By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
When I was 12 years old, my mother did something to me that I’ll never forget. It filled me with confusion and complex feelings I couldn’t yet understand. It was good, but also felt… not quite right. I’m still dealing with the ramifications of that event even in adulthood, and hardly a week goes by when I don’t think about it. That’s right, my mother… showed me The Truman Show.
A role usually filled by uncles named Larry
If you’ve watched this film, especially in your formative years, then you and your psychologist knew the plot of this film all too well. For the rest of you, who I can only assume are paid actors, The Truman Show is about Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), who unbeknownst to him has lived his entire life as the star of a massively popular reality show in which everyone around him is a professional actor.
There is an actual psychological complex named after and partially attributed to this film. How much more influence do you need? I can’t mention this to a member of my peer group to this day without hearing about how they sometimes suspect they’re like Truman, and I’ll even make that the subject of a quality daydream myself from time to time. It’s just a fascinating subject, fit for endless exploration. What if your entire world is an artificial construct? How would they do it? Would people actually bother to watch you 24 hours a day?
Verily, your life is a source of endless intrigue.
Some of the reality show touches hold up better than others, but there’s no denying that this film was almost prescient in some of the Big Brothery ways real people would become objects of entertainment, and a lot of thought was clearly put into how exactly Truman’s world would function. My favorite part is the ever-present and often hilariously cheeseball product placement.
What really makes the film work, though, are the performances. Laura Linney and Noah Emmerich have the interesting task of actors playing actors playing real people, and Linney in particular nails how such a person might handle what happens when things start going off-script. Ed Harris, as the show’s creator/director Christof, gets to chew scenery at the end when confronted with the unpredictability of his creation and the limits of his control. But above all, this is Jim Carrey’s movie. His portrayal of a questioning, rapidly destabilizing Truman looks a lot like Jim Carrey, but overall he superbly demonstrates for the first time his equal or greater talents for drama.
Well, some drama, anyway.
Notice how I said that some of the TV edits and flourishes hold up better than others. Well, some don’t hold up well at all. Elements like the usage of sound effects and slow-motion replay might themselves be clever commentaries on the inherent stupidity of this caliber of TV, but that doesn’t negate how just plain awful they look. Do yourself a favor and temporarily shave a few points off your I.Q. if it starts to get to you.
Once you think about the setup for a minute, all you get is more questions. In the thrown-together surgery scene, do they actually cut into that patient’s leg? Just how big of a lawsuit would that have caused? Why did they think combing the streets linked arm in arm was an effective way to find Truman? Did they assume Truman was hiding in the weeds like a child corpse? On a more macro scale, Laura Linney’s basically a whore, right? Did they pay any other actresses to have sex with him before he met her? And 11-year old me really, really needs to know… what about all of the farts? There must be hours and hours of footage of those.
It may not hold up as the seminal work I remembered, but Jim Carrey’s performance and the pure genius of the central conceit will ensure you’ll still chew this one over for a lot longer than you’d expect.