The Truman Show

Year: 1998
Studio: Paramount
Director: Peter Weir
Producer: Andrew Niccol
Writer: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Natasha McElhone, Ed Harris, Noah Emmerich

EdTV parodied reality TV the way it would eventually become, with cameras following people around and the audience hooked no matter how mundane the subjects' lives were. Despite its prescience, it doesn't hold as much satiric weight ten years later now we've been through every possible variation of the craze and the truth has been stranger than any possible fiction Hollywood could dream up. The Truman Show is related but couldn't be more different. The pairing of Peter Weir and Jim Carrey is more whimsical and somehow much more cutting because of it.

Truman Burbank (Carrey) is an everyday schmoe who lives and works in an everyday small town with his sweet wife (Linney) and friendly neighbours. He's never rocked the boat too much in life, even if curiosity about the world beyond has occasionally niggled at him. For one reason or another, he's never had the chance to leave, and strange things sometimes happen - like the time a TV studio light falls out of a clear blue sky onto the middle of the road.

But Truman has no idea of the truth of his life. His town is a massive TV set housed in a cavernous, environment-controlled dome just behind the Hollywood sign. Everyone around him is an actor, including his wife. And every minute of his existence is broadcast to tens of millions of rapt viewers who watch every mediocre aspect of his life unfold.

I found it as much a comment on how directed our lives are by economic forces beyond our control as a satire of reality TV, but it's not just a fantastic premise for a film. Even though Weir (with his production designer Dennis Gassner) does a stunning job of world-building, there's a solid story to go with it.

It's about Truman's rebirth, a theme actually very close to The Matrix of the hero discovering the truth about the contrived world created just for him. He's starting to realise something's going wrong. He pretends to attack his wife just to hear her plead for help even though they're alone in their house. A beautiful, enigmatic woman (McElhone) keeps showing up with something important she apparently needs to tell him.

And it all comes to a head in the surreal final image straight out of the mind of Terry Gilliam, where Truman's crossed an open ocean to suddenly bump into a solid wall the colour of the sky around him, the literal edge of his universe with the rest of the world waiting for him outside.

But Weir saves the best dig at our culture for last. As this multibillion dollar effort involving the careful precision of hundreds of crew and craftspeople comes to an abrupt end, a bunch of bozos in a bar decide to just change the channel to see what else is on.

Casting Carrey was an inspired move. His physical shtick - though toned down - is perfect for Truman's straight arrow insurance guy with only the slightest hint his world isn't quite right. Andrew Niccol's brilliant script does the rest.

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