Study Guide to The Truman Show
Director: Peter Weir
Screenplay: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natasha McElhone
Freedom, identity, meaning, love, media, truth
Truman Burbank lives in the apparently perfect town of Seahaven – unaware that this is a massive stage set complete with a false sky, that everyone else is an actor and that his entire life is being broadcast to the millions of people who tune in each day. Truman’s world is directed by the TV director Christof – from his vantage point in the sky.
However, when he sees a light fall from the sky and he hears the director’s voice on the radio Truman begins to become suspicious. He remembers Lauren, a cast member who had told him that it was just a TV show, and sets out to find her. He travels across the sea, talks directly to Christof and then climbs a set of stairs in the sky, escaping into the outside world.
Many people in our world
This film considers these concepts.
The script was written by Andrew Niccol who also wrote and directed Gattaca.
According to the hollywoodjesus web site the director, Peter Weir, was raised on classic American shows like I Love Lucy and The Twilight Zone – this film seems to be a mix of those two shows.
Other films by Andrew Niccol
Other films by Peter Weir
The Cars that Ate Paris
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Other resources on these ideas
Ben Elton, Popcorn (Simon and Schuster, 1996)
Steven Rose, Lifelines (Penguin, 1998)
Truman Burbank lives in Seahaven – an apparently perfect town where every building seems newly painted, every sky is clear blue, the sunsets are always beautiful and all the people are wonderfully friendly. However, Truman is not aware that Seahaven is actually a huge stage set complete with a false sky, sun and moon. All of the town’s people are actors and Truman’s life is a TV show watched by millions across the world – directed by Christof from his vantage point in the sky.
The show is financed entirely by “product placement” – Truman is manipulated so that he stands in front of advertising bill-boards, and his friends tell him about new products they have bought.
Truman was an unwanted pregnancy who was adopted by the TV company at birth and who’s life is now relayed to the world. In order that he does not leave his life has been manipulated so that he is scared of crossing the water which surrounds Seahaven – in particular Christof staged the “death” of his father by drowning in a sailing accident.
One morning Truman is surprised to find a light which falls from the sky in front of him. He later hears the voice of Christof on the radio, instructing the actors. Then he gets a glimpse of a back-stage scene behind an elevator. He now suspects that all is not what it seems and he recalls his encounter with a girl called Lauren when he was younger. Whilst they stole a kiss on the beach she had warned him that everybody was acting – but she was then whisked away by a man claiming that she was schizophrenic and should not be listened to.
Truman confides in his wife and locks her in the car with him as he attempts to escape. Christof controls the traffic in an attempt to block his escape and eventually stages an apparent nuclear accident – at which point Truman is taken back to town by the police. Truman then confides in his best friend, whom he has known since he was seven years old – someone Truman describes as “the closest thing I ever had to a brother.” His friend tells him that the last thing he would ever do would be to deceive him. He makes a great, convincing speech – but we find that each line was fed to him by Christof.
At that point Truman’s father reappears and they embrace in a scene watched by millions across the world.
Later Christof is interviewed by the world’s press (who apologise for infringing on his privacy). He explains how and why the father has been written back into the script and describes how, in future episodes, Truman’s wife will leave him to be replaced by another woman.
But Truman manages to escape the cameras and sets off on a boat across the sea. Christof causes a storm which almost kills Truman, but then turns it off and lets him reach the edge – where the false sky meets the sea. Here he finds a set of stairs which lead him to a door to the outside world. Christof talks to him directly, as a voice from the sky saying “I am the creator of a show which gives hope, joy and inspiration to millions.” He warns Truman that “there is no more truth out there than there is in the world I created for you – there are the same lies and deceit, but in the world I created there is nothing to fear.”
Truman ignores Christof and goes through the door. The show is over. Transmission is cut off. Two men who have been addicted to the programme put down their pizza, turn to each other and say “What else is on – where’s the TV guide?”
Ideas for discussion