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FLASHBACKS: The Truman Show reviewed

And now, from 6/16/1998, a review for a film that made me cry. I’m not kidding:
****
“I’m a Tru-Believer.” – slogan in the film


Movies are constructed. They’re put together in an artificial process of shooting film, cutting it to pieces, and reassembling it into a new form that’s usually about two hours long.

Our lives are not constructed like that – but the lives we see in movies and on television are. Storytelling is, in its own way, artificial. Movies and TV shows – especially soap operas – present lives that never existed, and go to great lengths to keep these “lives” going.

There is a crucial scene in The Truman Show that’s all about the artificial nature of TV stories…and it’s a revelation. It is a scene of genuine emotion and love – while, at the same time, it is also about every manipulative scene you’ve ever seen in drama.

You’ll know the scene I’m talking about when you get to it. The music manipulates (listen for a “bonging” sound, like the passage of time signaling its own end), the atmosphere manipulates, and the camera angles manipulate – but at the center of this manipulation is genuine emotion. And the emotion comes from Jim Carrey.

From what we’ve seen by Carrey before he starred in this film, this shouldn’t work…but it does.

The thing is, you cannot go into The Truman Show with too many expectations, too many pre-conceived notions, or too many facts about the story – to say too much in this review would be especially non-nice on my part. At most, I will give the flavor here, try to pique your interest in seeing it. You have to get in, sit down, stay put and pay attention from Word One, because everything you see and hear is in the film for a reason. [Present-day note: This paragraph was a reaction to an intern at my newspaper who complained about the film, after he had sneaked into the theater halfway through it. He didn’t give the film the right chance, he’d missed key stuff, so he didn’t understand it, was confused and annoyed by it, and somehow this was the film’s fault. What he did actually pissed me off, but I didn’t tell him. I wrote this instead.]

All at once, this movie is both an emotionally gripping story about life, and an unblinking look at what perhaps would be the cruelest manipulation of life that can be imagined. Sounds heavy, and at times it is – but it has an ending that, for me, just soared.

It may be easy to be cynical about this film and its polarizing star. Like it or not, Jim Carrey is ridiculously famous – and that’s important to the film, which is funny, but not usually in a belly-laugh way. At both showings I attended, I heard nervous laughter.

I also heard crying.

This movie reminds me of the Monty Python Sketch “Dull Life of a City Stockbroker.” While on his way to work, a stockbroker walks past spears thrown by jungle men, blithely boards a bus before almost getting creamed by the Frankenstein monster, buys a newspaper from a naked woman, dodges bombs that go off in the streets, rides in a driverless taxi, and sits down one desk away from wild sex at his office – and never notices the strange things happening all around him.

Carrey, as insurance salesman Truman Burbank, is one with that stockbroker – at least at the beginning. (If you watch carefully, you may see why he’s named Burbank. It’s a purely visual reference.)

The casting of this film is very smart. No one in Truman’s life is a recognizable face – with the slight exception of Laura Linney (his wife Meryl), an up-and-coming actress from Absolute Power and Congo.

The always solid Ed Harris (of The Rock and the underrated The Abyss) plays the pivotal character of Christof, who has the film’s very first line. This was a stroke of good fortune as he was cast after filming started; Dennis Hopper worked for one day on the movie but he and director Peter Weir agreed to part ways. Harris is an imposing man who brings to this character an aura of intelligence, controlled passion and caring.

I don’t think Weir (Witness, Dead Poets Society, Fearless) has ever done anything quite like this movie, but his direction here is completely assured.

I want to read the script, to see earlier drafts, to see how the story developed in the young but highly capable hands of Andrew Niccol. And I want to visit Truman’s world: the town of Seahaven, U.S.A. The world in this film is designed to an amazing depth of detail – all toward one purpose. I am sure I will write about this film again – and explain more about why this film affected me. So, go. See it all. Don’t go in late. Let yourself open up to this film, this story. The Truman Show is a complete “movie movie” experience; this sort of film is why I watch films.

****

There’s a particular thing I did in this review that I’m proud of, which is say next to nothing about the plot. Of course, much of that plot had been spoiled in the film’s advertising, but for me it was worth the exercise of trying to get people to understand what I was talking about without saying too much. Summing something up and calling that a review is a pet peeve of mine. (I got thinking of that again when I made this comment in this entry by greygirlbeast.)