(Warning to those who haven't seen the movie: this tells the story)
As recounted on another page, the creators of popular fiction have been telling stories about characters who are trapped in false paradises and environments of illusion for at least the better part of the twentieth century. These works generally include the same plot sequence, showing us characters who fight to free themselves from prisons disguised as ideal places. In the end, they usually escape to the outside world or regain the correct perception of reality, so they will have a chance to live an authentic life.
The Truman Show is the latest of these works of fiction depicting environments that are themselves forms of fiction. Like the stories referred to above, it presents us with a character -- Truman -- who is caught inside a controlled environment that conceals its true nature. But, here, there is an interesting twist that we will undoubtedly see more of in the future -- unbeknownst to him, he is living inside a 24 hour-a-day comedy-melodrama in which he is the star.
The idyllic island town where he grew up and lives is an immersive stage set enclosed in a giant dome (shown in part at the top of the page) with a ceiling that creates the illusion of a sky. Wind, rain, night, the moon, the stars, even the sun is a high-tech special effect -- the ultimate in planetarium entertainment masquerading as the outside world.
Truman's wife, his mother, his best friend, the people walking down the street -- they're all actors designed to make it seem his world is real.
With some 5000 cameras placed around the city, Truman's life is followed 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- a nonstop telethon of reality programming for a public hungry for pathos and vicarious emotion. All of humanity watches as he goes through the stages of life and finds himself in realistic situations that are actually scripted and improvised, to give the show some of the dramatic density that separates entertainment from mundane life.
The public can truly be said to adore Truman. And they keep him prisoner of an illusion so they can enjoy adoring him.
Truman is kept from wandering beyond the island-town he calls home by a clever bit of psychological programming. As a child, he lost what he believed was his father, in a storm, on a boating trip near the island. In reality, of course, the storm was generated by technology and the "father" was an actor pretending to die because he had been written out of the script. But the incident implanted in Truman a fear of going on or over the water, which is the way he is kept from leaving the island by boat or bridge, and discovering that beyond the water are the walls of the dome that encloses his world.
But, as in all of these works, there is a snake in ersatz paradise. In this case, it takes place when the crew and cast make mistakes that cause the illusion to break down. Most significantly, while Truman is driving, the crew is communicating by radio about the route he is taking so the extras will be ready to play their roles when he gets to his destination. But the radio transmission is picked up by Truman in his car, tipping him off that his surroundings are staged and inducing a state of paranoia that has him doubting everything he sees. He now begins to do what all paranoids do -- he worries he is being watched and tries to verify that his fears are well-founded. When he walks into a building not on his normal route, in an effort to see what is inside, he spies a backstage area for the actors beyond what are supposed to be elevator doors.
Distraught and angry and recognizing that his world is a fraud (even though he still doesn't understand the true nature of the fraud), Truman now makes a number of unsuccessful efforts to escape. With his saccharin-sweet actor-wife locked in the car, he forces her to steer and, with his eyes closed because of his fear of going over water, and his foot on the gas pedal, he drives over the bridge that presumably goes through an exit in the dome and connects the island to the mainland.
Once outside, a sign warns him of the danger of forest fires. But Truman recognizes it as an attempt to get him to turn back and he continues driving, through a wall of artificially produced fire.
After encountering a supposed radiation leak -- another fabrication, of course -- he is finally caught on foot and returned to his stage set home, Truman now cons the con artists, and creates an illusion to escape his illusory world. He pretends to adjust back into his life, then uses the old "dummy covered by a blanket with the snoring tape recorder" trick to steal out in the middle of the night. Free, at last, he sets sail on the water that once terrified him for what he thinks is the horizon of freedom.
But the producer of The Truman Show, who has been playing God with Truman's life, isn't about to let his billion-dollar investment exit the stage.
He creates another storm and, safe in his control room, he is prepared to let Truman die.Truman persists, making his way to the final, world shattering, experience at the end of the movie. As he travels toward the illusion of open space and sky, his boat suddenly hits the inside wall of the dome. He walks along a ledge at the edge of the wall and up some stairs, to a door. The producer then speaks to Truman as a voice from above and reveals the truth, while trying to draw him into another lie -- life is a television program; Truman is the star. But life is better inside, he tells Truman, because it is safe.
Truman doesn't buy it, of course. He will walk through a door to the outside and have a chance at an authentic life.
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