Rated PG - Running time: 1:43 - Released 6/5/98

Imagine if you found out one day that everything you did from getting up in the morning to going to bed at night was being videotaped and broadcast all over the world. No, I'm not talking about Candid Camera here; I mean your whole life, since you were born, every minute, is the most popular soap opera ever created. This is the premise of The Truman Show, a clever piece written by Andrew Niccol and directed by Peter Weir.

Jim Carrey, in a obvious attempt to broaden his acting horizons, has taken on a more serious role than we're accustomed to seeing him portray. He is Truman Burbank, an insurance salesman who lives in a small island town called Seahaven. He has a pretty home, a pretty wife (Laura Linney), a best friend (Noah Emmerich), and lots of friendly passers-by, and he is the only one who doesn't know he's on TV. But he is, broadcast live, 24 hours a day in real time to millions of salivating fans who have watched him since the day he was born. In the biggest studio ever built, Truman's whole life is manufactured, created by Christof (Ed Harris), the all-powerful director Truman has never met, who knows and sees all from his lofty control room on high.

Christof directs every aspect of Truman's life. He chose Truman's father (Brian Delate), who died (was written out of the show) when Truman was a boy. He chose Truman's mother (Holland Taylor), who brought Truman up in a way dicated by the director. And on the rare occasions when someone tried to tell Truman that his life is a sham, Christof quickly altered the script, telling the actors by earphone to convince him that that person is a lunatic.

This is what happened with the only woman Truman ever loved, Sylvia (Natascha McElhone), who tried to deliver him from his "prison" when he was in college. After an abortive attempt at getting him out, Sylvia was captured, escorted off, and given her walking papers. Of course, she still watched the show, hoping that someday Truman would escape.

Needless to say, this is a ridiculously far-fetched screenplay. Niccol's script is surreal, as is Truman's existence. The concept of building an entire island inside a huge dome, controlling the weather, and mounting thousands of cameras in buildings, in cars, and on people's clothing, would be unfeasible and prohibitively expensive. And the idea of deceiving someone from the moment he's born is depressing and offensive to anyone who has ever loved a child.

But I have to give The Truman Show points for trying something different. Witnessing the recent frenzy involving the final episode of Seinfeld, one can see the message clearly. With occasional shots (from the TV's perspective) of some of the fans all over the globe, Weir predicts an eerie future for the entertainment-oriented "me" generation. Carrey's acting is not bad, and his off-beat humor is present, but radically toned-down. Harris's Christof is appropriately aloof and artistic, and the "actors" who play Truman's co-stars are suitably unreal.

What Niccol and Weir are trying to say is that we are all like Truman: we see what we are meant to see; we buy products hawked to us by pixels and sound bites. The Truman Show is not perfect, but it's interesting, and has its funny moments. More importantly, it is a refreshing change from shoot-em-ups, sappy romances, and pointless special effects extravaganzas. ****

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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