Monday, 29 October 2012

The Truman Show (1998)

In this day and age, we can be going about our daily business and, unwittingly, find ourselves on camera almost all day long. CCTV is so prevalent in the UK that it's easy to imagine the country as nothing more than one big TV studio with all of us citizens starring in some show that we don't know about. Easy to imagine but, of course, complete fiction. What isn't complete fiction is the way in which more and more people, all around the world, now crave fame and put themselves in the public eye to get it at any cost. All you need is a modicum of talent, and sometimes not even that, and an ability to lose your dignity, your privacy and the right to make any human errors without being judged by the watching public. People want fame, people want to be celebrities.

That's the sweetness that lies at the dark heart of The Truman Show, an astonishing film that stars Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, a man unwittingly the star of a show that enthralls audiences worldwide. Truman Burbank is a huge celebrity, he's the most recognisable man on the planet, and yet he's unaware of it. In fact, Truman seems like the kind of man who wouldn't even want it. He lives his life in blissful ignorance of the fact that cameras are on him at all times, everyone around him just plays whatever part is required to keep his life a seemingly normal one and his world is a brilliantly-realised fake one. Of course, all of these things are also symptoms of some major mental health issues, which is why Truman struggles to grasp the truth even when a number of revealing incidents (a light falling from "the sky£, the reappearance of someone who had died many years before, problems with his car radio) start to make him look closer at everything around him. Would his wife (Laura Linney) be complicit in such a scheme? His best friend (Noah Emmerich)? What about the young woman (Natascha McElhone) he once loved, the one who was then taken away to Fiji after having - no pun intended - "an episode"?

Directed by Peter Weir, with a wonderful script by Andrew Niccol and a beautiful score by Philip Glass, The Truman Show isn't quite perfect but it comes damn close. Carrey gives a great performance in the main role, a role that sees him as the focus of pretty much every shot throughout the movie, but he's also allowed to invest his character with a few mannerisms that we've seen before so there are moments in which he feels like he's doing his schtick as opposed to being the everyman that Truman is. Those moments are very few and far between but they are there. Elsewhere, there's another great turn from Ed Harris as Christof, the creator of The Truman Show and someone with a clear relish for playing god. Paul Giamatti and Philip Baker Hall have small roles in the studio environment, while Harry Shearer also pops up as an interviewer who explains even more about the history and logistics of The Truman Show. Laura Linney is very good as the actress given the job of being Truman's wife and Natascha McElhone does well as a young woman who motivates Truman to want to travel abroad but the star turn really comes from Noah Emmerich, playing Truman's best friend. Emmerich brilliantly captures every aspect of his character, always putting on a convincing performance even while lines are being fed to him via hidden earpiece.

It's sad to see someone so unwittingly manipulated, their every move anticipated and pushed in the right direction, every aspect of their environment controlled and surrounded by people lying 24/7. But perhaps the saddest thing to realise is that celebrities who are aware of their own celebrity status can end up leading lives almost exactly like that of Truman and audiences will often push moral issues to one side whenever something or someone so entertaining pops into their lives.


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