The Truman Show (1998) – Film review by Andrea Carnevali

The Truman Show ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

An insurance salesman discovers his whole life is actually a reality TV show. Chiswick Cinema is screening The Truman Show for Andrea’s next film club night on Tuesday 5 December 2023 at 8pm, when the film will be shown with an introduction from Andrea and a discussion afterwards.

Re-watching The Truman Show 25 years after its original release, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it still holds up—sharp, thought-provoking, and current.

And to think this was written and made a few years before the very first Big Brother and the idea of Reality TV was even a thing!

It is one of those rare products in Hollywood that manages to be gripping and very entertaining as well as clever and, at the risk of sounding a bit full of it, intellectually stimulating.

All courtesy of the Oscar and BAFTA winning script by Andrew Niccol, who seamlessly blends elements of drama, satire, comedy, and existential themes, masterfully navigating the balance between Truman’s personal journey and broader societal commentary.

It is obviously a film about the influence of television, the way we consume it, as well as a not-too-veiled, but very sharp critique of the corporate world behind it, media manipulation and consumerism (the product placements in the film are indeed hilarious and make the satire sing!)

But this is a film with layers. It’s crammed with themes, meanings, metaphors, Easter eggs, all of which offering a compelling narrative, constantly prompting the viewers to reflect on the nature of freedom, reality, the pursuit of truth and that desire for genuine human connections.

Jim Carrey, known at the time primarily for his comedic roles and his rubber face, was a surprising revelation (the film earned him a Golden Globe). He delivers a standout performance showing a versatility and an emotional range we didn’t know he had (and something which he developed even more successfully, in films like Man on the Moon and the splendid Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

He manages to convey Truman’s internal conflict and growing disillusionment effortlessly, from his initial naivety to gradual suspicion and eventual rebellion. The film works as well as it does mostly because of our investment in him throughout.

He lives in a meticulously orchestrated and Stepford-wives-like world where every aspect of his daily life is staged by a sort of film-director, Christof (Ed Harris), from his TV station up in the sky (all references to religion and playing God are clearly intentional).

His performance is stunning (he deservedly got both an Oscar and a BAFTA).

He’s mostly framed in big close-ups and he seems to do everything with his eyes only: his portrayal of the enigmatic creator is both authoritative and enigmatic, icy and warm, blurring the line between manipulation and paternal concern for Truman’s well-being.

On the whole, The Truman Show is a masterclass in visual storytelling.

Peter Weir’s distinctive and carefully crafted direction helps to convey the idea of a man who is constantly being watched.

High-angle shots are used to depict the omnipresent surveillance and control over Truman’s life. In contrast later on, low-angle shots are used to empower Truman when he starts questioning his reality.

Meanwhile the cinematography enhances the divide between the “perfect reality” and the artificial world of the control room, from warm and bright colours, to steely and dark ones.

All under the (intentionally) cheesy and manipulating notes of soundtrack by Burkhard Dallwitz and Philip Glass, mesmerizing and evocative, ethereal and poignant, all of which enrich the film and Truman’s emotional journey.

The brilliance of the film is that we as viewers also become just as much voyeurs as the audience the film is actually poking fun at.

In other words, I don’t really have a bad thing to say about this film.

It deserves its modern classic status and I cannot wait to be remembering it with my clever audience this coming Tuesday.