Design by Caitlin Martens

Watching “The Truman Show” for the first time is truly a gift. A few weeks ago, my housemates recommended the film to me, shocked that I had no idea what it was about. They screamed at me not to read the description before watching and I covered my eyes until they found it on streaming service. Eyes closed, I listened to their giggles; they wanted me to go in blind. And for that, I am so grateful.

So if you’ve never seen “The Truman Show” before and don’t know the premise, consider yourself lucky and read no further. For those of you who are familiar, here’s a refresher. “The Truman Show” follows Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) through his repetitive everyday life in a flawless suburb. What Truman doesn’t know is that his whole life is part of a TV show, and everyone knows except him. His neighborhood is a set. His friends are actors. And there’s a man inside of the moon, Christof (Ed Harris, “Apollo 13”), watching his every move and televising it live to the whole world. 

When the film first started, I questioned the absolute perfection of Truman’s suburb, one of my first hints at the well-kept secret that is Truman’s life. White picket fences and pastel-colored houses line the streets of Seahaven, the fictional town where Truman lives. I said aloud, “I would love to live here!” and everyone in the room watching with me laughed.

The film then proceeded to show people at home or in restaurants watching Truman on TV. That was strange, but I still didn’t quite grasp the concept. I wasn’t that into it either, to be honest. But once I knew the secret, the film picked up pace and all I could do was root for Truman. 

The story becomes predictable once you realize the premise: Truman is going to slowly realize that his life is controlled by some larger entity, and he is going to break free. Predictability is usually a downfall when it comes to movies, but in this case, it only contributed to the film’s suspense. We wonder how Truman will realize the truth of his life when he seems completely and utterly trapped in his own little bubble. How is Truman going to come to understand his reality when it’s all he knows? How is he going to leave his TV set of a community? I thoroughly enjoyed watching Truman slowly come to understand his reality, and I felt like I was finding out alongside him. 

“The Truman Show” reminds us to question and examine our lives instead of just willingly accepting our realities. Truman’s reality is artificial, but he would never know because that is simply the world he knows. I don’t remember the last time I questioned something that I consider to be a normal part of my day-to-day life because I never had a reason to. Truman’s life in the film serves as a reminder that although we know we are not the stars of some TV show, there are a lot of things we fail to take a deeper look at. We don’t need a reason to stop unconsciously moving through life. 

Besides calling into question what we readily accept as reality, the film also touches on the idea of the celebrity in the modern world of technology. Society obsesses over celebrities; we want to know everything about them — including their personal lives. Paparazzi wait for celebrities to enter the public sphere (sometimes sneaking into their private domains instead of waiting) and then expose everything they do in a day, from grabbing coffee, to meeting with friends, to going shopping. There have been multiple accounts of celebrities being pushed too far: Justin Bieber threw punches at a photographer who wouldn’t leave him alone while out on a dinner date and Jennifer Aniston won a lawsuit against a paparazzi agency that photographed her tanning topless in her yard. Superfans watch every move of their favorite celebrities, and it’s a widely accepted thing to do in the age of social media. 

“The Truman Show” was ahead of its time, hinting at the idea that this obsession is directly correlated with the growth of technology. Since 1998, the year the film was released, this ability to easily access the lives of celebrities has expanded far beyond television. With the growth of social media platforms, particularly Twitter, internet-stalking has become a real thing and an easy thing. What would have seemed absurd in the 90s is no longer that unrealistic, and that’s a scary thought. Truman Burbank is an example of what society has the ability to do if there were absolutely zero rules. Of course, this isn’t the case, but we seem to be much closer to that point than we were 20 years ago.

For once, I am so grateful I was not in on a secret that most others seem to know by now. I have thought about “The Truman Show” at least once a day since watching it. It’s a little eerie to watch the film now, in a time where it has become pretty normal to watch a celebrity and form a character out of a real person. Nevertheless, I cannot stop thinking about Truman Burbank and the conceptual masterpiece that is “The Truman Show.”

Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at lamillar@umich.edu.