to this film, Carrey had starred in a series of comic hits including The Mask, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber. He had gone from being a comedian on television to a major Hollywood movie star. He was making millions of dollars per movie and was living a pretty wild life at the time. However, Jim Carrey was always more of a cerebral guy than he was being given credit for. While his career was exploding, and he was on his way to becoming one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, he agreed to play Truman Burbank for one particular reason. Having read the script prior to signing on to join the cast, Carrey knew how the movie was going to end for Truman. Carrey understood that the adulation, the talk show appearances, the social media gossip, the paparazzi…all of it, was making his own life not that much different from the staged world inhabited by Truman Burbank. So, Carrey decided to pull a “Truman” and opted away from the bigger budget movies going forward. His next movie was another quirky movie called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Jim Carrey was now a dramatic actor. He felt freer to follow his heart and be who he really wanted to be…just like Truman Burbank did, too.
I will close by relating a discussion my wife and I had on the weekend. Like many people in the world, there was a time in our relationship when there was no social media. When we first met, if we wanted to know how someone was doing, we picked up the phone, we wrote a letter or we went for a visit. Since 2007, when I joined Facebook (Keri signed on a few years later), we have been immersed in the social media scene. In the past year, I have begun to deal with my own social media addiction by deleting my Twitter account. I used to have an Instagram account, too. Both are now gone. This past weekend, my wife and I talked about the news that Facebook may start charging to use its service. We agreed that if/when that time comes, we will say goodbye to Facebook, too. As part of that discussion, we both agreed that since we were actually able to maintain friendships with real people prior to the introduction of social media into our lives, that we assumed the same would be true for us in a social media-free world, too. That social media has become so integrated with our version of what real life is all about says a lot about how fully we have been pulled into the world portrayed in The Truman Show. I have lots of online friends that I chat with and support with my words. However, I would probably not be able to recognize most, if any, of them if they sat beside me on the bus. I have never heard the sound of their voice. I have never shaken their hand or had a hug. Are they real people or have they been computer-generated entities all along? I would like to say that I know the answer to that question, but do I? Truman Burbank didn’t know the answer to that question until the very last moments of the film. Then he walked away into a completely new and uncertain future. Perhaps that is what awaits all of us, too. Good luck with your decision-making process as your boat hits a wall that you always believed was sky.
The link to the video for the composition “Truman Sleeps” by Philip Glass can be found here.
The link to the video for the trailer to the movie The Truman Show can be found here.
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