15 January 2007

The Truman Show

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


Ersatz Tom Pitilli said...

Yo Henry yous mad pretentious.

thomas pitilli said...

The real Tom Pitilli sez: 'Yo henry, you use some really big words'. So with the help of my dictionary, I was able to understand some of the points yr making. I agree that it was trying to say alot about alot of things, yet never really said it. In my defense, the only other time i had watched it was when i was a little kid and i really wasn't thinking about it being any sort of allegory, but seeing it recently i could see how it might have failed in particular areas. However, the scotch made it all better...

james flames said...

i have to disagree. i think you're reacting and responding more to the reputation of the film than the film itself.
it's a movie. a fairy tale. a big budget, big star & big stakes (jim carrey in a non-goofy role)blockbuster movie. unlike most of those types of films, this actually had an interesting and unusual premise. the directors and anyone involved in the movie were not responsible for enlightening you. they had to pay for jim carey for chrissakes.
it's very similar in effect to groundhog day. that movie also brings up some very relevant and thought provoking suggestions. but it gets off the hook for not enlightening anyone cuz it's a comedy and bill murray's a funny motherfucker.
the truman show isn't a comedy, it's more of a drama. but same either way, it's entertaining. and still thought provoking - it's ok that the movie doesn't offer the meaning of life, so to speak (not literally of course).

the truman show happens to be one of my very favorite movies, as is groundhog day. but that has nothing to do with the reputation of the movie, i'm the first one to ignore that kinda thing. so maybe i feel defensive about it, but i will watch it again with you're points in mind and see how that jives.

and yeah, ease up on those words, you're making me feel stupid. and who the hell is 'ersatz tom pitilli'?!

H. Stewart said...

I concede in the beginning that it's an entertaining movie, and on the flagship site I afford it a generous "B+"; the article is less a review than a "cultural critique", let's say--I admit that. I don't really find the film thought-provoking; it has a clever premise, but it comes too close to cleverness for cleverness' sake. The film's a fraud, but a fun fraud!

(Geez, you Truman Show fans are so touchy!!)

By the way, I think Groundhog Day is fun too but could've been better. :) The Truman Show and Groundhog Day -- overrated! (Of course that's not their fault, just the audience's.)

james flames said...

different strokes i guess. but geez, you film majors take all the fun out of stuff!!!


james flames said...

oh yeah, and further argument for you to add the letter ratings to the blog site.

H. Stewart said...

That's because movies shouldn't be fun, they should be gruelling, miserable work. If I ever find myself enjoying a fim, I know it's no good.

james flames said...

y'know, when i first read this comment a few days ago, i laughed cuz i figured you were at least half joking.

this morning it crossed my mind again, and i realized you might be more than half serious.

i wonder what's more pathetic - your comment or the fact that i'm thinking about it days later in the shower.

H. Stewart said...

You can now join the long list of people who think about me in the shower (because as a film critic I'm associated with filth.)