Monday, May 23, 2011

The Truman Show (Peter Weir)

A touch.

Our protagonist's name is Truman. Of course it's a play on the words 'true' and 'man', implying that he is the only person in his make-believe reality that is, well, living a genuine existence. But from that simple wordplay materializes a fascinating exploration of an individual's awakening consciousness in the midst of a soap opera-like artificiality. If ever you find out that the perceived life around you is nothing but a novel-length script and the people that surround you nothing but a mass collection of actors and bit players, would you lash out? If yes, won't you consider the utopia of a perfect life that it has got to offer? An existence where everyone is your friend and vice versa? A life without any blemishes save for the occasional ones of your own? This is what "The Truman Show" has raised with emotional wonder and revelatory humor, while adding up an unforgettably absurdist, over-the-top view of the advantageous inner core of media's wholeness. From that combination, the film, directed by Peter Weir and written by Andrew Niccol, which could have also been directed by Frank Capra and penned by Paddy Chayefsky (of "Network") in their heydays, is an optimistic, sometimes dramatic, at times laughably satiric contemporary classic whose spirit-soaring vibes only Hollywood can pull off. With enough visionary intent, that is.

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" proved that Jim Carrey is infinitely better in non-comedic roles and "The Truman Show" only furthered the fact. He plays Truman Burbank, the unknowing reality TV show personality, with perfect humor and pathos that combine to inspire empathy. And through his portrayal, he also ignites in the process the hidden paranoiac within us all. What if my whole family is unreal? What if they bring home groceries merely because of advertising commitments? You may say it's far-fetched, but it's a valid psychological condition, and it has a name ("The Truman Show Delusion", or simply, "The Truman Syndrome"). Now back to Jim Carrey's acting, his antics, exaggerated and all, is littered everywhere but were never the focus of the film. The laughs, although not as loud and boisterous as how a common comedy film would have evoked it, are much more rewarding.

It's never Jim Carrey all the time. No, it was not just him that produces the focal comedy, but the idea of his character's place and situation. Consider the scene where he's (as Truman) driving his car when suddenly the car radio goes out of frequency and unexpectedly feeds off a stoic, trained narration/instruction of his present place and the street he is currently driving through. He then reacts with sublime surprise far from his usual face-distorting persona that made him a household name. But nevertheless, we laughed. I laughed. The crew's technical glitches, Truman's ever-smiling, by-the-book wife Meryl (impressively played by Laura Linney), even the countless advertisements in between Truman's life. Sure, there is Jim Carrey and his embodiment of a modern cinematic funnyman in the center, but "The Truman Show", with its knock-out visual splendor, energy and existentialist views, extracts its comedy from endless sources other than its central actor. That is one of the instances where the richness of a material really shows. It's got a scene-stealing actor headlining, but the film never delved to fully capitalize on him. Its foundations are indeed strong enough and the film preferred it for Carrey to purely act and embrace Truman Burbank and not the other way around. The latter would have been too distracting.

But I have to admit, I have raised an eyebrow on some of the technologies used in the film, notably the water and wind-controlling system that simulates a storm and the artificial moon that serves as the night light of Truman's town and also harbors the ubiquitous Christof (the ever-reliable Ed Harris), the puppet master of it all, and his crew. The concept of that particular control room is too visually excessive that they look more like megalomaniacal Bond villains than TV show staffs. But looking at both sides, that brief complain of mine can also be counterpointed by the fact that "The Truman Show" IS a satire, and also, maybe because the film is consciously set in a not so distant future with an ambiguous time frame so creation of things bordering implausibility are completely acceptable.

"The Truman Show" is and always will be a perennial feel-good movie, with Jim Carrey showing his competence on playing a transcendent character that reminds a lot of Jimmy Stewart's unique everyman appeal. But beyond the laughter and tears, the film is also a fascinatingly original depiction of what mainstream media has ultimately become, from its initial innocence to its present condition almost completely akin to gratuitous voyeurism. It shows the bastardization of entertainment and its toll on its unaware and unwilling participants. And with that, "The Truman Show", made in 1998 some years before the true boom of reality shows, is indeed quite prophetic. Ed Harris' Christof a mirror of TV's "Big Brother"? Who would have known?


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