The Truman Show 1998
Jim Carrey’s first foray into dramatic roles came in the way of Peter Weir’s futuristic tale of the public obsession with reality television and the morality behind the madness. Carrey plays inconspicuous insurance salesman Truman Burbank. Unbeknownst to him, every aspect of his life is owned and operated by the broadcast corporation who purchased him as an infant. Ed Harris played Christof the omnipotent director or Truman’s world and the author of all his pain and joy.
This endeavor marked a serious diversion from Carrey’s unique style of physical slapstick comedy which had brought him fame. The Truman Show still gave him plenty of opportunity to use his comedic timing and charismatic charm while providing an avenue for serious exploration and development of character depth. Andrew Nicol, who penned screenplays for Gattaca and Lord of War, gave Carrey plenty of opportunity to shine and progress throughout the film.
The movie is bolstered by a marvelous supporting actor performance from Ed Harris. He was fresh off his Academy Award winning portrayal of NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz in Apollo 13. Harris’s experience and quiet intensity lent itself beautifully to Carrey’s more flamboyant exuberance. Laura Linney also brings a grounded presence as Truman’s television wife Meryl Burbank.
Reality television was still in its infancy in the US when the The Truman Show released in theaters. MTV had dabbled in the genre with shows like The Real World which debuted in 1992 and Road Rules in 1995. The cable network built much of its fan base around those two shows and helped to foster the reality tv genre for the better part of a decade. In 1999 Big Brother was Broadcast on the Veronica network in the Netherlands and was subsequently adopted for US television by CBS in 2000. Also in 2000, CBS adapted the Swedish show Expedition Robinson and retitled it Survivor. The success of the format is unquestionable. Survivor has just begun its 33rd season “Millenials vs Gen X” and Big Brother 18 are both currently airing on CBS.
Newer reality shows like Dating Naked and Naked and Afraid have upped the bar. While we haven’t quite reached the point of purchasing infants for our entertainment needs, The Truman Show was a look into the crystal ball American television. Moreover, it’s a cautionary tale of greed and responsibility. The networks have a responsibility to the viewers to provide desirable content, but they also have equal responsibility to those who are at the center of that content. Now is as good a time as any to go back and give The Truman Show a second, or perhaps first viewing.