The Truman Show - * * * 1/2*

The Truman Show

Not your typical Jim Carrey fare, The Truman Show is a daring comedy-drama which turns a scathing eye upon the media culture. Fans expecting Carrey’s usual shtick will be disappointed here…but few else will be, for this intelligent and invigorating film is a fascinating look at the struggle between individual spirit and the media culture.

Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is the star of the world’s most popular television show, only he doesn’t know it. As a baby, he was adopted by a corporation, and ever since, every moment of his life has been secretly broadcast to billions.

His entire life, the entire world around him, is artificial. The entire town of Seahaven, where Truman lives, is in reality one huge set. The sun, the moon, and even the weather are artificially controlled. Every person he ever met has been an actor playing a carefully scripted role. From his best friend (Noah Emmerich) to his wife (Laura Linney), everyone is in on the secret but Truman himself.

But this carefully constructed world is starting to unravel for Truman. Whenever he does something unexpected, such as falling in love with an extra (Natascha McElhone), the show’s godlike director Christof (Ed Harris) has to scramble to keep reality consistent for his star. But little cracks are beginning to show, and the wanderlust-driven Truman begins to doubt his own reality.

The film is nearly as much about its audience as it is about its title character. Even the opening credits are staged as if we were watching The Truman Show itself (i.e. Starring Truman Burbank as Truman Burbank), with the actual movie credits saved until the end. Only occasionally does the film venture outside the television perspective to show us either the backstage workings behind the show, or the reactions of the show’s devoted audience. But in reality, we are the audience who are captivated by the struggles of a seemingly normal man in a seemingly normal life. Truman Burbank is the ultimate celebrity… prepackaged for our viewing enjoyment, but also a human being fighting the eternal struggle for freedom. Entertainment at its best (and worst).

Jim Carrey tackles the best role of his career, and (how’s this for a shocker) he’s not playing Jim Carrey, unlike the rest of his virtually interchangeable frenzied roles. No, this is a subtle, nuanced Jim Carrey…and, what do you know…he actually can act! There were still one too many “Jim Carrey” moments in the film… bones thrown to the masses of Jim Carrey fans who, the studio apparently fears, might rebel if not treated to a glimpse of standard Carrey fare.

The rest of the cast has the unique challenge of playing the part of actors playing a part. Emmerich does a good job as the best pal who’s somehow always nearby when Truman needs a friend, but Laura Linney stiffly overacts her part as Truman’s wife. It’s hard to believe Truman doesn’t see through her from the start. One opportunity lost in the film is to fill in any back story on the other actors. While it’s not crucial to the film (which is the Truman show after all), it would have been interesting to see (or simply to hear the actors say in an interview, for example) the effect of living a 24-hour lie on their own lives.

Ed Harris does a delightful job as the show’s creator/producer. Half deity, half mad scientist, he can’t quite comprehend why Truman would even want something besides his artificial ideal existence. It may be a zoo cage…but it’s a really, really nice one.

A couple of times the question comes up, why hasn’t Truman detected the ruse long before? I believe the answer lies in his upbringing. His entire life has been a lie, to the extent that he doesn’t know the truth when he sees it. If Truman has never seen a real sunrise, why would he be disappointed in a spectacularly recreated one?

The film does make a misstep (though one calculated to make Truman more accessible to the audience) by casting Truman as such a normal guy. He should have been used to being subtly pushed and prodded around, and should have been oblivious the minor inconsistencies that are obvious to the audience. But that’s a minor nit, and the film doesn’t lose much by portraying Truman as a much more normal man than he should have been.

Multi-faceted, The Truman Show delivers on several levels. Not only is it an enjoyable human drama, but also an intriguing look at the excesses of a celebrity oriented culture and a disturbing look at the future of entertainment.

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