Despite a light touch from director Peter Weir, it is hard to forget how monumental a film The Truman Show is, not just for Jim Carrey, but for the narrative expectancy of comedians adapting themselves to other genres. Now, it is a commonplace event. To see some funny guy or gal from the stage manoeuvre them to pastures new, usually in the chase for awards glory or fulfilment of a larger role. That is The Truman Show for Carrey, and while Batman Forever surely helped, it is not the critical and beloved darling that can have such a monumental impact. The Truman Show has an inherent comedy underlining it, but a deep and quite horrifying message within.
Flashbacks show the tragic life Truman Burbank (Carrey) really holds. He is told he lost his father at sea. He is told he has a loving wife, good friends and a great job. He believes that because of the construct around him. The Truman Show handles that exceptionally, and with good humour too. There is a likeability to it all because even though Truman is unaware of his surroundings, he has too good of a heart to even question the oddities around him. Sudden appearances of his father and former stars of the fictional show do phase him, but not enough for him to question his goals. Either way, his goal is to escape, and the beautiful happenstance that Weir collects here is that Truman is wanting to leave not because something is wrong with the world around him, but because he is unfulfilled.
Whether that is a failure of the writers who constructed his world or the actors within is an interesting conundrum. Ed Harris marks these moments as exceptionally strong. He is the flagbearer not just for the show, but the direction of Truman’s life. Easy it would to draw parallels with God in this instance, the vulnerability he shows and the happenstance occurrences made throughout Truman’s life show he has a limited capacity to influence his life and decisions. “How’s it going to end?” a badge asks. That much is unsure for much of The Truman Show. Although we know from the beginning that Truman is an entity for television, he does not know that.
To live life as falsehood is eerie, but Truman has security. All those cameras that track Truman are noticeable, and even when the sky is falling and the light shatters on the ground, initial viewings suggest a passable, none-the-wiser effect. Weir is great at that, and those nice little nods, like advertising slots for free-range eggs on billboards behind Truman, or the ever-so-slightly noticeable cameras following his every move, all of it is delicately crafted and turned into something so marvellous. Some of its romantic notes may be a tad worn, but they don’t steal away from the performance that Carrey gives. He displays a man destroyed by the people he loves and trusts. Life-affirming and shattering actions are taken to make sure he does not leave the world that has been so carefully laid out for him. There is something rather terrifying about that, not because it makes us think it could happen to us, we simply aren’t that interesting, but because if it did happen, we would be none the wiser. We’d probably be quite content until we realised the truth, as Truman does.