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Monday, September 09, 2013

The Truman Show

Everybody seems to have an opinion on reality television. Some people (like myself) are absolutely fascinated by it, while others curse the day that programs like “Survivor”, “Celebrity Apprentice”, and “American Idol” ever graced our screens.

I'll be the first one to admit that I am somewhat easily entertained. If something looks promising enough, I'll watch it. It's undoubtedly how I ended up getting addicted to so many reality television programs in the first place. My love of food got me glued to “Masterchef” and “Hell's Kitchen”. My dreams of touring around the world could be somewhat achieved by watching a season of “The Amazing Race”. And, heck...I suppose that in some aspects watching an episode of “Jersey Shore” can make almost anyone feel like a more intelligent and well-rounded person compared to the likes of people named Snooki, J-Wow, and The Situation.

(I mean, seriously...what the hell kind of name is “The Situation” anyways?)

Of course one of the biggest arguments that I have heard over the whole premise of reality television is that it's not real. Well, of course it's not real. I don't think that people who end up stranded on a deserted island will have a team of cameramen following them around as they play schoolyard games and vote each other off of the tribe. In reality, you'd likely see something more of a “Lord of the Flies” scenario where once civilized men and women turn into savages and kill off each other until the last person is left standing.

(Or, so I've heard, anyway.)

After the shows stop taping, and after the winner receives their prize money, and the confetti and balloons are swept up, life goes on as normal. For the contestants of “The Biggest Loser”, they have to go back home with their newer, leaner, muscular bodies and face the very temptations that they had to endure their whole lives which lead to them being on the show in the first place. In “Survivor”, the winners invest their million dollar prizes or spend it (or in the case of Richard Hatch, they don't pay the taxes and spent several years behind bars), and when the money runs out, they go on “Survivor” again to repeat their success. And, I'm really interested in being a fly on the wall when “Big Brother 15” contestants Spencer Clawson, Aaryn Gries, GinaMarie Zimmerman, and Amanda Zuckerman leave the house and face the fact that their professional lives will never quite be the same again following their racist commentary while on the show.

But ultimately, as is the case with every reality television show, they all wrap up, and most everyone who appears on one will inevitably return to their old lives and are never heard from again.

Well, unless your name happens to be Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Bethenny Frankel, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, or Ryan Seacrest, that is.

But here's an interesting thing about today's Monday Matinee feature. The movie that we're going to be featuring in this space for today happens to be centered around a fictional reality television series. And, what is interesting about the film is that it was released just before the reality television explosion of the early 2000s took place.

Remember when I said that in the case of all reality shows, they last a total of around thirteen weeks, and then production wraps up? Well, what happens if you happen to be the subject of a reality television program that has aired your entire life and you've never known it?

That's the premise behind “The Truman Show”, which was released on June 5, 1998. The movie boasted a who's who of Hollywood A-list stars including Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Natascha McElhone, and Noah Emmerich, and it made a total of over $264 million at the box office. It remains one of the best movies of 1998, and I actually have a personal story in regards to this movie.

When I was in the twelfth grade, one of our assignments was to write a film review for our English class. The film had to be a fairly recent film that had just been released on video (DVD's were kind of a luxury item back in those days), and I had heard some good reviews on “The Truman Show”, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and decided to choose that film to do my review on.

Looking back on it, there's a part of me that still wishes that I had that essay that I wrote fifteen years ago. I could have referenced it throughout this whole blog entry. But one thing that I pride myself on is the ability to recall things that happened to me years (or decades ago), so I'm hoping that I can remember what I wrote about the movie.

As I explained before, “The Truman Show” is all about a fictional reality series that has followed the life of one man as he grows into adulthood. The only catch is that the star of the show has absolutely no idea that he is even in a show in the first place.

The television show was created by a man named Christof (Harris), and for thirty years, he has documented the life of a young man named Truman Burbank (Carrey), who by many aspects has been living the perfect life. He has a loving, caring wife whom he adores in Meryl (Linney), he has neighbours who are friendly, and every day seems to be perfect in every single way.

With good reason too. You see, Truman's entire hometown of Seahaven is an elaborate soundstage where every building is a set and where every single person (including Truman's friends and family members) is an actor, paid to keep up the charade for the show.

The whole world of Seahaven is completely controlled by Christof and his production team. They control the weather. They control the situations that Truman faces. Truman's whole life story was a complete fabrication. Although he was always brought up to believe that he was raised in a loving home with people who adored him, in reality he was given up for adoption thirty years earlier, and Christof adopted him as the star of the show.

And certainly for the world outside of Seahaven, “The Truman Show” quickly became one of the most watched television shows all over the world. At the time that this movie was set in, the show was celebrating its thirtieth season on the air (which is longer than every sitcom and some daytime dramas), and millions of people tuned in loyally for thirty years to watch Truman live his life.

Only...he wasn't exactly living his life. He was actually kind of similar to being a hamster on one of those spinning wheels in a cage, where he was only there for other people to watch his amusement. In Truman's eyes, his life was quite idyllic, but the reality was that he was a prisoner of a production company and his life only solely existed for other people's pleasure. It's not exactly the greatest way to live, and poor Truman was kept in the dark for thirty years.

And naturally, the producers would do everything in their power to keep Truman enclosed inside their little bubble. They even went so far as to killing off his father (which they didn't really do, they staged it with an actor) in a shipwreck which fueled Truman's fear of water, as well as purposely infusing Truman's television set with commercials and television shows that convinced Truman that venturing out into the world was dangerous and that he should stay in Seahaven where he could be safe.

Wow...there's a special place in hell for people like Christof...

But as the program airs episode number 10,909, Truman starts to discover that things are not as they seem. He notices theatrical lights mixed in with the stars from the constellations in the sky. He notices that the rain only falls on him and not anywhere else. His car radio happens to pick up conversations that the crew members were having behind the scenes. And, he is ever so confused by the fact that his wife seems to be the living embodiment of the home shopping network, with the way she talks about all of her purchases ad nauseum.

(Yes, even Truman's wife is part of the payroll, earning a hefty sum of money every time she hosts a built in commercial for one of the show's sponsors. She even gets a bonus every time she sleeps with Truman – which kind of makes her somewhat of a Hollywood hooker. Just saying.)

Of course, one extra who grew disgusted with her role on the show is Sylvia (McElhone), who plays the part of Lauren Garland, a friend of Truman's from college. She grows concerned about Truman, and the feelings between her and Truman seem to be genuine. She falls in love with Truman, and knowing that his whole life has been a lie, she feels she owes it to him to reveal the whole truth. So naturally, when she poses a threat to the show, Christof fires her from the show, and she is removed from the set so as not to pose a threat towards the perfect union between Meryl (the woman chosen by producers to be Truman's wife) and Truman. But don't think for a minute that Sylvia is going to back down without a fight. Still caring deeply for Truman, she launches a protest group aiming to shut down “The Truman Show” once and for all so that Truman can finally have a shot at life on his own terms.

Truman starts to question everything in his entire life, wondering if there's more out there for him to see. His “family” and his best friend Louis Coltrane (Emmerich) – all of whom are actors – try to convince Truman that everything is fine just the way it is. But Truman's constant worrying about how the world seems to revolve around him cause him to seek answers wherever he can.

The stress of Truman finally discovering the truth about himself proved to be too much for Meryl, and when Truman starts treating her horribly and questions everything she ever told him, Meryl quits the show. To fill in the void left by Meryl's departure, the producers make the decision to bring back Truman's father from the dead, which causes Truman to question everything even more. He isolates himself from the community, and begins to live the next few days hiding in the basement, depressed about how his life has turned out, unable to trust anyone.

But then he discovers a hidden exit out of the basement, which takes him to places that he could only ever dream of going. And when the production team realizes that he has potentially found a way out, they go all out to try and stop him from venturing out into the world...even if they use his fear of water against him, and even if it means killing off their character!

So what happens? Does “The Truman Show” end with a burial at sea, or does it end with Truman finally getting a taste of the real world?

Well, I'm certainly not going to spoil it all. You'll just have to watch it for yourselves. My personal ending would have Truman escaping, marrying Sylvia, and launching a humongous lawsuit against the producers and network that aired “The Truman Show” for essentially controlling his first thirty years of life. I would think that Truman would have had quite a case, wouldn't you?

Anyway, I'm almost out of time here, so I'll conclude this blog entry off with some Truman trivia!

01 – In preparation for her role, Laura Linney studied old Sears catalogues from the 1950s to get into the “Stepford Wife” frame of mind. It worked. She was easily my least favourite character in the whole movie. Not as hated as Christof, mind you, but she wasn't someone I enjoyed watching.

02 – Dennis Hopper was initially cast as Christof – but when he quit the movie on the very first day, Ed Harris was drafted in instead.

03 – The actors on the set were absolutely forbidden to utter past lines from Carrey's past movies while on the set, as “The Truman Show” was really one of Jim Carrey's first forays into a dramatic film. So, no “Alright then”'s to be heard!

04 – The motto of Seahaven's town center is written in Latin, but translated, it means “one for all, all for one”. Kind of befits “The Truman Show”, doesn't it?

05 – David Cronenberg turned down the opportunity to direct the film. The honour instead went to Peter Weir.

06 – Screenwriter Andrew Niccol reportedly had the first draft for the movie typed up in 1991, and it was initially meant to be a science-fiction movie.

07 – Jim Carrey's “Trumania” scene where he draws on the mirror with soap was completely improvised.

08 – Apparently Truman could have figured out that his life was just a show, as the street signs were named after famous Hollywood stars and starlets.

09 – The town of Seaside, Florida served as the location shot for Seahaven.

10 – Annabella Sciorra was once considered for the part of Meryl Burbank.

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