May 8, 2019
The Truman Show (1998)
Grade: 59/100

Director: Peter Weir
Stars: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris

What it's about. Truman (Jim Carrey) doesn't know it, but he has been the centerpiece of a reality show since his birth. Now about thirty, he remains unaware that his entire life is a television production. The island he lives on is one giant film set. His job, his wife, his best friend, his next door neighbors, are all faux fronts concocted by the show's producer, Ed Harris.

But Carrey is somehow slowly becoming wise, despite the efforts of the show's cast to steer him back toward controlled wackiness. Carrey's increasingly unpredictable behavior, and his efforts to leave the cocoon of his existence, cause his exasperated, product-pushing wife (Laura Linney) to leave him. But best bud Marlon (Noah Emmerich), who is always drinking beer but never shows any signs of intoxication, is always around to provide wise counsel.

Key to Truman's epiphany is the curious reappearance of Truman's dad (Brian Delate), who presumably died in a boating accident many years ago. Also, Truman is drawn to minor cast member Lauren (Natascha McElhone), who is secretly obsessed with Truman and wants him to learn the truth about his existence.

How others will see it. Carrey has had numerous commercial successes with films where he played absurd characters (Dumb and Dumber, the Ace Ventura franchise, The Mask). Successes with significant dramatic content have proven scarcer. It seems that Carrey can never fully escape the shadow of Fire Marshall Bill, a lunatic recurring character from early in his career.

But The Truman Show was a smash. It had a worldwide gross of a quarter billion dollars, and earned Jim Carrey a Golden Globe for Best Actor, perhaps the most prestigious win of his career. He won again the next year for Man on the Moon, a commercial disappointment. Carrey has five other Golden Globe nominations, yet has never been nominated for an Academy Award. The reason for this is that the Golden Globes has a separate slew of acting awards for dramas and comedies.

At BAFTA, The Truman Show won Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It was nominated for Best Film, Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor (Ed Harris).

Two decades later, the movie has a spectacular 834K user ratings at, and an extremely high user rating of 8.1 out of 10. The rating does drop with advancing age of the viewer, from 8.6 (out of 10) among the under-18 crowd to 7.6 from the over-45 set.

It is no surprise that most user ratings are unsparing in their praise ("One of the best movies in history", "Finally a movie that makes us think"). Of course, negative comments can be found if you persevere in such efforts ("Too many missed opportunities", "Doesn't live up to the hype") but they are decidedly in the minority.

How I felt about it. Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, there were only four television channels. Then came cable, and suddenly there were three dozen channels. Instead of ending transmission at 1 AM, programming continued around the clock. Now the cable subscriber can have several hundred channels. Perhaps there will someday be so many channels that everyone can have one. This has happened already, on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Nonetheless, the concept of the movie is overdone. No one except Lauren has told Truman the truth? That hundreds of square miles of prime real estate has been permanently set aside for the production of one reality show, with thousands of cameras and hundreds of extras on call for a dozen hours a day, every day? To film a man selling insurance policies for forty hours a week?

So the premise is implausible, but does it matter? After all, the movie is a comedy, and the joke is that Truman is the only one not in on the joke. Truman is like a child king becoming dimly aware of his potential powers. He is constantly steered and manipulated, but the light comes on that his world is a front, and that he can escape it.

Never mind how Truman obtains a sailboat, and knows how to sail. Never mind that he has no interest in the new demure hot brunette parked in the adjacent office. Never mind that since Truman's life is contained, there is no reason to teach him that there is a Fiji, or even that life can exist outside of Seahaven. It's a movie, and a Jim Carrey movie at that, and we see it for that moment when he stops pretending he's Tom Hanks, and reverts to Fire Marshall Bill. For better or worse, it never really comes.