Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Choose Life Part 4: The Truman Show (1998)

     A year ago, I talked on “Reel Christianity” about a movie called “Witness”, directed by an Australian filmmaker named Peter Weir. Since then, I can’t think off the top of my head if I’ve talked about some of his other films—though they’re certainly worth talking about on here. Well, one of my favorite films of his (next to “Master and Commander”) is “The Truman Show”, with Jim Carrey in one of his best performances. Written by Andrew Niccol, who went on to make some bland sci-fi films like “Gattaca” and “In Time”, “The Truman Show” is a film about not only reality television (which barely existed in 1998), but also about the idea that our lives may not be our own and whether or not we will choose to keep it that way.

     Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a successful businessman on an island. He has a beautiful wife named Meryl (Laura Linney), a great best friend named Marlon (Noah Emmerich), and a happy life. But Truman has still had his share of trials: his father drowned when Truman was a boy, when the two were fishing in the ocean during a storm. When he was a college student, he was with Meryl but had an affection for another girl named Lauren (Natascha McElhone), but he is prevented from ever being able to be with her, and it haunts him to this day.

     But one day, Truman starts noticing strange things in his world. People he greets and passes by the same way everyday do just that—they do the exact same things everyday. Marlon and Meryl act like Truman doesn’t know what he’s talking about—but then Truman gets suspicious of them too. Meryl keeps showing Truman products in the house, holding them up and talking about them like she’s in a TV commercial. And when Truman finds himself holding a knife and yelling at Meryl to stop, Meryl cries out for “someone” to stop him. Marlon walks in on this and goes out to the beach to talk with Truman.

     And Marlon reveals a truth that Truman never imagined: his father is alive. And as this is revealed to Truman, it is revealed to the audience of the movie what this is: a twist ending to an episode of “The Truman Show”, a reality TV program that has followed Truman Burbank around his life since he was an infant without Truman even knowing. And every week, millions of viewers turn on the show to see what will happen next in the life of Truman Burbank.

     The show was created by some guy named Christof (Ed Harris), and you can guess why his name contains the word “Christ” in it. The night of the reveal of Truman’s father, Christof does an interview, and some viewers call him up to ask him questions. One of those is Sylvia (otherwise known as the Lauren from before) who blasts Christof for exploiting Truman’s life, though Christof claims he is only providing Truman a safe, comfortable life rather than the actual, real, cruel world (not unlike the one that Morpheus warned Neo about last week in “The Matrix”).

     To make a long story short, Truman figures out that this is all a scheme, and he tries to escape the show by sailing into the ocean. Christof literally brings a thunderstorm to stop him, and eventually Truman is left with a wrecked ship in the middle of the ocean—that is, until studio lights come on to reveal he’s in front of a big poster of the ocean and a blue sky. A voice comes on and greets him.

TRUMAN: Who are you?

CHRISTOF: I am the Creator - of a television show that gives hope and joy and inspiration to millions.

TRUMAN: Then who am I?

CHRISTOF: You're the star.

     And Christof encourages Truman to continue staying on the show. Truman, however, decides (to the joy of the audience watching) to prevail against this scheme and go through a nearby exit door to a normal, non-televised life. This ending was a little bittersweet for me, I’ll admit. On the one hand, this shows Truman making the choice to live his own life, demonstrating our free will. On the other hand, he’s choosing to against his “creator”.

     So does this mean that as a human, it’s “good” for us to decide to go our own way instead of living the kind of life Christof made for Truman? Well, no, it isn’t. But it still is a powerful thing that God gave us the ability to choose between living His way or our own way. We may be able to choose, but Truman chose his own way. As a Christian, I believe the best way is God’s Way.

     Deuteronomy 30:19-20: “‘This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’” 

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