IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS OF THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998)
In case you haven't seen the film, here's a quick plot summary for you:
Truman Burbank is oblivious to the fact that he is the star of a non-stop TV show. His entire life is fake. His mother, wife, and best friend are all hired actors. People on the streets are hired extras. What he believes as his hometown, Seahaven island, is actually the world’s largest set near Hollywood, equipped with 5000 hidden cameras and state of the art technology of controlling the weather, which is controlled by the creator of the show, Christof. His every moment of life is filmed and watched by millions. Until one day, he realizes everything is repetitive and sails on the journey to get out.
When this film came out in 1998, it was an instant hit among the audience and the critics, both. A comedy film and at the same time a psychological thriller which forced the viewers to question the reality of self-life. This conceptual film is filled with thought-provoking ideas, metaphors, life meanings, religious propaganda, and abstract themes that stay more than relevant in today’s time.
‘The Truman Show’ is currently available to stream on Netflix India.
THE POWER OF THE MEDIA
The world revolves around Truman but, ironically, he has no control over his life. His movements are monitored and controlled by the creator of the show but what about his personality? He never tried to cross Seahaven because they stage a tragedy of his father drowning in the sea which gives Truman lifelong phobia of water. Even his principles and qualms are controlled by a deity. Just like that our social identity is also a mere collection of life events and the impact of pop culture on our mind which shapes our opinions. In many instances of the movie you witness how they use media to hide the show’s mishaps and influence Truman’s decision:
At the beginning of the film, a studio light falls from the ceiling of a sky-high set of Seahaven. To end Truman’s curiosity, the radio broadcasts a piece of news that an aircraft began shedding parts as it flew over the town.
In one scene of the movie, Truman’s hired actor dad shows up on set unplanned and tries to interact with Truman. The show crew (acting as extra’s) immediately gets in action and take away him from Truman. Later, they publish on the front page of the newspaper about the rise of homeless people in Seahaven. This way media used to end Truman’s suspicion.
When Truman realizes something is strange, he plans to travel to Fiji. He had always wanted to explore the world but now he was in a panic to escape Seahaven. And again, as usual, the media started feeding him information, consciously and subconsciously, that he should stay at home.
This makes the viewers realize that the world we see in real life is what the media wants us to see. Our thoughts and understanding of the world are derived from what we fed from the media. Whatever we hear on news, we begin to believe and base our assumptions around it. Take the Facebook scandal of 2016 by Cambridge Analytica and you’ll understand this point on how they used to data to influence votes in US Election. How in India, certain news channels are biased towards the ruling party and refrain to report any unlawful activities of the same. When you cannot trust the system, how can you trust the news?
REALITY VS FICTION
This brings us to question of what is real and what is fake? Are we also a part of a TV show which we are a star of? If yes, then how do we know? A psychology term was even coined in 2008 as the ‘The Truman Show delusion’ which was one of the symptoms of schizophrenia where the patient thinks that he is in a reality show. Truman, for 30 years of his life, does not question his reality as false. Similarly, many of us construct own reality framed by media. Our judgment of what is right and wrong is shaped by one’s culture and environment.
For example, even a mentally sane person knows killing another human being is ethically, morally, and lawfully wrong. Then why do terrorists and organizations like ISIS exist? Even when every religion preaches peace and harmony. It’s because the reality of their world is completely opposite to the reality of ours. They have been programmed for such purposes and have been taught that what they are doing is right. They have been brainwashed to perceive this as their ‘reality’.
This can be sum up by one of Christof’s lines from the film, “We accept the reality of the world with which we're presented.”
PRIVACY IS A MYTH
In the 1940s, we thought the Japanese were using radio waves. In the 1950s, the Soviets were assumed to have satellites. In the 1970s, the CIA had allegedly planted computer chips in people’s brains. And in the 1990s, the ultimate control was via television, cameras, digital information, and the internet. Digital surveillance is everywhere.
According to IMDB, the creators of the movie wanted to install a hidden camera in every theater the film was showing. During one of the moments in the film where we watch the world watching the show, the theater would stop the film and suddenly start transmitting the hidden camera; this way, the viewers would see themselves within the movie. Shortly after, they would cut the fee and continue playing the actual film.
In ‘The Truman Show’, we observe cinematography of certain scenes in a way that gave us the idea of it being shot through the fish-eye lens and hidden cameras. He was monitored 24x7 and had no privacy. Even 22 years after the movie released, the propaganda around privacy is still relevant. We sign away our privacy willingly with every app we use and every Alexa we purchase.
In our country, after CAA and NRC, the next controversial bill to be pass is The Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 (PDP Bill 2019) which will give the government access to citizen’s data on grounds of sovereignty or public order. Not only this but also due to the coronavirus pandemic the online classes we are having on Zoom are highly insecure. Cybersecurity intelligence firm Cyble discovered that over 500,000 Zoom accounts are being sold on the dark web and hacker forums, according to a Monday report from Bleeping Computer. The accounts are being sold for less than a penny each, with some being given away for free.
This makes us question: Are we really safe? No. Do we really have online privacy? No. Do I need to delete my search history again? Probably, yes.
TOXIC ENTERTAINMENT AND COMMERCIALISM
The ending line of the film is ‘Let’s see what else is on’ which sums up the general audience of ‘The Truman Show’. Although in the real world we nothing as big as The Truman Show, we still do have toxic reality shows like Bigg Boss, Roadies and Splitsvilla.
Reality TV and social media are scripted mediums presenting an idealized version of life in which people currently, for money or fame, present themselves in a controlled environment that's either controlled by a third party or themselves. Usually, there's some form of product placement to generate maximum income. This is happening now.
Nowadays even the lives we live are a commodity to be repackaged and sold. Who benefits from this? Where do we draw the line? How low are we going to go for the sake of entertainment? As long as people continue to buy into these versions of reality it can only continue to escalate surely.
GOD AND RELIGION
Christianity and religious propaganda are smartly placed in the film. Christof is the creator of the show and, ultimately his god as he controls everything in Truman’s world. In the last scene, we even get to see Christof communicating to Truman from the sky like a god talking to his creation. Their names are also significant here: CHRISTOF = CHRIST TRUMAN = TRUE MAN
The film is actually highly critical of Christianity. It states that IF there was a real God, then our reality is ultimately fake. Nothing is random, nothing is our choice, everything is controlled by something that we’re not even sure exists.
There are multiple scenes which portray Truman to showing the cross-sign and the last scene where he actually walks on water to reach the 'heaven' stairs:
The Truman Show is a classic! It handles many themes like the reality of choice, your own life meaning, destiny, and the public's obsession with celebrities. The story and concept just suck you right iN AND MAKES YOU SIT AND THINK "ARE WE LIVING IN SOME WORLD LIKE THE TRUMAN SHOW?"
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