Two Kinds of Paranoia: 'The Truman Show' and 'The X-Files.' (Motion Pictures)

By Alleva, Richard | Commonweal, August 14, 1998 | Go to article overview

Two Kinds of Paranoia: 'The Truman Show' and 'The X-Files.' (Motion Pictures)


Alleva, Richard, Commonweal


The Truman Show is an ingenious toy of a movie, and it's not the fault of its director, Peter Weir, or its writer, Andrew Niccol, that the word "profound" has been attached to their production. Truman is a bauble, but let's not underrate it just because the initial critical response has overestimated it. Why can't a bauble be a little work of art?

As many of you know already, the movie is about a TV program that stars a young man (Jim Carey) who doesn't even know he's on camera. As an unwanted foundling, Truman Burbank was adopted by a media corporation, and a television producer named Christof (Ed Harris) created "The Truman Show" around the child with actors portraying his parents, friends, and fellow townspeople in a community, Seahaven, that synthesizes every small town you've ever seen on Norman Rockwell covers for the Saturday Evening Post. The fascination of the show is, purportedly, Truman's absolutely sincere, unacted response to every situation Christof fabricates and that the other (professional) actors pretend to be involved by. (Is Truman's actress-wife really sleeping with him? Their bedroom moments are off-camera, but if they're really having sex, the show would be the first squeaky-clean pornography in history, and the wife's portrayer the first known prostitute to be a celebrated prime-time player.) For thirty years the show captivates audiences, but then various accidents arouse Truman's first suspicions that he is living in an unreality. The rest of the movie shows his growing doubts and his efforts to escape.

Intriguingly, the artistry of the movie is almost at one with the artistry that the television people have employed in confecting Truman's world. This artistry is in the service of evil since it has forced a human being to grow up within the bubble of a lie. Yet it is the visual intricacy of this lie that makes The Truman Show as fascinating to us as to the TV audience within the movie. (We get to watch it as well as the show.) Peter Weir commandeered the actual community of Seaside, Florida, to represent "Seahaven," but he and his staff obviously repainted and reconstructed the place to project smile-button cuteness on a monstrous scale. Then they enclosed the place under an artificial sky with a theatrical backdrop on which they painted (or computer-generated) sunsets and stars. In Seahaven, not only human relations but also nature itself is something that exists only within quotation marks. What makes the movie dramatic is that Truman gradually becomes aware of those quotation marks...and then struggles to remove them. "Somebody help me!" screams our hero as he gets ready to careen his car out of Seahaven, "I'm being spontaneous!" The fact that he is screaming proves Truman's inherent canniness, for he already senses the complexity awaiting him in a real world not constructed with him as its coddled center.

The Truman Show suggests three kinds of parable. On the simplest - and for me the most pleasurable - plane, it is a grand justification of paranoia. Paranoiacs believe that all the Powers That Be are concentrating their energies on the paranoiac himself, usually to malevolent ends. But the comic charge of this film comes from the way Seahaven benevolently takes charge of Truman's life: the traffic that all too carefully spares our hero when he recklessly runs into it; the travel bureau that discourages travel whenever our hero contemplates it; the local newspaper's headlines that speak directly to Truman's puzzlements.

Truman also works as a portrait of the Artist-Scientist affronted by the autonomous life his creation takes on. This view, which makes Christof the real protagonist of the story, is reinforced by the tacit power of Ed Harris's performance. Of course, it's Jim Carey's work that has drawn publicity and predictions of an Oscar nomination, and, yes, Carey is generally good at portraying Truman's innocence and yearning. But there is also a residue of whiz-kid knowingness and slickness that keeps his performance from being as directly moving as it might have been. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Two Kinds of Paranoia: 'The Truman Show' and 'The X-Files.' (Motion Pictures)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.