Film: The Big Picture - What you see is what they fake

THE TRUMAN SHOW (18) DIRECTOR: PETER WEIR 102 MINS STARRING JIM CARREY AND ED HARRIS

Two late-20th-century concerns for you: "Somebody's watching me" and "When will I be famous?" Exposure is the key issue here - the fear of it, and the hunger for it: a control thing. Craving enough time in the limelight to qualify you as a celebrity, but not so much that privacy ceases to exist. At its sharpest, The Truman Show evokes these paradoxical feelings simultaneously, employing them to modernise a concept lifted, unacknowledged, from Muriel Spark's 1957 debut novel The Comforters, in which a woman suddenly realises that she is trapped in a novel.

When the film's hero, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), talks to himself in the bathroom mirror before work each morning, his private musings and fantasies are being broadcast world-wide. A camera is hidden in the dial of his car radio, and there are several more positioned around his office.

All the people with whom Truman converses are actors, choreographed to guide or obstruct him, or simply to work in a bit of product placement. Even his home town of Seahaven is just a giant set. The night sky is muffled and starless because it's not a sky at all; it's a canopy.

On one level, The Truman Show works as an extended paranoid fantasy. Everything in Truman's existence is designed to prevent him discovering the central truth of his life, from the team of wheelchair-bound actors dispatched to delay his progress along a hospital corridor, to the teacher who rebuffs the young Truman's ambition to be an explorer by unfurling a map of the world and shrugging: "You're too late - there's nowhere left to discover."

But the film doesn't sanction the possibility that this could all be Truman's justification to himself for being a sad no-hoper who has never left his home town. Instead, Andrew Niccol's screenplay attributes blame to a largely malevolent God figure named Christof (Ed Harris), the programme creator who masterminds the whole project, down to the last camera angle.

There are some nice touches of ambiguity in Christof's character, such as when he caresses a giant television picture of Truman sleeping, and it strikes you that their relationship is not unlike that of Dr Frankenstein and his creature.

However, it's a serious failing of the film that the buck stops with Christof. In Groundhog Day, one of the finest American movies of the past 20 years, fate was a cruel and intangible presence with no discernible human incarnation - Bill Murray was tormented by having to live the same day over and over again without ever understanding why. And then, at some point, the cycle stopped. Yes, he had become a better person, but the film neither proposed solutions nor administered blame, and so the supposedly happy ending was stamped with lingering question marks.

Having an identifiable villain simplifies matters, but it also significantly undercuts our disorientation. The power of The Truman Show depends on how successfully it maintains the tension between the comical implausibility of Truman's imprisonment, and its sinister proximity to our own world. If it isn't nearly as unsettling as it should have been, that may be partly because in this country we have Noel's House Party, and nothing else can ever be truly terrifying once you've seen that.

The connection isn't a spurious one. That programme features a section in which a secret camera observes an unwitting viewer watching television at home, before the curtain is tugged back and the subject is made aware that his or her private life has been rendered public for the preceding few minutes - that their basic sense of reality has been fraudulent. It's the most terrifying thing on television - the tomfoolery of Candid Camera given an ugly, Orwellian twist.

The Truman Show uses this device to explore the breakdown in divisions between public and private life. When Truman is reunited with his father, whom he had long believed to be dead, the moment is real as far as he is concerned. What he can't hear is the dense orchestration that is being used by Christof ("Fade-in music") to garnish the reunion.

It's a clever moment, and one that is potentially incriminating for the movie - an insert that depicts calculated manipulation in a film that is itself frequently guilty of the same crime.

At many points during the picture, we are watching not only The Truman Show the film but The Truman Show the television programme; the film even begins with phoney opening credits.

It is not the first movie to establish an interior artificial reality, but, unlike This is Spinal Tap, it doesn't remain within the boundaries that it has established. A scene of the band members taking drugs was cut from This is Spinal Tap because it was argued that the group would never have allowed documentary film-makers to shoot compromising footage. Although the world depicted by the film was fictional, its own internal rules were never contravened.

How chilling the vision of The Truman Show would have been if the movie had stranded us exclusively within The Truman Show the television programme.

But each emotive cut from the general public hypnotised by their TV sets, back to Truman trying to escape from his artificial world, further diminishes the film's attack on Christof's manipulative tendencies. What is the juxtapositioning of two or more separate images to create an emotional effect, if it isn't manipulation?

The Truman Show most seriously exposes its own hypocrisy when Truman is making his getaway from Seahaven to be with the film's only other non- performer - Sylvia (Natascha McElhone), a woman from whom he was forcibly separated years earlier, but whose memory motivates his search for truth much like the mysterious female face in La Jetee.

Until this point, the picture has been characterised by an intriguing sterility that makes few claims on our emotions. This extends to Jim Carrey, who gives a marvellously understated performance that ping-pongs between timid and slightly seething, most notably during the excellent scene where he is trying to convince his wife that the apparently random behaviour in their neighbourhood is, in fact, a choreographed loop of action; he trembles with the hysterical conviction of a man who wants what he most fears to be true just so that he will know he isn't insane.

The director, Peter Weir, lends Seahaven the science-fiction coldness of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As he proved in Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave, he is adept at this kind of enigmatic menace. But during the climactic scenes, he sacrifices this in order to whip up some good, old-fashioned tension, switching from cheering audiences of various nationalities to Truman "ripping through" the shell of Seahaven in an effect borrowed from Time Bandits.

A film that has demonstrated the futility in giving an audience exactly what it wants finally relents and gives the audience exactly what it wants.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions