The film chronicles the life of a man who is initially unaware that he is living in a constructed reality television show, broadcast around the clock to billions of people across the globe. Truman becomes suspicious of his perceived reality and embarks on a quest to discover the truth about his life.
That synopsis is exactly what we’d agree with if we only saw the first 10 minutes of the film, and then read a brief summary of the remaining 90 minutes. But there’s more:
Truman interacts with people and environments that, to our life experience, are obviously off. How often does your wife advertise a “Chef’s Pal” to you with the same inflection as the “As Seen on TV” guy?
Here is what we’re supposed to see: As the film continues, Truman suspects more and more that his world is a fake—and he tries to escape it.
The kindergarten meta-interpretation of this is that Truman is us, we think the whole world revolves around us. You identify with Truman because you like to see everything as your own life movie, with you as main character. Right? You’ve heard the narcissism interpretation before. And then he escapes it, gets out of his own head, into reality. Kind of like Neo in the Matrix.
That’s not what happens in the movie, though.
For many years (most of his life) Truman collected bits and pieces of hints (some obvious) that things are not what they seem—and scrap-booked them. He has an entire room in his house devoted to the fact that he knows this is not real life. In fact, he doesn’t spend the film discovering that he’s in false reality, he clearly already allowed his own wife to know about what he knows. Meryl comes down stairs to his not-at-all-secret place, and runs her Chef’s Pal ad in that creepy Seen on TV voice.
“No way, he was trying to get with that girl, Sylvia or whoever, that whole time.” If you mean Sylvia is like his totem, i.e. “Inception,” then you are right. Truman interacts with Sylvia (and later, her artifacts/memories) mainly to reassure himself that it’s all still a dream, he can’t find her, she’s in Fiji. Nothing has changed, he hasn’t woken up yet. Whew.
Truman knows it’s all fake because no wife would ever respond to such a secret lair with such stunning unawareness. He knows that she knows what it is. She knows that he knows. Guess what’s most important at the time? Advertising a kitchen utensil. If you think this could never happen in your (real) life, then you are in serious trouble. Advertisements feel better than ever because Google knows what kind of porn you like and Amazon remembers everything you’ve ever thought about buying.
As the movie continues, we see flashbacks of Truman’s “life” and environment clearly revealing themselves to him, clearly propelling him to question the place and people around him.
Do you see? The show in “The Truman Show” should have ended a lot sooner.
Here’s what you haven’t thought of yet: why did Truman take decades (I’m guessing he’s in his mid-30s or so) to finally decide to make this one important change in his existence?
Because that is the hidden story here—intense resistance to obvious, desperately needed life change. The kindergarten meta-interpretation is okay, but it misses the point and merely reinforces our own desire to not really have to change until it’s on our own terms. Truman didn’t heroically figure out and overcome his problem in the course of a few days, he dragged his heels and masturbated for decades.
Wikipedia’s summary should read:
The film chronicles the life of a man who
is initiallyhas always been unaware that he is living in a constructed reality television show, broadcast around the clock to billions of people across the globe. Truman becomes suspicious of his perceived realityfinally gets bored/fed up enough and embarks on a quest to discover the truth about his life.
What’s funny is that GenX parents in the 2010s are so surprised that their kids are still “finding themselves” in their 30s, when it’s GenXers who wrote scripts like “The Truman Show.”