Column | ‘The Truman Show’ remains relevant 25 years later

By Maaike Niekerk and Kiran Bond

Twenty-five years ago today, “The Truman Show” brought a mind-bending comedy-drama film to theaters and went on to win numerous awards.

Starring Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, the film follows an everyday man as he lives his life completely unaware of the fact that everything he does is being broadcasted live across the globe.

Everything and everyone in Truman’s life is completely fake and scripted. 

As the film progresses, Truman slowly begins to catch on to small errors in the facade around him, while director Christof, played by Ed Harris, desperately tries to keep the show running.

The film has aged well over the course of 25 years, and was even named one of the top ten most prophetic sci-fi movies ever by Popular Mechanics in 2008.

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    Considering that “The Truman Show” was filmed before reality television became incredibly popular, it’s bizarre to watch how audience members within the film are so obsessed with Truman.

    The deeper thinking prompted by the film is summarized in a review by Urbana native film critic Roger Ebert, who awarded it a rare perfect score of four stars. 

    “Television, with its insatiable hunger for material, has made celebrities into ‘content,’ devouring their lives and secrets,” Ebert said in his 1998 review. 

    Ebert also said the film “brings into focus the new values that technology is forcing on humanity.”

    As the capabilities of such technology have only grown in the past 25 years, “The Truman Show” and Ebert’s review of it remain frighteningly relevant. 

    Showing someone’s life with no privacy at all, as is done with Truman in the film, may seem obviously unethical.

    However, this is now done on a daily basis through social media, specifically with paparazzi and “stan” behavior — one-sided obsession with a celebrity.

    One could even wonder whether Truman can really be considered a person, since he has only ever existed for content. 

    Again, while the answer to this question seems obvious — of course Truman is a person — today’s celebrities are treated like nothing more than entertainment, exactly how Truman is treated in the film.

    The idea of a man being watched through a fake world was not entirely new when “The Truman Show” was released. 

    Though never confirmed by creators of the film, “The Truman Show” does use direct themes from a 1989 episode of sci-fi horror series “The Twilight Zone” titled “Special Service,” where a man discovers he is being secretly filmed for a live television show.

    Though this premise can come across as slightly horror-framed, “The Truman Show” does an excellent job of keeping the story lighthearted, with a certain comedy-feel to the film.

    Carrey’s brilliant portrayal of Truman is essential in this. Carrey brilliantly portrays Truman as an innocent, caring man who deals with a horrifying adult situation. 

    At times, it’s almost easy to forget that you’re watching a movie; that you’re watching Carrey acting and not Truman reacting authentically.

    Additionally, an extra element of brilliant depth is added to “The Truman Show” by showing ordinary people around the world watching Truman on their televisions. 

    The use of this idea is almost like holding up a mirror for viewers of the movie. People who watch “The Truman Show” within the movie have a constant hunger for content, just like how people of today absorb media constantly.

    More recent television shows like “Big Brother” and “Jury Duty” have continued to play with the idea of people living in a fake reality, but in a real-life setting rather than a completely fictional film.

    For example, “Jury Duty,” which depicts a real man serving on the jury for a completely fake trial made up of actors, received positive reviews, but also got criticism.

    An article from Rolling Stone said the concept of the show was somewhat frightening, and even unethical.

    According to Rolling Stone, the show “undoubtedly takes advantage” of main character Gladden’s kindness. 

    The show made Gladden deal with his castmate’s completely fictional emotions, and left him “asking what was real and what was not for hours” after the reveal that everything was fake.

    An article from Yahoo said that “The Truman Show” accurately predicted how a completely fake world can make a star out of an ordinary person, demonstrated by Gladden becoming unintentionally famous.

    Film site The Numbers ranks “The Truman Show” as one of the highest grossing movies of 1998, following “Godzilla,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Titanic,” but coming in with just a few million dollars more than classic Disney animated film “Mulan.”

    The film continues to hold extremely positive reviews, with a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, 8.2/10 on IMDb and a 4.8/5 from Common Sense Media.

    For anyone with an interest in the television shows of the future, “The Truman Show” is worth a watch for its uncanny predictions of how the world of film would evolve over time.

     

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