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With: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natacsha Mcelhone, Holland Taylor, Ed Harris
Written by: Andrew Niccol
Directed by: Peter Weir
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and mild language
Running Time: 102
Date: 06/01/1998

The Truman Show (1998)

4 Stars (out of 4)

How's It Going to End?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Truman Show is more than a brilliant movie. It's a brilliant idea for a movie, written by Andrew Niccol, perfectly executed by its director, Peter Weir, and brilliantly acted by Jim Carrey. It should be a big hit this summer because it's easy to see just how good it is. Its theme -- to what degree will we eventually allow television to outpower us? -- is clear, poignant, and relevant.

Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a man whose life seems normal (if Stepford-like) at first. He is married, lives in a nice house, drives a nice car, lives in a clean town, and says "hi" to the same people every day. But little things start happening. An electric light falls from the sky. He hears his own movements tracked on his car radio. People promote products in normal conversation for no apparent reason.

The reason is that Truman is on television, without his knowledge, and has been since he was in his mother's womb. It's a 24-hour-a-day broadcast, with no commercials (hence the relentless product placement). The creator of this monstrosity is Christof, played by Ed Harris, who lives and works in a giant superfortress TV studio, like a dark Heaven above Earth. Christof is a man who had the ego and the audacity to secretly film a man like a human guinea pig, and the persistence to keep it going for 30 years. The result is supposed to be real reactions, real dialogue. But what we actually get is a grand opera of epic proportions. What better conflict could there be in a movie than a head-to-head between actor and director, between man and God?

Director Peter Weir (Witness, Dead Poets Society) proves that he is the right man for the job. He takes the time to give us the lay of the land. The only two worlds in the film are Truman's and Christof's, and they're both equally unreal. Weir shows them to us in dark colors and blacks (for Heaven), and in light colors and whites (for Earth), perhaps the opposite of the traditional symbols. Weir's last film was Fearless, about a man who survives a plane crash, believes himself to be invulnerable, and begins taking serious risks in his life. Weir used Jeff Bridges' surroundings to suggest his inner turmoil, and he does the same for Carrey here. Each and every camera shot comes from odd angles that could be locations for hidden cameras (Christof informs us that there are over 5000 hidden cameras in Truman's small town). In Dead Poets Society, Weir tamed the otherwise uncontrollable Robin Williams and got a moving comic performance from him, and he does the same for Carrey in "The Truman Show".

The Truman Show was written by the gifted writer Andrew Niccol, who wrote and directed last year's excellent Gattaca. Many of today's best screenwriters are masters of dialogue or structure, but Niccol is a writer with ideas. It's strange how that simple element has been missing from films lately. Like Preston Sturges (Sullivan's Travels and The Lady Eve), he seems capable of presenting us with an absurd idea, then exploring its possibilities to the fullest.

It goes without saying that The Truman Show is Jim Carrey's very best work. My favorite up until now was The Mask, where he seamlessly merged his body with special effects. Here, he's still the doofus everyone loves, but with a hint of regret, and a little more grown up. He's a little like a Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life. I only wish we could have seen him in his direst moment, on his boat during the storm, but Weir instead pulls away to generate suspense. This is fine, but a single shot of Carrey's face during his ordeal would have worked wonders.

A few people have expressed disappointment with the film's ending, which has Truman walking out a door leading to the real world. We never see Truman entering the real world, nor his reuniting with his dream girl. Weir and Niccol were correct not to show this. Truman was a cartoon character in a cartoon character world, who changed and grew and developed human qualities. In essence, he was half-human, half-cartoon. Hence, he cannot exist in either world. Walking out the door was the last and most heroic thing Truman could have done.

The Truman Show is a great movie that one-ups other films like Network, which could not imagine the extent to which television would grow in 20 years. We can be entertained and warned at the same time.

In 2005, Paramount released a new Special Edition DVD, featuring a 2-part making-of featurette, another featurette on the film's visual effects, deleted scenes, a photo gallery and trailers. Sadly, there is no commentary track and Carrey is nowhere to be seen. The film is mastered in English 5.1 and 2.0, plus French 2.0 with optional English and Spanish subtitles.

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