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The Truman Show


At a time in which the mass media of television and cinema cannibalize their own simulation strategies and their relationship to "reality" with fluctuating quality, media satire comes in handy. Especially when it is about a life completely staged for television that tries to break out of the laws of the apparatus. That fits into the picture, and so the outline of the plot alone sounds like a promise: With Peter Weirs The Truman Show we can expect the skilfully relocated continuation of that independent media navel-gazing. As such, it would of course have its limits precisely where its own consumability would be at risk.

"Nothing is set here - it is only controlled", explains Louis Coltrane (Noah Emmerich) the logic of the world TV event "The Truman Show", in which he plays the role of Truman's friend Marlon. We write the day 10.909 to Truman. The broadcast of the 24-hour live show began with the birth of Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), and since then the involuntary protagonist has lived the life that producer Christof (Ed Harris) considers a normal American life. Small family, row house, college, office job, marriage, row house, philistine idyll - watched by 5,000 hidden cameras under the dome of a huge studio, in which everything and everyone is staged and instructed. A 50s soap opera lives among us, the main actor of which has no clue of any of this. To keep it that way, a traumatic experience in early childhood - father drowns in front of Truman's eyes while sailing - conveniently ensures that Truman cannot leave his studio island Seehaven either by boat or over the bridge. And in the event that the title character should actually have a vacation or even emigration wishes ("The Fiji Islands!"), The good old friend Marlon will be at the door in the next second with a six-pack.


It takes a while to The Truman Show gives up the perspective of the series. Immediately after an introductory explanation by the long-term actors in the series, Peter Weir's film is indistinguishable from the TV show for a while - behind mirrors, out of drawers and through the dashboard of Truman's car, the great eavesdropping and eye attack rolls around the clock. After we have got to know the principle in this way, our mirror images, the television viewers, are presented to us and finally the work of the producer Christof is revealed, who is not only logically Truman's creator: God resides in his headquarters high above the studio buildings. In the sky of Seehaven he makes the weather, determines résumés and manipulates feelings.


Of course it happens as it has to happen in this biblical microcosm. Truman will try Destiny and Creator, dare to break out of Seehaven and be puzzled by the obvious attempts of his world to prevent him. An ideal platform for comedian Jim Carrey and at the same time the perfect hook for existential doubts about personal freedom, world perception and the limits of one's own truth. If you will, the Truman Show automatically ends up with Immanuel Kant: "What can I know? What should I do? What can I hope?"


But wait! After all, there is a story to be told, and so these human shallows are heaved back onto the media platform so that the power struggle between Truman and Christof can come to a head. This is where the delicate mixture between humor and morality can develop, which is always stickiest when brute comedians force the serious undertone in their profession. As long as the medium-reflective, epistemological and ethical questions about the power of television are conveyed primarily from the history of TV images The Truman Show entertaining on at least two levels. However, from the moment Truman / Jim Carrey wakes up and the film directly expresses and dramatizes these long-standing themes through its characters, it falls behind itself. With all the power of parallel and contrast montage he rubs the biblical metaphors under the nose of his audience so obtrusively that any further interest would first have to assert itself against this penetrance.


Lays in one of these scenes The Truman Show the production of film feelings openly. Christof's directing instructions are cut while we watch Truman's reunion with his father, who was believed to be dead, with the TV audience. Camera perspective, light, approaching thunderstorm, editing rhythm and swelling orchestral music can be recognized as a composition emerging at the moment. At the end of Peter Weirs Truman ShowIf the hero makes contact with his creator before the last step out of the studio into "reality", we will encounter these means again. Now, however, as a comparatively invisible part of the film production. The traditional strategy of cultural pessimism, according to which the formerly ruling mass medium always accuses the subsequent competition of their threatening artificiality, comes back here like a boomerang to the starting point. Of course, one could regard this repetition of the exposed staging as a hidden self-criticism of a film that had specifically prepared for these mechanisms. Maybe it couldn't be otherwise, because Peter Weir's film is nothing more than the expansion of the series for the cinema - another one is simply added to the 5,000 cameras. On the other hand, it could be said that at this moment - the unplanned final act of the TV series - the Hollywood film too The Truman Show has simply reached its limits.


Whether it is the cheap triumph of the film over the slipper cinema, gentle self-criticism or falling into its own pit: from the moment the limits of television reality are exceeded, the cinema must also be silent. What remains is a rather convulsive reconciliation with the audience and the reference to a better life after death, which makes television and cinema one.


Jan Distelmeyer


This text was first published in: epd film 11/98



There are several reviews of this film in the filmzentrale archive.

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