Monday, May 9, 2011

Playing Corporate God: The Truman Show Succeeds!

The Good: Ed Harris' acting, Strong moments in the middle to end, Character
The Bad: Pacing, Very beginning, Very end, Psychological believability
The Basics: A surprisingly competent work, despite some major pitfalls, The Truman Show is very watchable.

The sky has fallen; I'm recommending a film with Jim Carrey. It was a close one. What tipped me over was the question "Would I watch it again?" and despite serious problems with how the film is paced, I had to admit I would.

The Truman Show follows a rather impressive idea, especially for our current era of so-called "reality" television. The Truman Show (in the film) is a reality show focusing on Truman Burbank, a square if ever there was one. He unwittingly lives his life, oblivious to the fact that he lives in a giant soundstage. The show revolves around Truman 24 hours a day. His life IS the show and he doesn't know it.

After establishing that through a rather ordinary day, his world begins to be questioned when his dead father reappears. This inspires Truman to challenge his beliefs in his existence.

Unfortunately, it's not until over halfway through the film that The Truman Show focuses on Cristof, the producer/director of The Truman Show. It is here we learn the sweeping scale of the show, that Truman was born on television and for thirty years has been the subject of the documentary and the startling corporate scope of the project.

It's unfortunate that the film takes so very long to focus on Cristof, because he has the far more interesting character. His relationship to Truman is far more compelling than the simple "Truman realizes he's in a t.v. show" plot.

One of the major setbacks to the film is that while it adequately explores Truman's epiphanies, it does not reflect that emotively with Cristof. Here's a man whose last thirty years have been entirely devoted to Truman and on the eve of the project's collapse, he doesn't seem at all emotionally conflicted.

The psychological believability of the situation fails with Cristof and it stretches far too thin with Truman. That is, the end is vastly too hopeful, Burbank is way too exuberant for a man who has literally just lost his entire world. It's an ambitious premise presented unambitiously. I would have vastly preferred the film to begin about forty minutes in and then take an additional two hours or more focusing on what happened next.

Ed Harris, however, saves the film. His portrayal of Cristof is excellent. He is calculating, intriguing and desperate. I bought him, for the most part. I cared about Cristof; it was a shame that his creation (Truman) was such a poser. That is, Truman Burbank reads like a fifties oversimplified cheerful mask. He isn't terribly real.

Jim Carrey. I suppose I can't escape the review without actually mentioning him. He acted, but it was inconsistent. The film opens with Carrey being very much Jim Carrey and it was hard to take him seriously. The last line of the film disappointed me because of the way Carrey screwed his face up and delivered it as Jim Carrey as opposed to Truman Burbank. The middle? Pure acting, excellent work. Sadly, Carrey has never been finer than in the middle of The Truman Show where he's actually grappling with existential questions.

There are obvious flaws in the film. The largest would have to be: on a soundstage, even a massive one, how would it ever be possible to get past the security on such a project. That is, assuming the actors leave the stage occasionally, how would it ever be possible for the actor who played Truman's father to ever get back inside?! Too hard to suspend disbelief for that.

What isn't hard to believe is the premise. The idea of a life being so thoroughly deconstructed, ominous as it may be, is fairly practical. They pulled that off well.

Outside Ed Harris, what saves the film is the actual exploration of character. While much may be spent on the gimmick of the plot, the film does a very good job at keeping everything focused on the aspects of character: Truman's longing to understand his existence. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the film is where it does intersect reality: Truman gets to confront his god, his creator. What a bummer that most everyone else doesn't get that privilege.

My last word: I recommend this film, but I more strongly recommend the Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode "Whispers" as it deals with the existential questions The Truman Show fails to answer far better. After all, The Truman Show isn't the only film to deal with people feeling like everyone in their world has turned on them!

For other realisty-bending films with strong psychological elements, please check out my reviews of:
Sucker Punch


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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