A Timeless Classic
In 1998, Peter Weir directed a comedy-drama film called The Truman Show about a fake reality within a show. The film checks all the boxes in an ideal world written by Andrew Niccol. It is a good movie that effectively engages with its story. However, Weir builds on a brilliant premise with great direction, impeccable editing and cinematography, and an excellent performance by Jim Carrey. On the other hand, the film does not have many imperfections. At such a level, it has compelled people to rewatch and discuss it to this day. As such, both audiences and critics alike loved the film, and it remains an enduring but plausible classic. While the film is filled with thought-provoking motifs, themes, metaphors, meanings, and ideas, it subtly and compactly discusses overlapping analyses of philosophy because of its central point.
Weir made the film by depicting several people on TV. A man named Christof claimed that the world inhabited by humans is, in some ways, fake. However, one more crucial point is that there is nothing fake about Truman himself; it’s Truman’s innocent life surrounded by “actors.” A woman named Meryl asserted that Truman’s lifestyle represents a blessed and honorable life that God truly blesses.
On the other hand, Marlon insisted that Truman’s life is, in fact, entirely genuine. In essence, everything is accurate, and nothing is fake in this case. There is nothing that audiences witness on the long-running television show called The Truman Show. Within the film, the audience observes how someone above creates and controls the television program. It presents a montage of Truman’s life and reflects both the producers and the viewers watching the show. However, does that also mean that those of us who watch this film participate in this reflection?
Christof as Truman’s God
When Truman left his house for work and headed to the park, everyone greeted him warmly. This welcoming ceremony continued all the way down the street until Truman entered the workplace. People around Truman would wish him a good morning, turning him into a subject in this manner through their greetings. This is significant because if no one acknowledges or pays attention to someone, they don’t feel like the subject.
Truman’s status as a subject doesn’t solely rest on Truman himself but functions as a response to the interactions around him. Although not just Truman, these greetings compelled him to submit to the authority that Christof had created. When Truman responded to the people around him, he, in turn, made everyone submit. Ultimately, Christof, by controlling the system, holds authority over Truman, as evidenced by his ability to influence Truman’s actions, even as trivial as drinking water.
A False God
In addition to the fake reality, Weir also explores religious motifs and allegory in The Truman Show. Christof, the show’s creator, becomes a character study in this theme. He assumes the role of the world’s God, overseeing Truman’s life within a dome that contains a vast city. Christof manipulates Truman’s life to fulfill his desires by creating this world. Beyond serving as Truman’s personal God, he also stands as a mighty figure watching from above. Near the end of the film, Christof speaks to Truman from the sky, admitting that he is the God of Truman’s world.
When Christof tries to sink the boat Truman is on, he draws parallels with many old myths about Gods. He controls the weather to challenge ordinary people to achieve such a goal, portraying Christof as a God who is not literal but accomplishes divine actions. In other languages, he is seen as a false God due to his divine actions. Ultimately, Christof does things that even the Gods could not do; he becomes everything that God could have been in Truman’s personal life. It could also be interpreted that he plays the role of God, providing a “miracle” or “revelation” to Truman after a long-term test. After a brief conversation between Christof and Truman at the end of the film, Christof then allows Truman to leave the dome.
Christof is not a false or evil God; he simply isn’t hypocritical towards Truman. At the end of the film, everyone reacting to Truman’s actions provides hope, joy, and inspiration for many. He shows kindness to Truman by doing him a great favor. In many ways, Christof is not only a God to Truman but also a father, especially evident in their last conversation in the final scene. The way he touches the screen while Truman is sleeping or witnesses Truman being born into the world exemplifies the role of a father figure. Strangely, Christof becomes the father figure that Truman always wanted but never knew about.
Ultimately, the film prompts viewers to consider their perspective on religion. It critiques the notion of God speaking directly and literally to his servant. Does our reality eventually become real or fake? When God controls something that even humans themselves doubt exists or doesn’t exist, there is no random choice. In this case, the reality between Truman and the audience is not a coincidence. Every time it rains, God watches over his servant and listens to him every second. By extending this idea, the film paradoxically interprets both fake reality and actual reality itself.
Christof constructs Truman’s life with a plethora of fake realities but, on the other hand, exerts significant influence on Truman’s role. Truman’s world is a series of simulated frames. In one scene, Truman spots his father on the street, resembling a tramp. He gives chase but cannot catch him. At this point, he is bewildered by his father’s reappearance, considering that his father had died many years ago. However, he also recalls that they never found his father’s corpse. While discussing these events with his mother, she attempts to convince Truman that his father passed away long ago.
Simulation, or simulacra according to Baudrillard, represents the appearance that humans perceive as reality. Truman’s father exemplifies the concept in the way that Christof simulates Truman’s father. In this case, Christof’s method of simulating Truman’s father involves presenting an unreal object as if it were real. Essentially, simulacra conceal the truth itself. Truman’s father also embodies the human tendency to hide or feign, in order not to undermine the principle of reality itself. Hyperreality and simulation succinctly define Truman’s reality.
A Cave of Forgotten Reality
While Truman was conversing with Christof, Truman encountered a metaphorical “wall” that had a door Christof himself likened to a cave. The Truman Show serves as an experiment illustrating the equation of happiness with ignorance. To rephrase this, it explores how falsehoods can be more appealing than truth. The dome symbolizes Truman’s self-awareness, which is not genuine but is real to Truman, who remains unaware of its artifice. There exists no truth beyond the world Christof has created for Truman. The same deception offers Truman a choice: remain within the simulation or confront reality. Nonetheless, Truman has never had to confront a reality he never knew existed. However, this provides Truman with a fresh opportunity to experience a new reality in his life. Like everyone in the world, he yearns to live and experience objective reality devoid of falsehoods. Tragically, but ironically, he and the dome serve as complete escapes for those who watch Truman. The cave represents a reciprocal reality shared by Truman’s fans and Truman, engaging in an equivalent exchange—a reality where one person becomes another’s cave.
Does The Truman Show essentially present the true reality in contrast to the artificial lives everyone leads? To underscore, the film explores the concept that humans yearn for authenticity, highlighting that everyone is living a fabricated existence. However, this artificial life is not a creation of God but rather a product of human manipulation through media.
Nothing that humans perceive can be considered absolute truth. This also clarifies why Truman’s world closely resembles the outside world. The answer is apparent through countless questions: people crave reality, no matter how harsh it may be. That’s why the world Truman inhabits ultimately mirrors the world of the audience. It’s crucial to understand that Truman is the only authentic element in this scenario. This is why people are keen to observe him; they seek an escape from the falsehoods of their own lives. In essence, they prefer to watch the lives of others rather than their own fabricated existences. In the end, Truman stands as the embodiment of honesty in a world filled with deception.
With the multitude of ideas that Weir explores in The Truman Show, it moves beyond being just a film and predicts an impending reality epidemic. There is much for people to comprehend about how toxicity manifests within the fan base surrounding Truman.
During the commercial breaks, viewers gradually begin to realize the exposure of the transition from one advertisement to another and from one corner to the next. Truman’s general audience comes to understand that the show is merely one among many. Ultimately, this trait becomes poisonous and serves as a means of escaping from numerous truths, lies, anger, and jealousy, all rolled into one.
Nevertheless, what might be considered one of the most incredible television shows ever produced remains unchanged. The entertainment persists and has not made a significant impact on society. For instance, when Meryl Burbank, Truman’s wife, willingly placed herself in a similar position to Truman’s, she lived in the spotlight every day, leading a fabricated life for the sake of fame, attention, and money. Various creators traded their lives for wealth and fame.
To emphasize, Meryl engaged in a sexual relationship with Truman solely for the promise of a substantial bonus. In the end, she relinquished everything and was no different from Truman. Essentially, she could only lead a voluntary fake life but received feedback in return.
In Baudrillard’s concept, The Truman Show draws a parallel between the fabricated Disney world and reality. Adults exhibit childlike behavior at Disney, leading them to believe that they don’t act childishly in their actual lives. Conversely, long-term viewers of Truman’s shows believe they reside in the real world, and such a program discourages them from questioning reality and the truth. The same effect may also apply to people who watch the film.
Within the film, reflections of profound reality distort the nature of reality, concealing the absence of such profound reality. Essentially, the film has no connection to any reality and exists as a pure simulation. Advertising also plays a pivotal role in the film. In its design and social glorification in all its forms, the meta-narrative in the film revolves around socialization. It desensitizes aspects of the public sphere and becomes a message in itself. Although it doesn’t directly involve communication media, the audience’s reaction to the advertisements doesn’t evolve into an event.
A Critical Film
The Truman Show can serve as commentary or criticism of a fabricated society and a simulated reality within a narrative. However, it delves into something deeper—it’s about all of us and how people are intrinsically tied to their destinies. It explores how we all yearn for reality because, ultimately, our lives are not far from being artificial. We consume entertainment that lacks genuine emotional connection to reality, and while it may not necessarily impact us in the same way, it does leave us wanting more.
Some people may prefer to remain within their metaphorical caves indefinitely, while others seek to venture beyond. People have a desire to uncover the truth, but some are content with perpetuating a falsehood. At a subtle glance, The Truman Show presents a more critical and pessimistic outlook. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting how the film offers numerous valuable lessons to take away.
- Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and simulation. University of Michigan press.
- Rayner, J. (2003). The Films of Peter Weir. A&C Black.
- Wolny, R. W. (2017). Hyperreality and Simulacrum: Jean Baudrillard and European Postmodernism. European Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 3(3), 75-79.