Peter Weir’s film The Truman Show was
published in 1998, which addresses and parodies modern reality television.
Weir’s bold portrayal of obtrusive television was highly recognized, winning
him positive comments by many, and his film is described by critics as
“cleverly conceived and brilliantly executed” (The Guardian) and “food for
thought” (New York Times).
Weir depicts the movie’s two worlds-
Truman’s and that outside of the dome- by the clever use of setting, the
significance of names, visual composition, and irony. This complies with Weir’s
purpose to convey the idea of artificiality within manufactured reality.
The American Science fiction drama film
chronicles the life of the protagonist, Truman Burbank, who is initially
unaware of himself being the centerpiece of a constructed reality television
show. The show’s creator, Christof, monitors, and controls every part of
Truman’s life, surrounding him with hidden cameras and a whole community of
actors. It was not until the thirtieth year of the show that Truman observes
faint traces of irregularities of his utopian community, when a spotlight being
labeled “Sirius” falls from the artificial morning sky, followed by Meryl’s
multiple attempts to deliberately advertise products, that Truman starts to
become skeptical towards his life’s falsity. In order to prohibit Truman from revealing
the truth of his perceived reality, Christof discourages Truman’s will to
discover his true identity through means such as injecting in Truman the fear
of water through murdering his father at sea, while bombarding the news reports
and podcasts with the dangers of traveling. Regardless of Christof’s power and
restraints, Truman remains strong-willed in continuing his journey to unveil
the truth of his identity and reality.
The Truman Show takes place in Seahaven,
which is illustrated as the utopian American town with a tight-knit community,
yet in reality is a constructed large-scale reality film studio that serves to
house the main character, Truman Burbank.
Being geographically alienated from the
rest of the world, Seahaven itself has over 5000 cameras, simulated weather, as
well as an entire town of professional actors and actresses. By suppressing his
desire for exploration beyond his comfort zone as for Truman’s fear of water,
the producers of The Truman Show put Truman in confinement within Seahaven. The
physical alienation of Truman with the world that Truman is being manipulated
into conforming makes it near impossible for Truman to leave the island.
The portrayal of the utopian community is
first illustrated in the early part of the film, where Truman steps out from
his house to the perfectly arranged, flawless neighborhood. An extreme long
shot of a bird’s eye view illustrates to the audience the outlook of the
utopian community. The geographical and physical alienation of the setting itself
parallels to the isolation of Truman from the ultimate truth, separating him
from the outer world both physically and mentally. While Truman desperately
tries to escape from the island, he is also struggling to find his way to the
truth behind the manufactured reality. As Truman finally finds the island’s
exit is he liberated from his previous “reality”.
Seahaven, the island that houses the main
character Truman, can literally be separated into two parts: sea and haven.
Having the island itself being geographically alienated from the rest of the
world, the city is a utopian community surrounded by the sea, whereas Truman’s
artificially made fear of water, which Christof imposes on Truman in order to
contain Truman’s universe, supposedly makes the island a safe haven for him
away from the sea. However, Truman does not consider the island to be
paradisiacal like most people would find a utopian city. Rather ironically,
apart from Truman being physically entrapped within the island as the
production team relentlessly puts all effort into preventing Truman having any
chance of escaping the island and revealing the truth, Truman is somewhat
mentally confined in the island as he is surrounded by the sea, which brings
him traumatic memories of his father’s accident and hence the fear of water,
which stops him repeatedly from attempting to leave the island. The satirical
idea of the island being a “haven” for Truman further enhances and mocks the
delusion of artificial reality under the saturation of the media, bringing a
twisted idea of reality into the audience’ minds.
The main character’s name Truman originates
from the two words “true” and “man”. Being the only character that remains
shielded from the ultimate truth in “The Truman Show”, Truman is the only authentic character among the artificial community. The surname Burbank originates from
the city Burbank in California, where television is produced. Located near
Hollywood, the city is well known as the “Television Capital of the World”.
Rather ironically, Truman is the only “true man” in the television studio,
which echoes with the origins of his name. This once again reminds the audience
of the artificiality in reality TV and the delusional idea of actors’ “reality”
being authentic when it is in fact largely scripted and in the control of the
The name of Truman’s wife, Meryl, has a
Celtic origin, which bears the meaning of “Bright Sea”. This satirically
parallels to Truman’s injected aquaphobia. Meryl’s real name, as shown in the
opening credits, is Hannah Gill. In the beginning of the film, Meryl is seen to
be Truman’s normal wife, yet as the film continues, the audience sees the darker
side of Meryl where her actions trigger Truman’s skepticism, bringing him
towards his epiphany and the unveiling of truth. The audiences’ realization of
Meryl’s true character is parallel to Truman discovering the falsity of the
reality he is presented with.