On June 7, 1998, the world was introduced to Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) a mild-manner insurance salesman who had unknowingly starred in the longest-running television show for 30 years. A box office hit and critical success, Peter Weir’s The Truman Show, a satirical science fiction tale that blended comedy and drama, felt like a cautionary tale of the dangers of technology and our media obsession. 25 years later Andrew Niccol’s brilliant script feels like a roadmap to a dark future that was inevitable.
The idea of a corporation buying a baby and broadcasting its entire life in order to attract viewers and sell ads seemed outlandish in the ’90s, but not so much now. In the world of the film, the line between commerce and basic humanity was one that could only be drawn by Truman himself. Über producer Christof (Ed Harris) may have constructed the finely-crafted fishbowl that his star puppet lived in, but it was Truman who ultimately cuts the strings.
Viewers may have enjoyed watching the trials and tribulations of Truman’s manipulated life, including the tragic death of his father and his pining for the potential soulmate who got away (Natascha McElhone’s Sylvia), but their attachment was ultimately fleeting. The minute the feed ended they were more than ready to see what was on the other channels.
While part of the joy of the film is in seeing how long the paid actors can keep the ruse going, as the set around them literally starts to fall apart, Weir always ensured that we knew Christof was the villain.
Christof may have been a visionary in the way he used thousands of hidden cameras, and spoon fed his actors lines to create moving television, but he embodied everything we were meant to be wary of. However, with the advancement of technology and the rise of social media, we have inadvertently made the Christofs of the world our heroes.
Men like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey, and others of their ilk in the social media space have become the new rockstars. Individuals who provide platforms where we willingly become Truman. The difference is that it is not Christof but us, who are curating the manufactured representation of our lives. Much like the gag in the film about The Truman Show’s greatest hits collection that is for purchase, our daily life has become a collection of highlights that only put our best foot forward.
While we once laughed at the way Truman’s wife Meryl (Laura Linney) and other residents of Seahaven would find creative ways to shill products, we now have “influencers” who have made careers doing the exact same thing. Worst of all, a whole generation is inadvertently being raised to value their self-worth not based on their accomplishments or personal relationships, but by how many followers they have. Christof was willing to put his star through mental anguish for the ratings, and now we do it to ourselves for the clicks.
Similar to a tarot card reader disturbed by the card they have just pulled from the deck, The Truman Show predicted things ahead of its time. Released in an era when shows like Cops and Real World were hits on the airwaves, and the game changing reality behemoth Survivor was a few years away, the film had its finger on the pulse of society’s increasing obsession with voyeurism. Going further than even Weir and Niccol’s could have imaging, we have turned ourselves into online stars each wrestling for attention and praise.
Only time will tell if we can pry ourselves away from the curated lives, we have become obsessed with both presenting and observing. Until then, all we can do is revisit the warnings of The Truman Show and wish each other a good afternoon, good evening, and good night!
The Truman Show 25th Anniversary Edition 4K Ultra HD hit stores on July 4th.
Bonus features: How’s It Going to End? The Making of The Truman Show – Two-Part Documentary, Faux Finishing—The Visual Effects of The Truman Show, Deleted Scenes, Photo Gallery, Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots