In some aspects, The Truman Show is a better representation of our current world than the one it was meant to reflect. Originally released in 1998 the film centers around Truman Burbank in a society that, unbeknownst to him, is completely fabricated. The time period is enough to establish the film was supposed to reflect the post-cold war era, where Americans were still paranoid after trudging through years of potential nuclear war. It also was created during the time when reality television was becoming something of a phenomenon. Programs like Survivor and Big Brother became massive commercial powerhouses spawning versions of itself worldwide.
As their influence began to reach farther the more they became more and more a part of everyday life. At home or in public, conversations shifted to be about the people onscreen. We now had a weekly stream of programming that gave us something to talk about. And it was all real. Right? Well, that’s the thing. We don’t know how much we can separate the fact from farce. I suppose that’s the salient allure of reality television. To attempt to read between the lines of a show that in its simplest form is just a by-product of its superior predecessors.
However, the show within The Truman Show attempts to circumvent this potential discrepancy by making its main character as authentic as possible. The only downside is that to make him feel and act real, he must not know everything around him isn’t. Truman’s first inclination of this truth comes at the beginning of the film when a stage light falls in the middle of his picturesque suburban neighborhood. The light is marked “Sirius” after the real-life star system. It’s widely known as the worlds brightest star. This would prove to be the catalyst for a new wave of discovery for Truman.
Many cite the appearance of Truman’s deceased father as the reason for why he begins to question the reality he’s been conceived in. Even the director of the fake television show says the same thing later in the film. However, many are quick the write off the strange happening that occurs right at the beginning. Not only does it allude to something much more sinister for Truman, but it also resonates with the audience as well.
The whole premise itself is rather ironic and opens up a lot of conversations about existentialism, societal values, and consumerism. Is Truman’s life really worth living if everything is a lie? What does The Truman Show tell us about our reality that we can’t seem to figure out ourselves? Well, there’s certainly a lot to unpack in those sentiments.
Existentialism is a philosophical theory that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will. As an audience can we say Truman is really living a free life governed by his own will? The natural response would likely be no. As his entire life has been determined by the producers and writers of his show. There are set rules he’s playing by. Rules he’s unaware of. So isn’t it fair to say that because he has these rules he’s unaware of he’s still technically living his own life? Regardless of the predetermined events he still has the ability to live, the things that happen to him are simply out of his control. However, isn’t this the case for everyone? Not just Truman. Here in lies the central argument used by Truman show fans. It’s why within the film there are people who want to free Truman and others who don’t. In fact, it’s the director, Christof’s, rebuttal to Sylvia when she argues for the release of Truman.
He could leave at any time. If his was more than just a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him.
It’s that use of the phase vague ambition that makes Christof’s words seem so persuasive. In truth, we all hold some sort of vague ambition to go out and do something. American culture since the beginning of time has been based around the idea of “The American Dream.” It’s the de facto ethos that drives society. Its what makes the character of Truman so inspiring, not only in our world but in the fictional world of the movie itself. To many in the film, Truman is seen as a hero of sorts, a cultural icon whose influence is shown in the movie to have spread well beyond America. It’s here where the audience learns about what society values.
I’ll never forget the final words the movie plays out on. When all is said and done and Truman finally reaches the end of his 29-year long torment he utters his catchphrase whilst looking straight into the camera before heading out into the great unknown.
In case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!
Now, this alone would have been enough to appropriately end the cinematic masterpiece that is The Truman Show. However, the true final line of the film solidifies the overall intent director Peter Weir had when he created this film. The true final words the film ends on comes from two policemen who were shown watching the show throughout the film. As Truman leaves through the black door, the transmission is abruptly cut and one of the policemen remarks:
Let’s see what else is on.
As all great things begin, they must also end. And in the end, we’re left with a promise of something else that may be on. The insatiable audience is left craving more and yet we search for something else. The next craze to obsess over before another one follows in its wake. History continues to repeat itself. Truman was simply a passing fad that seemed to have overstayed its welcome. As the world became used to the prospect of reality television we became increasingly apathetic to its potentially damaging effects. Not just to the actors in these shows but the people watching them.
There have been several instances of reality television stars experiencing intense hardship after appearing on reality television. Real World: New Orleans alum Preston Roberson-Charles detailed the overwhelming wave of negative feedback and struggles he experienced after appearing on the show. However, there’s also a flipside to this painful truth if you consider the fact that our current President, Donald Trump, initially gained notoriety due to his appearance on the reality television show The Apprentice. While the prospect of a future president coming exclusively from reality television seems very unlikely, the thought is enough to spur some interesting debate. You never know, often times fact is stranger than fiction.