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Special Film Review

Monday: August 24, 1998
The Truman Show and Paranoia

I've returned, not as a film critic, but as a Media critic. That is, in addition to reviewing movies, I will try to connect them with other media...TV, radio, print...or just with real life. Today, I wish to talk about the wonderful new Jim Carrey film, The Truman Show, and it's cultural impact so far. For those of you who don't know what it's about, let me give you a brief rundown of the plot. Truman Burbank (Carrey) is the star of a TV show that has run for thirty years. Completely surrounded by a specially designed stage (the largest ever produced), Truman doesn't know that he is the popular star of a world-wide phenomenon. He figures that his depressingly sitcom life is how the world truly is. He's watched constantly by thousands of hidden cameras, big and microscopic, which broadcast his life to the real world 24 hours a day. There are people who actually leave the TV on all night, just to see what unexpected thing he'll do next.

But Truman gets bored and restless, and starts to become aware that his surroundings, family and friends seem false. As he gradually learns his world isn't real, he becomes increasingly paranoid of the world around him. So he tries to escape, which Christof (played with cool precision by Ed Harris), the creator of Truman's world tries to thwart. Orwell in his wildest dreams would never have thought up a premise like this. Only in the multimedia era could something this unique and thought-provoking be brought to the screen. Still, it's not entirely original.

Shows like MTV's The Real World and Road Rules have followed real people closely and with the same determination as the control room operators of Truman's world. But are these people "prisoners" of television as Truman is? The answer: Yes and no. They are not watched 24 hours a day, and the cameramen usually shut the cameras off if nothing particully interesting is going on. But these young TV stars are, like most world-famous personalities, under constant scrutiny by the press and the public alike. Just like Truman, the press and public can't wait to see what they do next in their lives, both in private and public.

The Truman Show concept is starting to become more and more realistic, as the internet is beginning to prove. Let's see. We've already had a live birth shown on the internet and soap operas specially created for the net by the same techies who run them. How close are we to a real live Truman show? Closer than you think. Already, young computer whizzes are broadcasting their lives to millions all over the world. The difference is they have control over how their lives are run and the appropriate time for the camera to be turned off, unlike Truman's manufactured and manipulated existence.

These actions are probably going to make people more paranoid than need be, and more phobic of the internet then they should. The internet can be used as a tool by Big Brother, that's for certain. But it can also be used by regular Joes like us to strike back at Big Brother. Hard! The Truman Show might even be a metaphor of the struggle between supporters and detractors of the internet. Or it might be a metaphor of how Big Brother (i.e. big coporations) might be attempting to manipulate our lives with false images. Who knows? My opinion; Paranoia may be on a rise for awhile, but it's a passing fad. Already people are getting sick of Whitewater, Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories, or what Monica Lewinsky may or nay not have done with Clinton. What this astounding movie shows in it's climax (which I will not reveal) is that voyeurism is a part of human nature. It also shows that our voyeurism can get boring very quickly and our attention heads for something new. For sure, something more stimulating than watching guys like Truman sleep for eight hours. So fear not. There may be future celebs that are like Jim Carrey's sympathetic hero. But like Truman, they will not enjoy their prison for long, and will try and fly the coop. And you can bet people like you and me will be rooting for them all the way.

For further info on the Truman Show, you can visit these sites:

Free Truman Burbank. This is a fleshing out of the organization from the movie.

Internet Movie Database: The Truman Show (1998). Contains the info you need, including cast and crew bios, errors you might have missed in the film, development of the plot, etc.

Truman as Archtype. If you didn't particularly like my take on Truman's world, then check out this site's opinion on Truman and the film's influences.


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