The Truman Show Is The Ultimate Movie For Escaping Lockdown
Anxiety, restlessness, wistful daydreams: of late, many cannot accept the world as it’s presented. Our spirits needed The Truman Show, an escape from reality about an escape to reality.
‘How’s it going to end?’ A question not just simmering behind the film’s facade, but ricocheting in our ramshackle minds through the twisty, turny hellfire of 2020 – Sitterson and Hadley’s betting board must be raking in the cash.
The real world just isn’t cutting the mustard. Relief may come from within, but reprieve can be gifted. With Netflix’s latest slew of additions to mark the start of July, The Truman Show has emerged as a popular, rather romantic insignia of the anguish we feel and faith we crave.
The times they are a-changing. The immediate post-millennium boom of reality TV has evolved far beyond the triviality of Big Brother into the arena of privacy-infringing gimmickry, where people can’t see, hear or f*ck each other in the name of binge-worthy social science.
Rewind to 1998 and Peter Weir’s vision evokes one word: prescience. Not of exact concept, but loss of control, the Orwellian obedience to our entertainment masters, the disproportionate fixation on ultra-boring individuals playing the fiddle of likes and retweets.
We peer through the bathroom mirror to see a blank Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey in an Oscar-deserved performance), starring into the po-faced abyss of his reflection. ‘I’m not gonna make it, you’re gonna have to go on without me,’ he tells both no one and everyone. His wife, the toxically chipper Hannah (Laura Linney) alerts him that he’ll be late, and so another day of inertia on Seahaven Island begins.
Unbeknown to Truman, he’s the star of the biggest television show on the planet, with more than 1.5 billion viewers across the world looking to tune in from birth to death. As the lucky draw of five unwanted babies, Truman was the first child to be legally adopted by a corporation for a new concept designed by Christof (Ed Harris), a super-Zen, omniscient megalomaniac – think Elliot Carver with a daddy complex.
While he’d have no reason to doubt otherwise – ‘We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented’, after all – Seahaven Island is totally fictional, located inside a production set akin to the scale of the Great Wall of China (both are viewable from space), featuring 5,000 hidden cameras and state-of-the-art technology allowing for complex weather and daylight systems – in one scene, Christof orders: ‘Cue the sun’.
The movie opens on the 10,909th day of the show’s operation; as he steps outside, a spotlight falls from the heavens. He approaches, much like the apes at 2001’s monolith, pondering its place in his orbit.
Other bizarre events begin to gnaw at him: accidentally tuning into a radio frequency that seems to describe his movements, precision rainfall, bikes and cars that seem to be scheduled around him. The comfort of his habitus is crumbling; as our lives took on a tidal wave of restrictions, Truman’s is unravelling into a new beast.
While our digestion of advertising – a cocktail of ads both overt and covert – is more rampant than ever, The Truman Show’s revenue stream is made up of merchandise sales and hilarious product placement.
In a brilliantly sardonic touch, a beaming Hannah tries to comfort Truman, who is spiralling into an existential crisis, with a chiselled offer of Mococoa, ‘All natural cocoa beans from the upper slopes of Mount Nicaragua!’ Perplexed, he asks: ‘Who are you talking to?’
Attempts to leave are short-lived, impeded by manufactured ‘nuclear accidents’ blocking the roads, forest fires and sold-out flights to Fiji, where he’s desperate to go and find Sylvia (Natascha McElhone), a former flame who tried to explain his true nature before being deported off-set.
Or, most importantly of all, his crippling aquaphobia. Rooted in witnessing his father’s death at sea as a small boy, it was an event scripted by Christof to deter any ambition to see the world later in life. Any time Truman reaches a path or bridge over open water, he freezes, his will corrupted by fear. A sign even reads: ‘Are you sure it’s a good idea?’
Fast-forward to today. In the UK, society is taking small steps towards normality; bars, restaurants, hairdressers, cinemas are reopening. But as people stand at the doors, ready to venture into public places after months of downtime, some may not be moved. Paranoia is a powerful beast, and not everyone is ready to unpause. Truman’s hesitance is even more timely.
Hell, one wouldn’t be blamed for seeking refuge in Truman’s world. While under the careful grip of Christof’s micro-fascism, it’s a postcard town of seemingly boundless, albeit homogeneous happiness.
His best pal Marlon (played frighteningly affably by Noah Emmerich) even tells him: ‘Seahaven is the way the world should be.’ Of the world outside the set, Christof urges Truman: ‘There is no more truth out there than there is in the world I created for you.’
But it’s life shrunk down to a miniature; no risk, no reward, a Fugazi existence. Simply, it’s not life at all. We know this, hence our mutual despair as Truman’s boat breaches the boundary of the sea, confirming his world-bending suspicions. The image of him gripping the sails in agony, all while Father Kolbe’s Preaching soars, shakes the soul.
Here’s the ending to The Truman Show in all its glory:
Then comes the end. With billions on tenterhooks, he tells Christof: ‘If I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and goodnight!’ A bow, a turn and an exit later, the mundane minutiae of his cell becomes a memory – the elation is overwhelming.
After 22 years, The Truman Show is still giving ‘hope and joy and inspiration to millions’. In good time, we’ll all be reacquainted with the full monty of life – when those doors open, you just need to step through.
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