The Truman Show

on June 05, 1998 by Wade Major
   Rarely, if ever, has a film proffered such a provocative premise as "The Truman Show," much less risen to meet the challenge of exploiting it. For it is not so much the pairing of mega-star Jim Carrey with acclaimed director Peter Weir ("Fearless") to which the film owes its success, but rather the extraordinary nature of the story itself, a strange and wonderful fable that would seem destined for status as an immediate classic.
   Literally raised from birth to be the star of a television series, Truman Burbank (Carrey) inhabits an exceedingly idyllic world, a sparkling fantasyland of such delightfulness, it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to leave.
   It is the perfect cage for the world's most famous caged animal. In truth, Truman's home town of Seahaven, which he has never left for fear of crossing the water which surrounds it, is an entirely artificial entity, the brainchild of a pseudo-fascistic television mogul named Christof (Ed Harris).
   For 30 years, billions of viewers throughout the globe have watched Truman's life with baited breath, eagerly anticipating each successive drama.
   Truman, of course, is unaware that his entire life has been a fiction, that his friends and family are but actors, or that the entire town and island on which he lives is nothing more than a massive set, housed in the world's largest sound stage.
   Human ingenuity and curiosity being what it is, however, it's only a matter of time before even so naive an innocent as Truman starts to piece the truth together, and in the process pushes the envelope on ideas and possibilities rarely broached by Hollywood films. Questions of philosophy, science, politics, economics, religion, ethics and morality all play a part in "The Truman Show's" deft dance of ideas, yet at no time does the genteel fabric of the story give way to the kind of pretentiousness that often absorbs "idea"-centered films.
   For all of its intelligence and speculative power, the film is still about a real human being with real emotions.
   None of this would have been possible, of course, without the superb original script by Andrew Niccol who debuted as both a writer and director with last year's "Gattaca," a similarly-themed tale of an individual struggling to break free of a different kind of societal structure. While Niccol's sensibilities lie squarely with such dystopian classics as "Brave New World" and "1984," he nonetheless harbors a greater optimism and a stronger affection for the human condition than is present in either of those more famous tales, qualities which ultimately elevate "The Truman Show" far beyond the level of a mere "cautionary tale."
   Inevitably, the film raises more questions than it could ever hope to answer, almost forcing audiences to pick up where the filmmakers leave off. Their job, as they undoubtedly see it, is to simply tell the story well and convincingly. And on that count, Weir, Niccol and Carrey acquit themselves magnificently.    Starring Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone and Holland Taylor. Directed by Peter Weir. Written by Andrew Niccol. Produced by Scott Rudin, Andrew Niccol, Edward S. Feldman and Adam Schroeder. A Paramount release. Comedy/Drama. Rated PG for thematic elements and mild language. Running time: 104 min.
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