Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Truman Show Review

The Truman Show is not a comedy. It may seem like a comedy, with its jokes and its pratfalls, but is really a psychological thriller. This is a large scale and elaborate Skinner's Box, with our Truman as the pigeon. Everything has been structured, planned, and scheduled. From his job to his sex life, everything has been planned for Truman to follow. The worst part? Society, like a bunch of perverse voyeurs, tunes in day after day to see this man run around the maze that has been set for him. Now you may think that I'm engaging in hyperbole, but consider this. As a way to stop him from escaping, they've conditioned him to be so traumatized by the sight of open water that he can't even make his way across a small bridge. How did they do this? The director, a Mr. Christof, had his “father” die in a boating accident with young Truman in the same boat! We are dealing with some severely sadistic people, or so it seems.

The lead role of Truman (his first name is Truman), is played by Jim Carrey, a man who can quite easily snuggle himself in the upper lip of the uncanny valley. While not being uncomfortable to watch, there is something surreal about most of his performances that don't seem quite human. This works to his great advantage in this film. The awkward sterility and artificiality of the town is accentuated by Truman's not-quite-normal mannerisms. It's quite brilliant. It's really hard to criticize him for behaving in any way that might seem artificial since the whole world he inhabits is artificial. It could be equated to his reactionary development as he grew up in this city. He does manage to keep his manic energy under control, at least to the extent that he can manage. This is one of his more sublime performances.

A man who easily combats Mr. Carrey for the spotlight however is Ed Harris as the director, Mr. Christof. He plays the role as a subtle intellectual, a private and introverted individual. He ends up being something of an antithesis to Truman. While Mr. Christof is presented as a very private, introverted, and controlling individual, Truman is forced to develop into a much more extroverted individual, with no hopes of privacy and little to no control over his life. He pulls off the role of a puppet-master brilliantly, but manages the almost impossible task of being human too. We get a sense that he honestly cares, even loves Truman as a child of his. He represents the theme of the controlling parent, wishing to construct the perfect world for their child while robbing said child of all freedom. Spiting his curiosity and pushing him to accept the status-quo presented to him, but doing so all out of love. Misguided, obsessive, controlling love, but love. Every moment he's on screen you feel the tension brewing inside this man, and it's quite infectious. Ed Harris was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe for his performance.

The plot of The Truman Show is a bit of a mixed bag. While the final scenes of Truman losing his wits are gripping, suspenseful, oddly comedic, and all that jazz, the 'coincidences' that spark his curiosity are contrived. These string of events, from a prop light falling from the sky, to the set falling apart, to the radio signal getting intercepted by Truman's car stereo, all come off as exceedingly forced. My suspension of disbelief was stretched severely thin when they presented these coincidences as freak accidents and not the meddling of some 'freedom fighter' or something. While it might be acceptable if these events happened over a series of several years, these seem to happen within weeks or even days of each other. Did their set technicians go on strike? Admittedly, it becomes harder and harder to hold onto these gripes as the film progresses. I'd lie though if I said I wasn't gripping my chair during the finale, a great show down of wits and determination.

The Truman Show is a classic that deserves watching. It's an 'art film' without being an acquired taste. It is an intellectual mainstream film, a crowning achievement in my opinion. Is it perfect? Not at all. I don't think, however, that perfection is the most important factor of a classic anyway. The Truman Show has the originality, thematic depth, and subtle performances that provides new discoveries upon each viewing. It also defies genre, and in that appeals to fans of several genres. You get a comedic film, a psychological 'art film', an action thriller, and few subtle hints of a romance all mixed into a wonderful casserole. You can shovel spoonful after spoonful, or accept the subtle nuances of flavor and still enjoy it either way.

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