Skip to main content

Fiji. We're moving to Fiji.

The Truman Show

(SPOILERS) I’d had it in mind to revisit The Truman Show for a while now, and it seems many are rediscovering the picture with fresh eyes amidst a plandemic and the implications that holds for our paradigm. It’s a film I’ve never quite been able to embrace. There’s something about it that’s a little too facile, a little too on-the-nose. And I say that as an unabashed Peter Weir fan. Even with a few new angles to bring to the picture twenty-odd years later, I find that take hasn’t really changed.

I mean, its main characters are called Truman and Cristof! But that’s Andrew Niccol for you; any conscientious Hollywood writer wishing to debate themes of substance and merit is ultimately doomed to display a distinct lack of subtlety. That said, many popular readings of The Truman Show have focussed more on its pertinence and prescience with regard to reality TV and surveillance state, the normalisation of monitoring and our adaptability to modes of performance and behaviour in response to the same, rather than the premise of questioning core existential fundamentals.

Niccol’s original idea was, according to Weir, much more depressing (that wouldn’t be surprising if you’ve seen Gattaca). It was also more explicitly science-fictiony. Weir lightened it up, imbuing it with that Groundhog Day meets 50s sitcom quality (and it does carry, after all a hopeful message: Truman escapes).

A problem for the allegorical or cautionary picture is that it may not feel it needs to justify its milieu, as long as the big idea comes across. The Truman Show doesn’t really broach the legality or ethics of Truman as a goldfish in a bowl, other than to show the opposition of Sylvia (Natascha McElhone) to his plight. We are told he was “the first child to be legally adopted by a corporation” (and one can extrapolate various real-world referentiality from that, such as the impact of maritime law and trading birth certificates on the stock market). Which doesn’t really address that everyone globally, give or take, seems okay with this deception. You can analogise Truman’s plight in all sorts of valid ways, but whether this is a functional vision is a different matter.

Beyond that, though, the picture focusses in an amiably unhurried fashion on Truman’s awakening to the truth of his situation, that the world he took for granted is a deceit (see also the same year’s Dark City and the following’s The Matrix). For the sake of the movie milieu, everything is about Truman (“Maybe I’m losing my mind… But it feels like the whole world revolves around me somehow”), but one can easily extend that to the hoodwinking of the entire population. Hence its current pertinence. Indeed, more than a scenario where only a few are awake/awakening and others blindly act like sheep, one might argue The Truman Show is presenting an inverse here: that the real point is all those who KNOW they’re acting parts, per Truman’s co-stars, yet willingly spend their entire lives going through the motions in a plastic reality for the sake of a pay cheque, sacrificing all scruples and integrity. It’s easier just to go along with it all.

The extent of the individual’s self-realisation is closely guarded. As Cristof blithely notes, “We accept the reality of the world which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that”. Which means Truman must be steered away from anything that might cause him to question the status quo. His yen for travel or changes of circumstances are quashed by “friends”, “family” or “circumstance”. When he isn’t in thrall to his fears and phobias. On the most basic level, then, this is about personal fulfilment, and how a lifetime of acquiescence represents living, if not a lie, then an unlived life. On another, more fundamental to the picture’s construct, it amounts to being fed a carefully fashioned fabrication regarding the hows, whys and wherefores of our existence (“As Truman grew up, we were forced to manufacture ways to keep him on the island”).

I came across, by chance, two different references to the same excerpt from 1984 in the past few days, in which Winston Smith is instructed by interrogator O’Brien regarding the nature of that which he takes to be true (“We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull”). O’Brien casts doubt on Winston’s assumptions in respect of everything from the age of the earth, to dinosaurs, to the stars (“Nothing exists except through human consciousness”). Cristof’s ethos is exactly the same, except that he manufactures a very individually tailored framework for Truman’s human consciousness.

Such is the nature of Cristof’s divine power (“I am the creator…” he informs Truman) that many have reasonably identified him with the gnostic demiurge, the false or corrupt creator (others have explicitly seen Cristof as the Antichrist; some rather inaccurately equate the two). Often, this derives from a fiercely accusatory, Christian standpoint, it should also be noted. Thus, The Truman Show is denounced as an intentionally misguiding text, since it becomes one that sinks an orthodoxly Christian reading of the world (but again, we have to remember that in the Niccol’s fiction, Truman is able to leave this false creation; indeed, Cristof explicitly allows him to – I’ve also seen the stairs Truman climbs at the end associated with freemasonry, although they aren’t of the winding variety).

As Cristof says, “There is no more truth out there than there is in the world I created for you”. Of course, there are numerous different takes on the positioning and purview of the demiurge, depending on the branch of Gnosticism you pick, but the common thread of a corrupt or false (or illusory) material world is at the focus of modern treatments. And – leaving aside for a moment that the gnostic reading may, give or take, be an accurate one and that a Christian take is going to be necessarily partial – there are reasonable grounds to be doubtful over the resurgence of this belief in recent decades, be it as a predictive programming psyop designed to diminish association with the material realm and so invest further in the technocratic escape that seems imminent, or simply to embed an incipient despair over a futile existence (what could be worse than no God – a actively antagonistic one).

The other areas Christian – or gnostic – readings have leapt upon, being as the movement has a noteworthy religious association, is that The Truman Show codes itself as espousing a Flat Earth environment. Or at very least, an enclosed realm. The stars in the sky are not real stars. At the outset, a “ceiling” light crashes into the street near Truman bearing the legend “Sirius”. Which is itself resonant of the theory that satellites, if indeed there are any up there, are hooked into the dome over the Earth. Cristof, meanwhile, lives in an also non-physical moon (at one point, we hear the instruction “Cue the Sun”). Truman sets off in a boat and reaches the edge of the world (which suggests both the barrier of Antarctica and Time Bandits).

One could, if one wished, extended a further satirical reading – strangely, this isn’t a movie that makes much opportunity of that – to The Truman Show. After all, the posters at the travel agent warn “Travellers beware: Have you bought enough insurance to protect against – Terrorists Disease Wild Animals Street Gangs” (the first two of which have been directly used to restrict travel subsequently). In Seahaven, nuclear power is a fake (as some claim it to be) and allopathic medicine is a sham (as some claim it to be); the Geiger counters register hot for Truman, and the doctors don’t know what they’re doing (or nurses, come to that).

It’s also a nice touch that anyone protesting Truman’s reality is bought off (dad) or supressed (Natasha). It’s worth mentioning Carrey’s positioning in all this too, crossing over to a dramatic lead with just so much of his schtick along for the ride. He would embark on his own quest to investigate the nature of reality during the subsequent decade, taking in such (crassly) esoteric fare as The Number 23 and a personal association with Transcendental Meditation, as well as announcing himself as an anti-vaxer. He’d also be seen calling out the Illuminati on TV, leading to various suggestions as to the fate of his girlfriend (and notionally a historic blood sacrifice compromise for his success) and his subsequent doubling down on working according to script (anti-Trump rhetoric via grotesque artwork; returning to gurning Hollywood fare like Sonic the Hedgehog). If that’s the case, perhaps there’s resonance to Cristof’s “Truman prefers his cell, as you call it”. And that, since “You are the star”, Carrey must perform that prescribed role or else.


Popular posts from this blog

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files 8.7: Via Negativa I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh ), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth . For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa .

Schnell, you stinkers! Come on, raus!

Private’s Progress (1956) (SPOILERS) Truth be told, there’s good reason sequel I’m Alright Jack reaps the raves – it is, after all, razor sharp and entirely focussed in its satire – but Private’s Progress is no slouch either. In some respects, it makes for an easy bedfellow with such wartime larks as Norman Wisdom’s The Square Peg (one of the slapstick funny man’s better vehicles). But it’s also, typically of the Boulting Brothers’ unsentimental disposition, utterly remorseless in rebuffing any notions of romantic wartime heroism, nobility and fighting the good fight. Everyone in the British Army is entirely cynical, or terrified, or an idiot.

Isn’t it true, it’s easier to be a holy man on the top of a mountain?

The Razor’s Edge (1984) (SPOILERS) I’d hadn’t so much a hankering as an idle interest in finally getting round to seeing Bill Murray’s passion project. Partly because it seemed like such an odd fit. And partly because passion isn’t something you tend to associate with any Murray movie project, involving as it usually does laidback deadpan. Murray, at nigh-on peak fame – only cemented by the movie he agreed to make to make this movie – embarks on a serious-acting-chops dramatic project, an adaptation of W Somerset Maugham’s story of one man’s journey of spiritual self-discovery. It should at least be interesting, shouldn’t it? A real curio? Alas, not. The Razor’s Edge is desperately turgid.

It’s not as if she were a… maniac, a raving thing.

Psycho (1960) (SPOILERS) One of cinema’s most feted and most studied texts, and for good reason. Even if the worthier and more literate psycho movie of that year is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom . One effectively ended a prolific director’s career and the other made its maker more in demand than ever, even if he too would discover he had peaked with his populist fear flick. Pretty much all the criticism and praise of Psycho is entirely valid. It remains a marvellously effective low-budget shocker, one peppered with superb performances and masterful staging. It’s also fairly rudimentary in tone, character and psychology. But those negative elements remain irrelevant to its overall power.

You have done well to keep so much hair, when so many’s after it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitherto, I was most familiar with Jeremiah Johnson in the form of a popular animated gif of beardy Robert Redford smiling and nodding in slow zoom close up (a moment that is every bit as cheesy in the film as it is in the gif). For whatever reason, I hadn’t mustered the enthusiasm to check out the 1970s’ The Revenant until now (well, beard-wise, at any rate). It’s easy to distinguish the different personalities at work in the movie. The John Milius one – the (mythic) man against the mythic landscape; the likeably accentuated, semi-poetic dialogue – versus the more naturalistic approach favoured by director Sydney Pollack and star Redford. The fusion of the two makes for a very watchable, if undeniably languorous picture. It was evidently an influence on Dances with Wolves in some respects, although that Best Picture Oscar winner is at greater pains to summon a more sensitive portrayal of Native Americans (and thus, perversely, at times a more patr

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.

You’re a disgrace, sir... Weren’t you at Harrow?

Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) (SPOILERS) I hadn’t seen this one in more than three decades, and I had in mind that it was a decent spy spoof, well populated with a selection of stalwart British character actors in supporting roles. Well, I had the last bit right. I wasn’t aware this came from the stable of producer Harry Alan Towers, less still of his pedigree, or lack thereof, as a sort of British Roger Corman (he tried his hand at Star Wars with The Shape of Things to Come and Conan the Barbarian with Gor , for example). More legitimately, if you wish to call it that, he was responsible for the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu flicks. Our Man in Marrakesh – riffing overtly on Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana in title – seems to have in mind the then popular spy genre and its burgeoning spoofs, but it’s unsure which it is; too lightweight to work as a thriller and too light on laughs to elicit a chuckle.

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

I tell you, it saw me! The hanged man’s asphyx saw me!

The Asphyx (1972) (SPOILERS) There was such a welter of British horror from the mid 60s to mid 70s, even leaving aside the Hammers and Amicuses, that it’s easy to lose track of them in the shuffle. This one, the sole directorial effort of Peter Newbrook (a cameraman for David Lean, then a cinematographer), has a strong premise and a decent cast, but it stumbles somewhat when it comes to taking that premise any place interesting. On the plus side, it largely eschews the grue. On the minus, directing clearly wasn’t Newbrook’s forte, and even aided by industry stalwart cinematographer Freddie Young (also a go-to for Lean), The Aspyhx is stylistically rather flat.

I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.

North by Northwest (1959) (SPOILERS) North by Northwest gets a lot of attention as a progenitor of the Bond formula, but that’s giving it far too little credit. Really, it’s the first modern blockbuster, paving the way for hundreds of slipshod, loosely plotted action movies built around set pieces rather than expertly devised narratives. That it delivers, and delivers so effortlessly, is a testament to Hitchcock, to writer Ernest Lehmann, and to a cast who make the entire implausible exercise such a delight.