The Truman Show: The Irony of Acting in a Reality TV Show

Within the first five minutes of The Truman Show, the viewer knows that Truman Burbank is the star of a reality show that has chronicled his daily life from his birth. The film could easily end at that realization. The audience knows that Truman is filmed 24 hours a day on a reality show that pushes the limits of morality and ethics. They also know that he is unaware of the thousands upon thousands of cameras that are stashed within objects, such as his car radio and his bathroom mirror, which he uses on a daily basis.

The audience even knows by way of a stage light that seems to fall from the sky in front of his home one morning that the perfect, content image he has of his life and the small town he resides in will begin to crumble beginning at that moment. Within those first five minutes of the film, the Truman Show could be written off as a trite story of one’s man journey through the preconceived realization of the violation of that man’s privacy.

However, a predictable storyline is not the case. Positive reviews from both Rob Blackwelder from SPLICEDWire and Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as my own positive experience with the film, conclude that Jim Carrey’s superb, fresh rendering of Truman makes the Truman Show an honest reaction to one man’s growth from a character in a TV show to a human being wanting to find his place in the world.

Jim Carrey’s excellent, thoughtful portrayal of Truman Burbank provokes curiosity in the viewer. Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle says of Carrey, “He’s funny and engaging, but he also brings a touching believability to this far-fetched tale of a man whose trust and innocence were violated from the day he was born.” The familiarity he brings to this physically distant character drives Truman’s journey that will finally break him of the world he has known all his life. Carrey, at the opening of the film, takes on the role of the perfect neighbor and hard worker at a nine to five job. He lives in the small, quiet coastal town of Seahaven.

A tragic boating accident that kills his father when he is a child leaves him fearful of the surrounding ocean. The fear prevents him from vacationing or even leaving the small island on which he lives. However, a montage shows the audience Truman’s extraordinary ability to daydream. Clips from a number of moments in his life are combined to form a short, but informative recap of the instances in which he was most curious. In the flashback, which takes place years before, Truman admits to his elementary school teacher that he wants to become an explorer.

His teacher immediately replies with the practiced response of “Oh, you’re too late. There is nothing left to explore.” Truman’s continued curiosity of what’s beyond Seahaven further proves that even repression cannot curb the natural desire of a person to want to learn. The audience, however, knows of what’s beyond Seahaven, but instead are interested in finding how Truman will react once he realizes there is more to life than the small seaside town in which he lives.

As Truman begins to realize that the world around him is merely an act, Carrey captures a great array of emotions through his actions and facial expressions. To further this assumption, Rob Blackwelder from SPLICEDWire says, “He deftly plays up the deceivingly cheery air of life in Seahaven while alluding to the film’s underlying, disquieting tone by wearing Truman’s apprehension on his sleeve,” or in this situation, his face. One significant example of the power of Truman’s actions and expressions is the scene in which Truman and his wife, Merryl, are driving in the car. Carrey’s expression is one of exhilaration and uncertainty as he sits at the wheel of his modest car in front of the bridge at the edge of town.

He covers his eyes, which to the audience seems childish and careless and tells Merryl that she needs to “take the wheel”. He presses the gas and Merryl has no choice but to take the wheel and guide them safely across the bridge. Once across the bridge, Carrey’s facial features are those of elation. He is smiling and laughing in a way that he is surprised at his own audacity. The audience realizes that Truman is still growing up. He is still learning that life doesn’t have to be the boring day to day routine he previously assumed it to be. For Truman, through Carrey, every new risk he takes that tests his fear and boundaries is a learning experience that strengthens Truman for his biggest test yet: the world outside his 20-mile large dome.

The introduction of Christoff, the mysterious and obsessed director of the Truman Show, proves to be a successful test of Carrey’s acting ability. Blackwelder writes, “when Truman finally finds merit in his paranoia, he makes a harrowing attempt to escape from his fishbowl, leading to an intense psychological showdown between Truman’s determination and Christof’s god-like control over his realm.” Christof asserts that god-like control when he forces Truman to fight through a severe man-made storm.

The storm doesn’t prove to be just a physical test for Carrey as an actor, but also an emotional test as well. Compared to the humorous, less serious roles he has played in the past, Carrey defines himself as a serious, dramatic actor primarily with the help of desperation shown through Truman’s gasps for air and tight grip on the boat as he comes close to drowning. Guthmann agrees, stating, “as Truman, Carrey projects a warmth and goodness we haven’t seen in any of his face-pulling slapstick comedies.”

When the storm clears and Christof speaks to Truman, the conversation they share is the most significant display of Carrey’s astonishing ability to mix words and emotions of sympathy and satisfaction. In the short conversation that Christof and Truman share, Carrey takes Truman’s new found independence, as well as strength from overcoming the storm and the world he has been confined to, and brings the feeling to new found heights. Truman, as well as Carrey as an actor, grows into a person that isn’t passive or confined to the role that he has been living for all his life.

Truman is the one in control, and Carrey reminds the viewer of that by refusing Christof’s pleas to stay inside the dome he has called home for thirty years. Instead, more confidently and surely than he did at the start of the film as a means to greet his neighbors, he says, “If I don’t see you, good morning, good evening and goodnight.” Carrey states the line with such enthusiasm that the viewer becomes certain that Truman will be fine outside of his sheltered life.

Guthmann says that at the conclusion of The Truman Show, “(He) had that rare feeling of elation – of wanting to share a wonderful discovery – that comes with seeing an original, inspired piece of work.” Without Carrey’s surprising and refreshing portrayal of a sheltered man learning the true meaning of living, Guthmann wouldn’t be able to make such a claim. The Truman Show proves that Carrey not only possesses the ability to make people laugh, but also captivates an audience dramatically and suddenly, calling for their attention and pulling at their heart strings.

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