As viewers of The Truman Show we soon begin to be aware that Truman does not know he is being spied on and is the main character of a voyeuristic television program that is viewed around the world. At the beginning of the film we see the creator and the actors discuss the show as part of a documentary. Christof proudly explains that the show is “genuine”. He tells us that the audience love it because “we’ve become bored with actors giving us phony emotions”. The actors who play Meryl and Marlon back him up and tell us that “there is no difference between a public life and a private life” an
d that “nothing you see on this show is fake. It’s merely controlled”.
These words are of course, undermined by Truman’s discovery that his whole life is a creation. He finds out that he has been lied to and manipulated by everyone he knows. And and that the media has filmed nearly everything he has ever said or done.
As we have discussed, one of the first clues given to the audience that Truman’s reality is contrived is the use of frames within frames. The director also uses lots of reflected images and mirrors to suggest illusion. The very obvious manipulation of Truman for product placement in advertising also hints that this is not reality but a television show. There are many shots that indicate hidden cameras and they of course suggest surveillance. Often it is the eyes of the characters that give away when they are acting and when they are experiencing real emotions (Meryl is a good character to look at for this).
What are other clues given to Truman and the audience that his reality is contrived?
We have briefly discussed symbols in the film. One thing we have looked at is the ways in which Truman is trapped. We have seen that Truman’s confinement is suggested by a number of symbols of conformity and repression. We have looked at how images of 1950s picket fences, the soldier-like arrangement of images of boots and snarling dogs suggest entrapment. Truman is also trapped by guilt, and he is particularly manipulated by his wife and mother. We see how he is physically trapped in his life, the cubicles at his work are a good example. The film also employs techniques such as geometric patterns to suggest a constructed, fixed and rigid world. We have talked about the use of cages and frames and even the shot of Truman in a convex mirror suggests a fish confined in a bowl. Look out for examples of frames within frames as they are also used to suggest entrapment.
As we have noted, Truman is also trapped by the weather. Usually in a film, birds, the sky and open doors are symbols of freedom. It is ironic therefore that Truman is also confined by the sky and by roads and bridges that go nowhere. He is confined by his fears, and he needs to confront his greatest fear—of water—in order to find freedom. The boat Santa Maria (the Santa Maria was the largest of the three ships used by Christopher Columbus), represents exploration and finding a new world of freedom. The scene of Truman coming out of the water is used to suggest a rebirth into freedom. For some viewers the fake sky is like the shell of an egg that Truman must break out of in order to be reborn, and the door that he leaves by suggests opportunity and freedom. The door of course also indicates that Truman is stepping out into the unknown.