In Peter Weir’s thought provoking-film The Truman Show the viewer is enticed by the utopian Seahaven. Cinematography such as camera angles, music, lighting, editing and other techniques promote and reinforce the film’s central issues. Delving into the vehement desire of the human spirit to be free and the cunning manipulation of the media, the viewer is left exhilarated. Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), the protagonist, after living a sheltered life in Seahaven is struck by an epiphany. Realizing that his world is contrived he undergoes a treacherous journey in pursuit of truth and freedom.
Truman’s choice to enter the real world rather than to continue living his perfect existence proves that the human spirit requires exposure to challenge and change in order to thrive and evolve. The film begins with a close-up shot of Truman Burbank staring at himself in the mirror deliberating whether he will conquer a perilous journey. This focus on the protagonist highlights an evident yearning for freedom and his conclusion that he will succeed “broken legs and all” shows his determination to break free from his shackled existence.
In a medium close up shot Meryl (Laura Linney), Truman’s wife, is discussing her role in the television phenomenon -The Truman Show. Her words: “Well for me there is no difference between a private life and a public life. My life is The Truman Show. The Truman Show is a lifestyle”- encompass the concept that television does not merely entertain but rather dominates the lives of millions.
Moreover, the suggestion that mankind thrives on entertainment gives the media the ability to exploit emotion. Marlon (Noah Emmerich) states that the show is not fake but is merely controlled.
A constantly controlled life certainly stunts Truman Burbank’s emotional growth but the strength of his spirit to be free ultimately overpowers this restriction. It is now the 10,909th episode of The Truman Show. Truman walks out of his home and is framed by two doorposts on either side and in front by a fence already indicating the control over his life. The elliptical matte surrounding the screen indicates that he is being filmed through a hidden camera. Truman is shown in a medium long shot greeting his neighbours with his customary catch phrase, “Good Morning, O and in case I don’t see you, Good afternoon, Good evening and Goodnight. Seahaven appears to be the ideal neighbourhood: friendly neighbours, sunny skies, white picket fences and a safe environment. Evidently the life lead is simplistic, moralistic and family orientated. Such perfection is ideal; however the viewer could speculate whether the happy-go-lucky Truman is truly satisfied or his attitude is just a charade. A tracking shot is now used to introduce a foreign object falling from the sky. A panning shot is followed by a long shot in which Truman rushes to examine the object.
There a close up shot of a framed Truman examining the first indication that his world may be contrived. Truman’s tedious routine, accompanied by jubilant music, involves framing shots as he purchases a newspaper and magazine and the use of hidden cameras as he sits in his car listening to the radio and works in his office. While Truman greets the two “doppelgangers” zoom is used to focus on the Kaiser Free Range Chicken Poster as a means of product placement. Truman’s secretive call enquiring about Fiji is indicative that he yearns to travel rather than be trapped in the predictable Seahaven.
The presentation of a newspaper by a co-worker claiming Seahaven to be “Best Place on Earth” is an immediate attempt to crush his aspirations and curious explorative nature. The extreme close up used when the directory fails to provide Truman with a listing conveys his disappointment in enquiring about his true love interest Sylvia Lauren (Natascha McElhone). Furthermore a collage creating an image of Sylvia Lauren is symbolic of his ongoing fascination with her. A tense atmosphere is created by cross cutting as Truman and his fellow worker discuss work cutbacks and a pending job on Sea Harbour Island.
A fear stricken Truman stands on the Pier framed by a kiosk and wooden posts. The framing suggests not only his trapped life but also the entrapment of his fear of water since his father’s traumatic death. Significantly later in the film, in an establishing shot, Marlon and Truman are shown sitting on the edge of the bridge. Truman pours his heart out confessing his fear that the world is conspiring against him. He is confused, delicately vulnerable and feels that he may be losing his mind. The cross cutting builds up tension and coincides with Truman’s desperation.
Numerous extreme close up shots of Marlon’s face highlight his support for Truman and the intimacy of their relationship. The slow and highly dramatic music stimulates powerful emotion and relates to Marlon and Truman’s bond and their regard for each other as family who would never betray each other. In a medium close up shot Christof (Ed Harris), the ingenious creator of the show, dictates every word to Marlon. The blatant manipulation of the protagonist directly symbolises the ease in which the media can manipulate audiences worldwide with the mere use of words which evoke powerful emotions.
In a two shot Marlon and Truman look out into the distance. In a long shot Truman’s supposedly dead father approaches the two men. The use of dim lighting and thick mist implies the mysterious circumstances surrounding his disappearance at sea. Truman’s undiluted shock is shown in a close up shot as a supportive Marlon encourages him to go and reunite with his father. Christof, who is shown frequently orchestrating the whole charade, represents a Godlike figure that controls Truman’s destiny and places him in specific situations to stimulate his genuine reactions.
A glorious atmosphere of unity is created as Truman approaches his long-lost father in a long shot. An intimate hug shared by father and son is shown by a two shot. The dramatic music reaches a climax during the passionate hug and the use of zoom on Truman’s face as tears roll down his cheeks highlights his contentment. Truman’s shrewd escape from his camera monitored home and his hazardous expedition in pursuit of freedom and truth reinforce the concept that no matter how suppressed the human spirit is, it will strive for freedom.
Truman’s journey is introduced with a close up shot of the prow of his ship travelling through the waters. The eagle on the front of the ship symbolises soaring free into the wild. Perhaps the wild is a representation of the chaotic world which Christof has tried to shelter Truman from for his entire existence. From a bird’s eye view shot, Truman’s ship the Santa Maria seems to be vulnerably venturing into the unknown. Through a hidden camera (indicated by the elliptical matte) a close up of Truman steering his boat is shown.
He is smiling as the wind blows in his hair and the captain’s hat perched on his head suggests that he is now the master of his own destiny with the ability to make his own choices. A close up shot of his self-assembled photo of Sylvia Lauren is shown to emphasise his true desires. The use of a low angle shot of the ship emphasises the ship’s power in aiding the protagonist to reach his goal. A despaired yet dominating Christof is shown in a close-up shot as he implements extreme tactics to prevent Truman from escaping the sheltered Seahaven. The dim lighting and the simulation of violent waves and strong winds are highly contrasting to he always sunny Seahaven. The serious tone of the music adds to the suspense. In a high angle shot, a powerless Truman struggles to hold onto the boat. He continually looks up at the sky as though he is looking up to a greater power- Christof. People around the world are shown to be sitting on the edges of their seats as they watch their television superstar fight for survival. Audiences around the world have an obsession with Truman Burbank and his every gesture and word captivates and mesmerises them proving the ease in which the media can manipulate audiences.
The medium close up shot of a soaked Truman addressing a ‘greater power’ with the words, “Is that the best you can do? You’re going to have to kill me”, encompass his unadulterated hunger for freedom. Christof acknowledges that he has been defeated and terminates the storm. A high angle is used as Truman raises his sail to continue sailing towards freedom. Truman’s persistence and bravery throughout his journey is indicative of the strength of the human spirit. A close up shot is used as the prow of the ship hits the wall of the dome finally proving to Truman that his suspicions were correct.
Truman places his hand gently onto the wall in a close up shot. His ferocity is conveyed as he beats the wall of the dome hoping to break through it. There is evident pain in his expression shown in a medium close up shot as he realises that his entire existence was fictitious. A long shot is used as Truman approaches the stairs, walks up them and stands below the illuminated exit sign. He opens the door which leads to total blackness representing the unpredictability and chaos of the normal world.
A close up shot is used as Truman looks upwards where his ‘God’ speaks to him in a voice- off. Truman questions whether anything in his life was real and Christof responds with the words: “You were real; that’s what made you so good to watch. ” Christof attempts to salvage his television empire by convincing Truman that there is no more truth in the real world than in the world of Seahaven where Truman can live a fearless and sheltered life. When Christof claims to know Truman better than he knows himself Truman retaliates with the words “You never had a camera in my head. Ultimately these words show that no matter how controlled one’s life may be, it is impossible to control ones true desires and emotions. In a close up shot Truman gives his final words to his fans with an ironic and satirical twist. Triumphant music begins to play as Truman bows after his lifelong performance and a long shot is used as he walks through the stage door towards his freedom. Fans around the world rejoice as Truman is finally freed from his shackled existence. This indicates that while mankind may thrive on entertainment, freedom is far more valuable and important.
While Christof appears to be the villain having created a false existence and trapping a naive boy for so many years the public are just as guilty for supporting The Truman Show. The policeman’s question “What should we watch next” indicates that the manipulation of the media will be sustained. Overall, the stellar film raises both moral and ethical issues present in the modern world. The issue of the ongoing manipulation of mankind by the media is somewhat disturbing and leaves the viewer rattled, pondering his/her own obsession with television.
The film successfully reinforces the idea that the media is guilty for exploiting emotion but so too is the public culpable for allowing the media to become fully integrated into its life. The film also leaves the viewer feeling inspired as it carries the message that the human spirit, no matter how suppressed and controlled, will always break free. Herbert Hoover best describes freedom-“Freedom is the open window through which pours the sunlight of the human spirit and human dignity. ”