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Masterful directing makes The Truman Show stand out


     Let me just say this right off the bat: I am quickly becoming a huge fan of Australian director Peter Weir. His films (including Picnic at Hanging Rock, Dead Poets Society and Master and Commander) continue to impress me each time I watch one. My latest watch, The Truman Show (1998), is no different, having one of the most unique premises I’ve ever seen for a movie: a non-consensual reality TV show in which the star has lived his entire life and doesn’t even realize is fabricated. In the wrong hands, that premise could quickly fail. Thankfully Weir and writer Andrew Niccol are, without a doubt, the right hands.

     Comedy icon Jim Carrey stars as Truman Burbank, the unwitting star of The Truman Show, a 24/7 reality TV show controlled by the unsettlingly paternal Christof (Ed Harris) that Truman has lived in since birth. His hometown of Seahaven Island is in truth a massive Hollywood set, and everyone around him is a paid actor. The identities of his parents, neighbors, wife and coworkers are all a farce. That’s definitely a premise which leaves viewers a bit paranoid, and it is understandably unnerving at times. Despite this, the comedic talents of Jim Carrey keep the film quite fun and silly for most of its runtime, which makes it much more enjoyable than it would have been if designed to be depressing. Even though the film is certainly a drama (albeit a rather strange one), its comedic tones absolutely improve it. 

     The cast and characters are absolutely exceptional, especially when you consider that nearly every actor except Jim Carrey is playing a character who is an actor playing a character on The Truman Show. That’s three layers of people to keep track of. It goes without saying that I’m very impressed. I found Laura Linney (playing Hannah Gill


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who is in turn playing Meryl Burbank, Truman’s wife) to be especially impressive due to the fact that she has such a large amount of screen time playing two characters at once, although it is quite odd that we don’t really get an idea of who she (or anyone else on the show for that matter) really is. It’s one of the few films I’ve seen that has almost no character development for anyone except the protagonist and still works, though I suppose it was intentional in this situation. I also really enjoyed Natascha McElhone’s portrayal of Sylvia, a former cast member who is sympathetic to Truman’s cause. Her brief appearances throughout the movie were very memorable and seem to be some of the few honest elements of Truman’s life.

     I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that The Truman Show is an ethical nightmare that spawns a variety of difficult questions which are quite relevant in modern ethics. Is it ethical for a company to adopt someone? Is it ethical for them to use that person in a non-consensual situation? Is it ethical to possess them after they are no longer a minor? It’s an endless spiral of ethical debates that is apparently used in Media Ethics courses from time to time. My answer to all of those questions would be a firm “no,” as I find the idea of people being used as corporate assets quite inhumane. However, that isn’t my call to make. Many films can be labeled “thought-provoking” in some aspect, but The Truman Show is one of the few films I’ve seen which actually asks a question that society has yet to find an answer for.

     Overall, I found The Truman Show to be both extremely enjoyable and quite thought-provoking. I keep a very short list of films which I consider truly perfect (of the 600 or so movies I’ve seen, 17 are on it), and this is actually one of them. Frankly, I really don’t think Andrew Niccol and Peter Weir could have made it any better. It’s beautiful, often cheery in a fairly off-putting manner, and genuinely heartwarming towards the end. I’m very happy I got to see it, and I highly recommend it for anyone who hasn’t.

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