The Man or The Door: Musings on The Truman Show

The Truman Show (1998) is a movie about a guy whose entire life is broadcast as a television show.

thetrumanshow.christofIt’s crazy. The title character, Truman, (played by Jim Carrey, to nobody’s surprise since it’s the ’90s) is chosen for the concept before he’s even born. The producer, a slightly creepy and pretentious now-trillionaire named Christof, literally creates a complete, idyllic world called Seahaven- just for Truman. Every single person in the world is a paid actor. Every component is fabricated. Famously, Christof can even control the sun. It’s mind-boggling.

And people love it. As Christof points out later, the real-ness is what makes Truman so great to watch. People are tired of canned emotions botched by fake actors. So, ironically, to get their dose of reality they turn to an entirely fake world to examine the one real person in it.

Eventually, Truman realizes to some extent what’s going on and sets his mind on escaping, despite the fact that the people closest to him try to convince him otherwise, and despite his crippling, lifelong fear of the ocean. More important than relationships, more important than fear, is his desire to know the truth. In this situation we’re faced with one of life’s facts: curiosity is one of the most controlling feelings humans can possibly feel. Ever heard of Pandora’s box? When we have to know, we HAVE to know. And Truman has to know.

And in the end, he finds out. He triumphs his fear and sails out literally to the edge of his world, where he encounters a wall and finally speaks with Christof:

Truman: Who are you?
Christof: I am the Creator of a television show- that gives hope and joy and inspiration to millions.
Truman: Then who am I?
Christof: You’re the star.
Truman: Was nothing real?
Christof: You were real.

thetrumanshow.stairsChristof tries to convince Truman to stay in his world, even though he knows now that it’s fabricated. He tells Truman that this choice is safer, that it’s better for the viewers, that the real world is no place to be.

It’s a sweet deal, living life knowing that somebody else is there to handle it. Isn’t that what so many humans search for- knowing that there’s some higher power, that there really, truly is a reason for everything? Given the choice, who would choose a random, chaotic, lonely world in which the only person responsible for you is yourself? Truman hesitates; the viewer almost thinks that he’ll choose to stay after all, and that the movie is sending us a message about ignorant bliss under the all-powerful hand of “The Man.”

But then Truman opens the door. He leaves everything he knows and walks straight into the real world, because above all else- above comfort and ease and safety and familiarity- he believes in truth. Ironically, a man bred from an entirely fabricated place believes more than anything else in honesty. (Truman. Tru-man. True-man.) Living in a brand new, terrifying place where there’s nobody to take care of him feels better than living a lie.

So what can we take from this movie? Curiosity. Truth. The exhilarating choice between ease and challenge. The ability we have to overcome fear once we find something that’s worth overcoming fear for. The courage to stand up for what we believe, even when everybody around us says no. The idea that staying true to ourselves is far more important than living in the way that somebody else might tell us is best.

And maybe all of these little things, which are one part fear and one part triumph, make up something more thrilling, more frenzied, more rewarding, than Seahaven could ever be.



PS: And then came The Truman Show’s sequel, Bruce Almighty, in which Truman now got to play God…

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