I recently read Ed Sikov’s Film Studies: An Introduction, and one early point he makes is that everything we see in cinema, even the most vérité and naturalistic scenario, is, to some extent, constructed. Everything seen and heard is placed in front of us for a specific reason.
The Truman Show weaponizes that truth about its medium to tell a gripping story about one man (one character, really) questioning his own reality and agency. It’s a fascinating premise that somehow feels fresher and more relevant each time I watch it, like peeling layers off an onion.
One layer is a media satire that predicted the reality TV boom. But I think focusing on the “real life as entertainment” hook is selling the satirical elements short; it goes deeper than that. This is a movie about the commoditization of the human experience, about the absurdities of turning every basic life event into a broader social transaction. In this way, it honestly feels like a sharper critique of social media than anything else.
Another key layer is the film’s biblical imagery. Truman (the true man) lives on a Garden of Eden-esque island, where a booming voice from above determines his fate. He faces an apocalyptic storm on an ark. He chooses knowledge above innocence and, when his time comes, ascends to the clouds.
And then there’s maybe the most important layer, which is that this is a corker of a good story, well-acted and -told, with lots of fun stuff like forbidden romance and secret escapes and a hero’s struggle. Jim Carrey plays a man right on the verge of losing his mind perfectly; Laura Linney and Noah Emmerich shine as his fake on-screen companions, artificial and exhausted.
Maybe I’m just a sucker for high-concept movies that cast a comic actor in a dramatic role for a supernatural or speculative scenario (see: Groundhog Day and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but I think The Truman Show is a masterpiece.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100
Masterpiece: Tour De Good (8/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.