On a surface level, The Truman Show is simply an interesting premise. But add in subdued but clever camera-work, natural comedy and a goofy but authentic performance by leading man Jim Carrey, and you have one of my favourite movies of all time.
The Truman Show (1998) is directed by Peter Weir and stars Jim Carrey as titular protagonist Truman Burbank. Truman lives a normal life in the coastal town of Seahaven as an insurance worker. Normal, except for the fact his entire life being broadcast to the world as a reality TV show created by ‘mastermind’ show-runner Christof (Ed Harris). And he has no idea.
In an age of voyeuristic television, The Truman Show fits right in as culturally relevant. The film tackles with the very nature of reality TV – its falseness, its popularity and its really unsettling moral core. Not only does this make Truman’s premise that much more interesting and effective, but it gives the story an impressive level of depth and interpretative possibility. On top of that, the film grapples with religious imagery and ideals, particularly the idea of God and his apparent manipulation of everyday life. The creator of the television show, Christ-of (subtle, I know) acts as a pseudo deity through Truman’s entire life, controlling everything from his birth to his marriage. Not particularly understated, but very effective in giving the film a greater sense of depth and intrigue.
Considering the premise asks the actors to pretend to be actors acting, its impressive that the actors do so well at acting as actors (six acts in a sentence, new record). Laura Linney plays Hannah Gill who’s playing Meryl Burbank, Truman’s wife, and she does an excellent job of balancing slightly hammy acting with her alter-ego often rippling under the surface. Whenever she’s onscreen, you’re constantly aware she is acting while still recognising she also has a life outside of acting, and that’s an incredible balance to accomplish. The same can be said for Truman’s best friend Marlon (played by Noah Emmerich) who has to sell some intentionally cheesy lines without making them too ridiculous and manages this effortlessly. But the real star of the cast (and the film) is Carrey. The character itself isn’t a stretch from his typical goofy persona, but its the slow dawn of realisation and paranoia that he pulls off so well. Add into that quite a few emotional sequences and you’ve got one of Carrey’s best performances ever.
Weir’s direction is a perfect compliment to the premise as well. For most of the film we are basically seeing what the television show is presenting – footage from pins, hidden cameras and the like. On multiple occasions Weir adds a frame to these shots to reiterate that we are watching real-life reality TV rather than a film. Its simple, clever and never gets distracting enough to detract from the film itself.
Another element that works so well is the comedy. Unsurprising for a Carrey movie at the height of his career, this movie can be very funny. Goofy definitely, but always charming. And arguably the biggest achievement of the comedy is that it doesn’t feel forced: the movie doesn’t go out of its way to make jokes, it all fits in the confines of the plot and the characters. It may not be as funny as expected from typical Carrey (thanks to the overly dramatic focus of the final act) but it still offers plenty of moments of levity when they’re needed.
The Truman Show is a paradox in many ways, and personifies my favourite type of film. Deep yet still enjoyable. Accessible yet still innovative. Light yet still dramatic. Anyone simply looking for an amazing film should see The Truman Show. Hell, I see no reason why anyone wouldn’t enjoy it. Its brilliant.
General Audiences: Must See
Film Buffs: Must See