I feel somewhat guilty about writing a disparaging word regarding The Truman Show, an admittedly intelligent and entertaining film, particularly after recently doing so amongst friends and being met with bitter resentment. However, I feel the film unfairly retains a reputation as an enlightening film, which warrants a brief discussion and dismantling.
The Truman Show does a lot of things right but ultimately it’s, like The Matrix (which comparatively does very little right), philosophically vacuous. Adapting solipsism to the age of reality television, presciently before its ubiquity on basic cable and network television, Niccol and Weir tell the story of the titular Truman (Jim Carrey) whose entire life has unbeknownst to him been broadcast twenty-four hours a day on his very own dedicated television network. Everyone, from his neighbors, friends, co-workers, and wife, is a paid actor “in on it”. The ratings are huge, and the jocosely presented product placements draw-in magnanimous revenues.
After seeing it in class as an undergrad, I remember a fellow student lambasting the film for attempting to criticize the standard modes of Hollywood filmmaking while adhereing to those very same methods. I understand the point, but I think it’s misplaced. The Truman Show has a lot to say about religion, consumerism, corporatism, and the relationships between art and commerce and art and life; the problem is that it never actually says any of it. Rife with potential critique, the filmmakers never allow any of the big ideas to penetrate the film’s slick and somewhat self-applauding surface, relegating them instead to the nether regions of subsubtext. The audience will see in the film what they will, but in itself it says next to nothing other than, like an attention-starved child, “Look at me!”
Directed by: Peter Weir
Written by: Andrew Niccol