Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ten Years Gone: The Truman Show

This entry is part of an ongoing series in where I take a look back at landmark films and albums released 10 years ago.

In 1998, the concept of The Truman Show seemed inconceiveable. How could the entired world be caught up in a television show that claimed to be real, but was in fact artificial and manufactured? And how could a program that tracked the life of a man 24/7 even make it onto the air in the first place? Indeed, at the time, it did feel like a fantasy. Flash forward 10 years later and we find ourselves not all that far from a Truman Show-esque world. Two years after The Truman Show, a little show called Survivor captured the attention of a nation. It surprisingly kickstarted a genre and gave birth to a new phrase: reality television. The genre of reality TV has since grown to the point where it even garners its own categories at the Emmys, the most prestigious event in the television industry. In the year 2008, nothing seems to be sacred any more in reality TV and The Truman Show is looking more and more conceiveable with each passing year. Reality television has gotten to the point where it feels as pre-manufactured as a scripted show, but it matters very little, just as it did to the viewers in the movie. The star of the show in the movie, Truman Burbank, has his every move recorded by hidden cameras unknowingly and is essentially living in a controlled bubble. Everyone in his life is a paid actor being fed dialogue and plot outlines by the show's producers and the only thing that is "real" is Truman's reaction. The Truman Show is even more prophetic in the sense that not only did the world become addicted to reality TV, the "reality" itself has been revealed to be orchestrated by a behind-the-scenes puppet master.

While The Truman Show was a critical and commercial success, it seems to often get lost in the shuffle when the discussion of the 90's canon comes up. This could be in part due to its omission in the Best Actor and Best Picture categories at the Academy Awards, which was surprising even at the time since Jim Carrey won a Golden Globe for his performance. Furthermore, Jim Carrey's dramatic career was stalled after the tepid reception to 2001's The Majestic. Two years later, he appeared in the blockbuster comedy Bruce Almighty and he has mostly stuck with comedy since then.

The Truman Show may not enter the long-lasting cultural conscience the way that other Peter Weir films have, such as Witness and Dead Poets' Society, but it is by no means a slouch of a movie either. Jim Carrey gives one of the best performances of his career in a role that would be unimaginable in anyone else's hands. There is a sense of madness to Truman when he starts to realize that his world is not what it seems and Jim Carrey's usual spastic ticks actually lend plausibility to a character who is moments away from blowing his top, but yet remains likeable enough to capture the attention of a worldwide audience. There are also fantastic performances by the rest of the cast, including Laura Linney, Paul Giamatti and an Academy Award nominated turn by Ed Harris. The Truman Show is also a throwback to a time where the major studios still took risks on big budget projects. While it is a Jim Carrey movie from the 90's, The Truman Show is at its heart an art house film filled with ambition and imagination, and not afraid to shy away from its dark themes just to appease a mainstream audience.

I tend to watch The Truman Show every couple of years (after all, it is one of my favorite movies). The first time I viewed it post-1998, I thought it simply just a remarkable film. With each viewing, it becomes eerily apparent that it is more than just a remarkable film, but our likely future.

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