This place has been abandoned for a really long time. I honestly feel awful about it. I had (and still have) numerous ideas to write about books, perhaps even movies, but I can’t seemingly find the time or the motivation. One can only hope I will actually do it – preferably sooner than later.
Just for the sake of publishing something, and since I already uploaded a literature essay to the blog anyway, I’m going to leave here my portion of a group essay we recently did for my “Cinema and Literature in the English Language” class. This is not the whole project, just the second part, which is the one I wrote. We chose to explore the topic of fiction and reality through four different movies (The Purple Rose of Cairo, The Truman Show, Matrix and Birdman) and literary references that deal with this dichotomy, how the lines that separate both concepts are sometimes blurred.
(Once more, I won’t take kindly if someone copies this and presents it as his/hers in a blatant act of disrespectfulness and plagiarism. I already warned you.)
The Limits between Fiction and Reality in The Truman Show
In this second part of our paper, I will proceed to analyse the topic at hand by applying it to the movie The Truman Show (1998), directed by Peter Weir, by discerning how fiction and reality dance around each other in this particular story and the obstacles the main character must surpass in order to reach the truth that lies beyond the farce in which he lives immersed.
All things considered, this film could easily be considered a modern representation of the aforementioned Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Only, in the case that here concerns us, the cavern is an enormous television studio, and the deceiving shadows are the actors and the people controlling everything that happens; commanded by the man on top who plays the role of an omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient God, Christof.
“Unlike the Platonic tale, in which only one prisoner breaks loose from the chains in order to ascend to the real world and leave the gloomy cave behind, in this movie there is only one prisoner in the cavern and the rest are extras that walk in and out of it.” (Rivera 2003: 285)
Our protagonist, Truman Burbank, portrayed by Jim Carrey, has lived almost thirty years confined within the gilded cage that is the artificial city of Seahaven, where everything revolves around his oblivious person – because he is the star of the most popular reality show in the world, broadcasted through more than five thousand hidden cameras twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, without interruptions of any kind. Unbeknownst to him, nothing he has ever experienced since birth is authentic: the people around him are mere performers, the relationships he has built were determined by scriptwriters, and even the decisions he has made were conditioned in some way or another by a series of strategies. On the whole, Seahaven is a full-fledged Utopia, a Garden of Eden designed by a superior figure – Christof – to enclose and protect his articular Adam from the Dystopian “sick place” that he considers the outside world to be.
Where should we draw the line between reality and fiction in this particular situation? In the movie, the actor who plays the role of Truman’s best friend says in an interview: “Nothing you see on this show is fake. It’s merely controlled.” However, by this simple statement he is evoking Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle: thus implying that everything is indeed fake because, by controlling every single detail, nothing could actually be natural.
In order to delve into these inquiries, we must further consider what the character of Truman does actually embody. His name is a clever play of words, the first part being eloquent enough on itself, ‘true-man’, whereas his surname, Burbank, seemingly alludes to the Hollywood studio which legally adopted him. These represent the two sides of a coin: he is the only genuine person inhabiting Seahaven; his personality, thoughts and reactions are pure, real; but everything surrounding him is completely fabricated, counterfeit. This does not only call for an external conflict about the debatable nature of the reality show from the very start, but for an inner existential conflict within his mind as well. What is truly real? To a certain extent, we could even question the authenticity of his own character, whether it is but the product of the fake world where he lives.
In the words of Jennifer Hammett (2003: 82): “Truman’s proof of his own autonomy ― ‘You never had a camera in my head!’ ― is surely unsupported, since everything that went into his head was scripted.” Nevertheless, beyond this question there is one undeniable truth – there exists at least a part of himself that belongs to Truman and to no one else, shown through his adventurous spirit, the scenes in which he is alone in front of the camera (for example, talking in front of the bathroom mirror), and his unrelenting desire to pursue Lauren Garland/Sylvia, out of Seahaven. Furthermore, he is referred to as a teenager several times throughout the movie both by other people and by himself, which provides us the subtle clue that he cannot be controlled, like an adolescent, and also perhaps has yet to mature in a somewhat figurative, personal way.
The imposed limits to his reality are not only represented by the physical perimeter of the studio, but also by the fears crafted by the show-makers in order to keep him from wanting to leave, such as the pretended drowning of his ‘father’ right in front of him as a child, designed to traumatize him and induce a severe thalassophobia from that moment thereafter.
There is a point when we can appreciate that Christof himself has come to believe his own invention. Once Truman disappears, everyone in the set goes looking for him. The only place in the studio that remains to be inspected is the sea, but the man they dress as captain and order to drive a boat does not know how to do it; when confronted, he replies “I’m usually the bus driver!” Because he is an actor, and for just a moment Christof did not realize the show is not real and those people are just performers pretending to be something they are not. This seems to be the full extent of the fiction that encompasses The Truman Show.
Nevertheless, Truman was not as ignorant of the reality that surrounded him as we might think. Throughout those twenty-nine years, certain events rose questions and doubts, albeit generally short-lived thanks to the director’s skills to divert those suspicions into other matters with cleverly played plot twists. For instance, people from the outside world breaking into the set, or actors rebelling and trying to tell Truman the truth. Christof was so confident in his creation, so blinded by the almighty power of a deity that has the supremacy to control a small world at his disposal, that he never considered Truman could have a will of his own. Even though he did not believe it could happen, Christof said “if his was more than just a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him.” And that is exactly what Truman must do. As he grows increasingly suspicious, he starts noticing stranger things every day and growing more and more aware of the farce. Eventually, he will have to undergo a personal change to face reality, to break the barrier of fiction and decide whether to keep living an idyllic lie in the fictitious Seahaven or confront the outside world and, by this rite of passage, become a true man once and for all.
The ultimate challenge comes when he reaches the limits of the studio, the blue wall decorated to emulate the sky, and Christof decides to personally intervene, presenting Truman with the final dilemma: “There’s no more truth out there than there is in the world I’ve created for you. The same lies. The same deceit. But in my world… you have nothing to fear.” By deciding to exit the ‘cave’ and confront the real world, Truman not only leaves the devious shadows behind, but also his old self.
In summary, the duality between fiction and reality, what is true and what is false, play a fundamental role in this movie full of philosophical and existentialist predicaments. The protagonist has to gather every ounce of courage within him to defy the authenticity of not only his own self but everything he has ever known in order to reach what lies beyond the limits imposed to his perception, the real world. In doing so, he finally becomes a real man.