The Truman Show (1998)

Movie


The Truman Show (1998)

Since birth, a big fat lie defines the well-organised but humdrum life of the kind-hearted insurance salesman and ambitious explorer, Truman Burbank. Utterly unaware of the thousands of cleverly hidden cameras watching his every move, for nearly three decades, Truman's entire existence pivots around the will and the wild imagination of the ruthlessly manipulative television producer, Christof--the all-powerful TV-God of an extreme 24/7 reality show: The Truman Show. As a result, Truman's picturesque neighbourhood with the manicured lawns and the uncannily perfect residents is nothing but an elaborate state-of-the-art set, and the only truth he knows is what the worldwide television network and its deep financial interests dictate. Do lab rats know they are forever imprisoned?
USA
IMDb   8.1 /10
Metacritic   90 %
TheMovieDb    8.1 /10
RottenTomatoes  95 %
FilmAffinity   7.7 /10
Creators
Director Peter Weir
Writer Andrew Niccol
Information
Release Date1998-06-05
Runtime1h 43mins
GenreComedy, Drama
Content RatingPG (PG)
AwardsTop Rated Movies #168 | Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 40 wins & 66 nominations.
CompanyParamount Pictures, Scott Rudin Productions
CountryUSA
LanguageEnglish
Truman Burbank
Meryl Burbank / Hannah Gill
Lauren / Sylvia
Truman's Mother
Truman's Father
Young Truman
Travel Agent
Truman's Neighbor
Truman's Neighbor

The Truman Show

The Truman Show is a 1998 American psychological comedy-drama film directed by Peter Weir, produced by Scott Rudin, Andrew Niccol, Edward S. Feldman, and Adam Schroeder, and written by Niccol. The film stars Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, a man who grew up living an ordinary life that—unbeknownst to him—takes place on a large set populated by actors for a television show about him. The supporting cast includes by Laura Linney, Ed Harris, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone, Holland Taylor, Paul Giamatti and Brian Delate.

The Truman Show was originally a spec script by Niccol, inspired by a 1989 episode of The Twilight Zone called "Special Service" (itself written by J. Michael Straczynski). Unlike the finished product, it was more of a science-fiction thriller, with the story set in New York City. Scott Rudin purchased the script and set up production at Paramount Pictures. Brian De Palma was to direct before Weir signed as director, making the film for $60 million—$20 million less than the original estimate. Niccol rewrote the script while the crew was waiting for Carrey to sign. The majority of filming took place at Seaside, Florida, a master-planned community located in the Florida Panhandle.

The film was a financial success, debuting to critical acclaim, and earned numerous nominations at the 71st Academy Awards, 56th Golden Globe Awards, 52nd British Academy Film Awards and 25th Saturn Awards. The Truman Show has been analyzed as an exploration of simulated reality, existentialism, surveillance, religion, metaphilosophy, privacy and reality television.


Plot

Truman Burbank is the unsuspecting star of The Truman Show, a reality television program filmed 24/7 through thousands of hidden cameras and broadcast to a worldwide audience. Christof, the show's creator and executive producer, seeks to capture Truman's authentic emotions and give audiences a relatable everyman. As Truman was selected from birth following an unwanted pregnancy, Christof claims that Truman came to be adopted not just by the show, but by the "world". Truman's hometown of Seahaven Island is a complete set built within an enormous dome, populated by crew members and actors who highlight the product placements that generate revenue for the show. The elaborate set allows Christof to control almost every aspect of Truman's life, including the weather. To prevent Truman from discovering his false reality, Christof manufactures scenarios that dissuade Truman's desire for exploration, such as the death of his father in a sea storm to instill aquaphobia, and by constantly broadcasting and printing messages of the dangers of traveling and the virtues of staying home. However, Christof cannot predict all of Truman's actions. During his college years, Truman was intended to fall in love with and marry co-student Meryl, but fell for Sylvia, an extra. Although Sylvia was quickly removed from the show before she could disclose its nature to Truman, her memory has remained with him, who secretly dreams of a life with Sylvia outside of his marriage to Meryl. To this end, he seeks to travel to Fiji, where he was told Sylvia's family moved. In the real world, Sylvia is a part of the "Free Truman" campaign, which fights to have Truman released from the program.

As the show approaches its 30th anniversary, Truman begins discovering unusual elements such as a spotlight falling out of the sky in front of his house and a radio channel that precisely describes his movements. These events are punctuated by the reappearance of his father, who had infiltrated the set as a beggar. Truman begins questioning his life and realizes that the city somehow revolves around him. Meryl's stress from attempting to uphold the charade in the face of Truman's growing skepticism and hostility causes their marriage to deteriorate. One day, Truman takes Meryl by surprise by going on an impromptu road trip, but increasingly implausible emergencies block their way. During an argument in which Truman determines that Meryl is a part of the conspiracy and holds her at knife-point, she breaks character and is taken off the show. Hoping to bring Truman back to a controllable state, Christof re-introduces Truman's father to the show properly, under the guise of having lost his memory after the boating accident. This helps the show regain the ratings lead with audiences, and Truman seems to return to his routines, except he begins sleeping in his basement. One night, Truman secretly disappears through a makeshift tunnel in his basement, forcing Christof to temporarily suspend the broadcast for the first time in its history. Audiences around the world are captivated by this unexpected event, and tune in in record numbers.

Christof orders a citywide search for Truman and is soon forced to "cue the sun" and break the production's day-night cycle to optimize the search. Christof soon discovers Truman sailing away from Seahaven on a small boat, having conquered his fear of water. After resuming the transmission, Christof creates a violent storm in an attempt to capsize the boat. After nearly drowning Truman but failing to break his spirit, Christof ends the storm. Truman continues to sail until his boat pierces the wall of the dome. Initially horrified, Truman discovers a nearby staircase leading to an exit door. As Truman contemplates leaving his world, Christof speaks directly to Truman through a speaker system and tries to persuade him to stay, claiming that there is no more truth in the real world than in his artificial one, where he would have nothing to fear. After a moment of reflection, Truman says his catchphrase: "In case I don't see you... good afternoon, good evening, and good night", bows to his audience and exits. The viewers celebrate his escape, and Sylvia races to greet him. Defeated, Christof's supervisors finally end the program on a shot of the open exit door. Truman's Fans - the viewers of the show - cheer upon his successful escape and then, after transmission ceases, ask what else is on TV.


Cast

  • Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank
  • Laura Linney as Hannah Gill, acting as Meryl Burbank, Truman's wife
  • Ed Harris as Christof
  • Noah Emmerich as Louis Coltrane, playing Marlon, Truman's best friend since early childhood
  • Natascha McElhone as Sylvia, playing Lauren Garland, Truman's college schoolmate
  • Holland Taylor as Alanis Montclair, playing Truman's mother Angela Burbank
  • Brian Delate as Walter Moore, playing Truman's father Kirk Burbank
  • Paul Giamatti as Simeon, a control room director
  • Peter Krause as Laurence, Truman's boss
  • Harry Shearer as Mike Michaelson, a TV talk-show host
  • Joel McKinnon Miller as a garage attendant

Production

Andrew Niccol completed a one-page film treatment titled The Malcolm Show in May 1991. The original draft was more in tone of a science fiction thriller, with the story set in New York City. Niccol stated, "I think everyone questions the authenticity of their lives at certain points. It's like when kids ask if they're adopted." In the fall of 1993, producer Scott Rudin purchased the script for slightly over $1 million. Paramount Pictures agreed to distribute. Part of the deal called for Niccol to make his directing debut, though Paramount executives felt the estimated $80 million budget would be too high for him. In addition, Paramount wanted to go with an A-list director, paying Niccol extra money "to step aside". Brian De Palma was under negotiations to direct before he left United Talent Agency in March 1994. Directors who were considered after De Palma's departure included Tim Burton, Sam Raimi, Terry Gilliam, Barry Sonnenfeld and Steven Spielberg before Peter Weir signed on in early 1995, following a recommendation of Niccol. Bryan Singer wanted to direct but Paramount decided to go with the more experienced Weir.

Weir wanted the film to be funnier, feeling that Niccol's script was too dark, and declaring, "where had it depressing, I could make it light. It could convince audiences they could watch a show in this scope 24/7." Niccol wrote sixteen drafts of the script before Weir considered the script ready for filming. Later in 1995, Jim Carrey signed to star, but because of commitments with The Cable Guy and Liar Liar, he would not be ready to start filming for at least another year. Weir felt Carrey was perfect for the role and opted to wait for another year rather than recast the role. Niccol rewrote the script twelve times, while Weir created a fictionalized book about the show's history. He envisioned backstories for the characters and encouraged actors to do the same.

Weir scouted locations in Eastern Florida but was dissatisfied with the landscapes. Sound stages at Universal Studios were reserved for the story's setting of Seahaven before Weir's wife Wendy Stites introduced him to Seaside, Florida, a "master-planned community" located in the Florida Panhandle. Pre-production offices were immediately opened in Seaside, where the majority of filming took place. The scenes of Truman's house were filmed at a residence owned by the Gaetz family, which included Florida State Senator Don Gaetz and future U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz. Other scenes were shot at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, California. Norman Rockwell paintings and 1960s postcards were used as inspiration for the film's design. Weir, Peter Biziou and Dennis Gassner researched surveillance techniques for certain shots.

Filming took place from December 1996 to April 1998. The overall look was influenced by television images, particularly commercials: Many shots have characters leaning into the lens with their eyes wide open, and the interior scenes are heavily lit because Weir wanted to remind viewers that "in this world, everything was for sale". Those involved in visual effects work found the film somewhat difficult to make because 1997 was the year many visual effects companies were trying to convert to computer-generated imagery (CGI). CGI was used to create the upper halves of some of the larger buildings in the film's downtown set. Craig Barron, one of the effects supervisors, said that these digital models did not have to look as detailed and weathered as they normally would in a film because of the artificial look of the entire town, although they did imitate slight blemishes found in the physical buildings.


Themes

Media

"This was a dangerous film to make because it couldn't happen. How ironic."

Director Peter Weir on The Truman Show predicting the rise of reality television

In 2008, Popular Mechanics named The Truman Show as one of the 10 most prophetic science fiction films. Journalist Erik Sofge argued that the story reflects the falseness of reality television. "Truman simply lives, and the show's popularity is its straightforward voyeurism. And, like Big Brother, Survivor, and every other reality show on the air, none of his environment is actually real." He deemed it an eerie coincidence that Big Brother made its debut a year after the film's release, and he also compared the film to the 2003 program The Joe Schmo Show: "Unlike Truman, Matt Gould could see the cameras, but all of the other contestants were paid actors, playing the part of various reality-show stereotypes. While Matt eventually got all of the prizes in the rigged contest, the show's central running joke was in the same existential ballpark as The Truman Show." Weir declared, "There has always been this question: Is the audience getting dumber? Or are we filmmakers patronizing them? Is this what they want? Or is this what we're giving them? But the public went to my film in large numbers. And that has to be encouraging."

Ronald Bishop's paper in the Journal of Communication Enquiry suggests The Truman Show showcased the power of the media. Truman's life inspires audiences around the world, meaning their lives are controlled by his. Bishop commented, "In the end, the power of the media is affirmed rather than challenged. In the spirit of Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony, these films and television programs co-opt our enchantment (and disenchantment) with the media and sell it back to us."

In her essay "Reading The Truman Show inside out" Simone Knox argues that the film itself tries to blur the objective perspective and the show-within-the-film. Knox also draws a floor plan of the camera angles of the first scene.

Psychoanalytic interpretation

An essay published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis analyzed Truman as

a prototypical adolescent at the beginning of the movie. He feels trapped into a familial and social world to which he tries to conform while being unable to entirely identify with it, believing that he has no other choice (other than through the fantasy of fleeing to a far-way island). Eventually, Truman gains sufficient awareness of his condition to "leave home"—developing a more mature and authentic identity as an adult, leaving his child-self behind and becoming a True-man.

Religious interpretation

Benson Y. Parkinson of the Association for Mormon Letters compared the megalomaniacal Hollywood producer Christof to Lucifer. According to Parkinson, the conversation between Truman and Marlon at the bridge can be compared to one between Moses and God in the Book of Moses.

In C.S. Lewis and Narnia for Dummies by Rich Wagner, Christof is compared with Screwtape, the eponymous character of the 1942 The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.

Similarity to Utopia

Parallels can be drawn from Thomas More's 1516 book Utopia, in which More describes an island with only one entrance and only one exit. Only those who belonged to this island knew how to navigate their way through the treacherous openings safely and unharmed. This situation is similar to The Truman Show because there are limited entryways into the world that Truman knows. Truman does not belong to this utopia into which he has been implanted, and childhood trauma rendered him frightened of the prospect of ever leaving this small community. Utopian models of the past tended to be full of like-minded individuals who shared much in common, comparable to More's Utopia and real-life groups such as the Shakers and the Oneida Community. It is clear that the people in Truman's world are like-minded in their common effort to keep him oblivious to reality. The suburban "picket fence" appearance of the show's set is reminiscent of the "American Dream" of the 1950s. The "American Dream" concept in Truman's world serves as an attempt to keep him happy and ignorant.


Release

Originally set for August 8, 1997, the film's theatrical release was pushed back initially to November 14, 1997, and then to the summer of 1998. NBC purchased broadcast rights in December 1997, roughly eight months before the film's release. In March 2000, Turner Broadcasting System purchased the rights and now often airs the film on TBS.

Critical response

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, The Truman Show holds a 95% approval rating based on 132 reviews, with an average rating of 8.40/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "A funny, tender, and thought-provoking film, The Truman Show is all the more noteworthy for its remarkably prescient vision of runaway celebrity culture and a nation with an insatiable thirst for the private details of ordinary lives." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 90 out of 100 based on 30 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.

Giving the film a perfect four star score, Roger Ebert compared it to Forrest Gump, claiming that the film had a right balance of comedy and drama. He was also impressed with Jim Carrey's dramatic performance. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The Truman Show is emotionally involving without losing the ability to raise sharp satiric questions as well as get numerous laughs. The rare film that is disturbing despite working beautifully within standard industry norms." He would name it the best movie of 1998. In June 2010, Entertainment Weekly named Truman one of the 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years.

James Berardinelli liked the film's approach of "not being the casual summer blockbuster with special effects", and he likened Carrey's ", understated and effective" performance to those of Tom Hanks and James Stewart. Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader wrote, "Undeniably provocative and reasonably entertaining, The Truman Show is one of those high-concept movies whose concept is both clever and dumb." Tom Meek of Film Threat said the film was not funny enough but still found "something rewarding in its quirky demeanor".

Accolades

At the 71st Academy Awards, The Truman Show was nominated for three awards but did not win in any category. Peter Weir received the nomination for Best Director, while Ed Harris was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Andrew Niccol was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Many believed Carrey would be nominated for Best Actor, as well as the film itself for Best Picture, but neither was. In addition, The Truman Show earned nominations at the Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Weir for Best Director – Motion Picture and Niccol for (Screenplay). Jim Carrey and Ed Harris both won Golden Globes as Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama and Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture, respectively, as did Burkhard Dallwitz and Philip Glass for Best Original Score.

At the 52nd British Academy Film Awards, Weir (Direction), Niccol (Original Screenplay) and Dennis Gassner (Production Design) received awards. In addition, the film was nominated for Best Film and Best Visual Effects. Harris was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and Peter Biziou was nominated for Best Cinematography. The Truman Show was a success at 25th Saturn Awards, where it won the Best Fantasy Film and the Best Writing (Niccol). Carrey (Best Actor), Harris (Best Supporting Actor) and Weir (Direction) also received nominations. Finally, the film won speculative fiction's Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

AwardCategoryThespianResult
71st Academy AwardsBest DirectorPeter WeirNominated
Best Supporting ActorEd HarrisNominated
Best Original ScreenplayAndrew NiccolNominated
ASCAP Film and Television AwardsTop Box Office FilmBurkhard DallwitzWon
Top Box Office FilmsPhilip GlassWon
American Comedy AwardsFunniest ActorJim CarreyNominated
Australasian Performing Right AssociationBest Film ScoreBurkhard DallwitzNominated
Australian Film InstituteBest Foreign FilmPeter WeirNominated
Blockbuster Entertainment AwardsBest Supporting Actor – DramaEd HarrisWon
Best Actor – DramaJim CarreyNominated
Best Supporting Actress – DramaLaura LinneyNominated
Bogey AwardsBogey AwardWon
52nd British Academy Film AwardsBest FilmNominated
David Lean Award for DirectionPeter WeirWon
Best Original ScreenplayAndrew NiccolWon
Best Supporting ActorEd HarrisNominated
Best Production DesignDennis GassnerWon
Best CinematographyPeter BiziouNominated
Best Special EffectsNominated
British Society of CinematographersBest CinematographyPeter BiziouNominated
Broadcast Film Critics AssociationBest FilmNominated
Chicago Film Critics AssociationBest ScoreBurkhard DallwitzWon
Best ActorJim CarreyNominated
Best DirectorPeter WeirNominated
Best PictureNominated
Best ScreenplayAndrew NiccolNominated
Costume Designers GuildExcellence in Costume DesignMarilyn MatthewsNominated
Directors Guild of AmericaBest Director in Motion PicturePeter WeirNominated
Empire AwardsBest FilmNominated
European Film AwardsScreen International AwardPeter WeirWon
Film Critics Circle of AustraliaBest Foreign FilmWon
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards 1998Best DirectorPeter WeirWon
Fotogramas de PlataBest Foreign FilmWon
56th Golden Globe AwardsBest Motion Picture – DramaNominated
Best DirectorPeter WeirNominated
Best ScreenplayAndrew NiccolNominated
Best Actor – Motion Picture DramaJim CarreyWon
Best Supporting ActorEd HarrisWon
Best Original ScorePhilip Glass and Burkhard DallwitzWon
3rd Golden Satellite AwardsBest Art DirectionDennis GassnerWon
Hugo AwardBest Dramatic PresentationPeter WeirWon
International Monitor AwardsTheatrical ReleaseWon
Nastro d'ArgentoBest Male DubbingRoberto Pedicini (Jim Carrey)Won
Best Foreign DirectorPeter WeirNominated
1999 Kids' Choice AwardsBest Movie ActorJim CarreyNominated
London Critics Circle Film AwardsDirector of the YearPeter WeirWon
Screenwriter of the YearAndrew NiccolWon
Film of the YearWon
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards 1998Best Production DesignDennis GassnerNominated
1999 MTV Movie AwardsBest Male PerformanceJim CarreyWon
Best MovieNominated
Motion Picture Sound EditorsBest Sound EditingNominated
Movieguide AwardsGrace AwardJim CarreyWon
National Board of Review Awards 1998Best Supporting ActorEd HarrisWon
Online Film Critics Society Awards 1998Best ScreenplayAndrew NiccolWon
Best DirectorPeter WeirNominated
Best FilmNominated
Best EditingNominated
Best Supporting ActorEd HarrisNominated
Robert FestivalBest American FilmWon
25th Saturn AwardsBest Fantasy FilmWon
Best DirectorPeter WeirNominated
Best WritingAndrew NiccolWon
Best ActorJim CarreyNominated
Best Supporting ActorEd HarrisNominated
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards 1998Best Supporting ActorWon
Best DirectorPeter WeirNominated
Valladolid International Film FestivalGolden SpikeNominated
Writers Guild of America Awards 1998Best Original ScreenplayAndrew NiccolNominated
20th Youth in Film AwardsBest Family FeatureNominated

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

  • 2006: AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – Nominated

The Truman Show delusion

Joel Gold, a psychiatrist at the Bellevue Hospital Center, revealed that by 2008, he had met five patients with schizophrenia (and had heard of another twelve) who believed their lives were reality television shows. Gold named the syndrome "The Truman Show delusion" after the film and attributed the delusion to a world that had become hungry for publicity. Gold stated that some patients were rendered happy by their disease, while "others were tormented". One traveled to New York to check whether the World Trade Center had actually fallen—believing the 9/11 attacks to be an elaborate plot twist in his personal storyline. Another came to climb the Statue of Liberty, believing that he would be reunited with his high school girlfriend at the top and finally be released from the show.

In August 2008, the British Journal of Psychiatry reported similar cases in the United Kingdom. The delusion has informally been referred to as "Truman syndrome", according to an Associated Press story from 2008.

After hearing about the condition, Andrew Niccol, writer of The Truman Show, said: "You know you've made it when you have a disease named after you."