There are two genres that can prove to be darkly prophetic. On the one hand you have science fiction. Think of 2001:A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, or even RoboCop, and how they have seemingly predicted things that have come to pass.
The other is satire. RoboCop would also fall under this banner, but the most potent one has to be Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney J.Lumet’s masterful 1976 comedy drama, Network. If you’ve never seen Network, watch it and then watch Fox News and see how on the money that film was when it came to predicting the future direction of television news.
Flash forward to 1998, another movie would take the media and television and make prophetic story telling choices, but whereas Network was bitingly dark and built to a dark ending the likes of which 1970’s Hollywood was great at doing, The Truman Show is a lighter and frothier concoction that looks as if it could fall into the trap of being a high concept comedy the likes of which Jim Carrey excelled at back in the mid-90’s, but which proved to be not only one of his best performances, but also one of the best films of its decade, an intelligent slice of satirical sci-fi the likes of which Hollywood doesn’t do enough of, the price we pay it seems for the endless (albeit enjoyable) barrage of comic book movies and franchise universe building.
When the film was released in 1998, it was acclaimed for its originality and brilliant story telling, as well as its themes, some of which have proven fertile ground for those who want to look into the film more deeply. In many ways, it could make a great double bill with the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day; a seemingly high concept comedy with themes dealing with religious and spiritual philosophy.
As the last eighteen years have went on, we have found ourselves surrounded by a never-ending barrage of television shows that are classified as “reality”. One year after The Truman Show premiered, Big Brother made its debut in the Netherlands, before crossing over to UK television a year later and then seemingly the rest of the world. As the years have went on, The Truman Show, which of course deals with the ultimate reality show, the life story of a man who doesn’t know he is the star of a television show, his wife, closest friends and population of the town he lives in occupied by actors, has started to look less like the work of a wonderful imagination, and more like a dark work of prophecy that was warning us of what was to come.
The film could even be seen to passing comment on “surveillance culture” before such a thing became a subject on concern in these internet and technologically heavy times. Truman essentially lives in a town which has hidden cameras on EVERYTHING.
Spiritually and thematically, The Truman Show is an incredibly deep work that initially started off as a spec script from Andrew Niccol that was purchased by Paramount. Director Peter Weir came on board, had Niccol re-write the script to make it lighter than his darker New York-set original take, and cast Jim Carrey.
The casting of Carrey was a masterstroke. Seemingly the clown faced comedian that you either loved or hated (growing up in the 90’s, I LOVED his movies), Weir casting Carrey was similar to his choices in casting Harrison Ford in Witness and Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, masterful movies also, that saw their lead actors somewhat out of their comfort zone showing different sides than audiences would have been used to.
Carrey does get a chance to be silly, but his performance as the film goes on becomes increasingly paranoid and desperate, and was a revelation for anyone who was more used to Ace Ventura:Pet Detective or Liar Liar. Having tried something different in The Cable Guy, but which did middling box office and earned negative reviews, The Truman Show was better received and a was a hit at the box office, as well as scored a ton of award nominations, but unfortunately had the might of Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare in Love to contend with, meaning it left most award ceremonies empty-handed.
In 2016, The Truman Show is still talked about, Shakespeare in Love has been all but forgotten. Go figure.
The direction is flawless, the writing is perfect, Carrey is wonderful, and he is surrounded by a great supporting cast, in particular Ed Harris as Christof, the creator of the show, who brings class and dignity to a character who could easily have been played arch and typically “evil”.
I could write all day about how great Laura Linney is, whose character Meryl, Truman’s “wife”, not only comes across as somewhat Stepford-like in her perfection, but has to reference the products within the show too, and then there is Noah Emmerich and Natasha McElhone. Emmerich as Marlon is likeable, but of course is only “acting”, whilst McElhone as Truman’s true love Cheryl, who has campaigned for his freedom after being thrown off the show for trying to tell him the truth, brings dignity and compassion to her role.
The film builds to an incredibly intense and moving climax that I dare not spoil here, but it’s a film that leaves you exhilarated and with much food for thought. It’s brain food cinema of the highest order, but a movie that can just be watched on a surface level too. It’s perfection, and is just a little under a hundred minutes of thought-provoking, moving and scary cinema because it damn well had its finger on a pulse we didn’t realise was beating yet and has, as the years have gone on, proven even more powerful and more thought-provoking.
COMING SOON: “I’d buy that for a dollar.”