You can call many movies “ahead of their time,” but few satirized a genre so effectively before it even really became popular. In 1998, “reality TV” as we knew it was a twinkle in many network executives’ eyes. A few shows dotted the landscape here and there, but the real “boom” came a few years down the road, with supposedly “fly-on-the-wall” docudramas becoming ubiquitous.
Before that, though, Peter Weir’s comedy/drama The Truman Show took laser-focused aim at where pop culture was going, offering an analysis of a universe where the most popular television show is about the life of a single man named Truman (played by Jim Carrey), which is broadcast 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to viewers all over the world. Everyone Truman knows is an actor, providing requisite plot points and dramatic revelations to keep the action going. Of everyone on the planet, from cast to viewers, the only one not on the con is Truman.
The idea that a man would be so easily fooled by what seems to us, the audience, as obvious artifice may strike some as unlikely. But consider: This is the only world Truman has ever known. In his life, everyone has stopped to extol the virtues of a new cocoa drink in obvious product placement. He’s only ever been in this one town, discouraged by writers to never even consider traveling elsewhere. His fate has been consistently manipulated by a director named Christof (played by the invaluable Ed Harris), who gives an interview about the latest plot developments on a post-production talk show, another trademark of reality TV that The Truman Show predicted.
When Truman finally decides to take action, the metaphor for man striking against his own boundaries in life is incredibly effective. There is no small amount of symbolism in the fact that Truman’s last conversation with Christof sees the latter refer to himself as “the creator,” and Truman literally talking to the sky, standing against the walls of his own existence. Man takes a stand against what the universe apparently has planned for him. Rebelling against fate. “In case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night.”
The Truman Show is available for streaming on YouTube TV.