The Truman Show
Director(s): Peter Weir
Writer(s): Andrew Niccol
Cast: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone, Holland Taylor and Ed Harris
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Jun 5, 1998 - Wide
I remember when I was a boy sitting under a tree and wondering whether my life was just an entertainment put on for somebody and the Earth was a ball contained in a glass sphere. I think we all ponder our existence that way when we’re kids.
In Peter Weir’s film The Truman Show, that idea is taken a step further and we discover that Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is the unwitting star of the world’s longest-running 24-hour-a-day documentary soap opera. Adopted at birth by a corporation run by Christof (Ed Harris), everything about Truman’s world is manufactured. His friends, his family, and the people on the streets are all actors. His town is actually a giant studio covered by an enormous dome. Cameras are hidden in his car, in buttons, and in the curbs on the street. Everything he does is monitored and broadcast to a worldwide audience who can also buy Truman products and who see carefully placed product placements like the beer can held to the camera by his friend as he offers it to him.
After thirty years, Truman starts to realize all is not well. He says he wants to go to Fiji but everyone around him tries to convince him otherwise. The papers daily herald how great his town of Seahaven is: “Who Needs Europe?” Travel agents tell him that all the flights to Fiji are booked. His wife says they can save and go in a few years. Then things start to happen that make Truman believe that his world is manufactured. A TV light falls from the sky and almost kills him. He bumps into his dead father, who gets quickly hustled off. He breaks routine and walks into a building only to glimpse actors behind a wall taking a break.
Truman’s need for the truth is also driven by the memory of a true love (Natascha McElhone) who tried to warn him something was up and was taken away while his now wife was forced upon him. Driven by the need to find her, Truman embarks on a journey that will change his life forever.
And what a journey it is. Peter Weir ([Witness, Fearless]) and his design staff have created a fantastical world of bright pastels, shadowless lighting and a mix of present-day items like cars and clothes straight out of the 50s/60s. One scarey thing about this is the fact that much of the film was shot in the real town of Seaside, where strict building codes make sure that all homes are neo-Victorian and have a white picket fence. The town is contrasted by Christof’s control room, a massive area hidden behind the always full moon, which is dark, gloomy, and sterile.
The real magic of this film, however, is the performance that Peter Weir has managed to get out of Jim Carrey. Carrey is not the rubber-faced comedian here that he was in Ace Ventura. He’s not even the slightly restrained but still physical actor he was in Liar, Liar. Truman Burbank is a tender, subtle performance from Jim Carrey. A look, an eyebrow, and even a glimpse at an inner thought all grace this performance. The film is being billed as a comedy, obviously to appeal to Jim’s audience, but the performance here is much darker and more dramatic. Some people are saying they’re reminded of a young Jimmy Stewart, and Carrey is definitely giving us a tease for performances yet to come. I wouldn’t even be surprised to see his name being tossed around at Oscar® time. Weir, who also calmed down Robin Williams in the Dead Poets Society, should open a clinic for comics. Expect to see Adam Sandler in a remake of All Quiet on the Western Front at a theatre near you.
Ed Harris also shines in this film, playing the God-like Christof, producer of The Truman Show. He manipulates everything from the people who walk down Truman’s street to the weather. Yet he also has controlled so many personal elements of his life, including creating the fears that keep him on the island. Christof sees nothing wrong with what he does and watches over everything that may give him higher ratings. Ed Harris plays him with the right amount of strength and aloofness. This is a man who honestly thinks he has provided a better life for Truman than he would find in the outside world.
Another standout in the cast is Laura Linney, the actress who plays Truman’s wife, Meryl. Meryl has the hardest role of all as she is required to live with Truman. She brings a sunny June Cleaver glow to the role, but is able to dull that glow as she is confronted by the changes in Truman’s life that soon lead to erratic behaviour.
The Truman Show is a true original. It’s funny. It’s moving. The performances by Jim Carrey and Ed Harris are inspired and inspiring, and Peter Weir’s direction ties it all together with a heart and intelligence that is usually lacking in the summer films. I think this film will find its audience and survive against the usual summer fare.
Photos ©1998 Paramount Pictures