The Truman Show

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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All Truman, All the Time.
On the air. Unaware

1998 Science Fiction dark comedy/drama starring Jim Carrey, and widely considered one of his best movies.

Truman Burbank is a well-liked small-town insurance salesman who lives a seemingly idyllic life. But Truman is discontented, pining after a girl he fell in love with in college but who was taken out of his life very suddenly, and strange things have been happening recently; what looks like a spotlight marked with the name of a star falls out of the air right in front of him, his radio is picking up bizarre signals that are matching his movements exactly, and everything, from his beautiful wife to his loyal best friend, seems just a little bit... artificial. When he happens to bump into a mysterious hobo who looks the spitting image of his dead father, he begins to suffer a paranoid breakdown and begins investigating his environment more closely, something which those around him are desperate to avoid -- for the truth is, Truman's life is artificial; he's the star of a globally successful Reality Show called "The Truman Show", directed by the fanatical and obsessive creator/producer/director Christof (Ed Harris). His entire world is make-believe, everyone who is around him are actors, and the only one who is not in on the joke is Truman himself. But that's about to change...

Amusing to consider is that, out of the many different reactions to the film, one was clearly (Cue Irony) "What a good idea." The film came out in 1998. The very first series of Big Brother came out in 1999, and Survivor in 2000. They seemed like a shocking idea at the time. (And the crazy thing is, they were right. Today, Reality Television has captured, well, how much of the market segment?)

On the other hand, those people volunteer.


The Truman Show is the Trope Namer for:
Tropes used in The Truman Show include:
  • An Aesop: Fairly subtle: while Truman and his buddy, Marlon, are golfing near the island's edge, Marlon mentions how he'd "kill for a desk job", bemoaning his fate as a guy who restocks vending machines. During a flashback to their high school years, Marlon is shown trying to convince Truman not to study and go out for a beer instead. Do well in school, kids.
    • Word of God on the DVD extras suggested an alternate possible Aesop: that we all come to a point when we have to decide whether to stay in our familiar, comfortable delusions or move forward into the unknown of reality, and when this happens we must not listen to that little disembodied voice telling us we can't leave.
  • All There in the Manual: A companion book containing the complete screenplay was presented as an in-universe companion to the show itself, containing background information on both the "actors" around Truman and the audience members cut to throughout the movie (the guy in the bathroom died when he accidentally knocked his TV into the water, for one).
  • All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game": Good luck finding anyone now who knows anything at all about the film except for the true nature of Truman's world.
    • Does it count if this is the entire premise of the movie, and is explained in bits and pieces right from the opening credits? Admittedly they don't come out and tell you exactly how everything works until about halfway through, though.
  • Anti-Villain: Christof, arguably.
    • Indeed, if you look at Christof's actions, primarily in the final scene, you see that he shows a deep caring for Truman and the message he gives to the world, which would portray him more as a Well-Intentioned Extremist. The characterization, however, is ruined when you remember that about a scene earlier, Christof was trying to capsize Truman's boat, knowing that it could easily kill him.
      • On the other hand Christof is a control freak who ruins someone's life, would have to do a lot of bribing for the show to exist and it is implied he fires anyone who might let Truman know about the world.
    • All There in the Manual, Christof had a documentary where he videotaped the plight of the homeless, as he felt showing the world what hardship they had to go through would inspire people to help them. This documentary is what inspired him to create a world that would protect someone (Truman) throughout his life.
  • Artificial Atmospheric Actions: Truman only begins to notice when he starts suspecting things. "A lady on a red bicycle, a man carrying flowers, and a car with a dented bumper... they've been going in a loop around my house."
    • "Dog Fancy, please." A LOT of people seem to like Dog Fancy magazine...
  • As You Know: in the middle of the film, the introduction to the TruTalk special gives away in detail what the viewers could only assume before.

1.7 billion were there for his birth. 220 countries tuned in for his first step. The world stood still for that stolen kiss. And as he grew so did the technology. An entire human life recorded on an intricate network of hidden cameras and broadcasted live and unedited 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to an audience around the globe. Coming to you now from Seahaven Island, enclosed in the largest studio ever constructed and along with the Great Wall of China one of the only two man-made structures visible from space, now in it's thirtieth great year ... it's The Truman Show!

    • Followed by the host explaining details of how the show works to its director.
  • Back From the Dead: Christof decides to re-introduce Truman's father in a bid to keep Truman from breaking free of the show. Arguably, it's so contrived that its biggest impact is to add to the growing list of things that Truman realizes seem amiss about his world.
  • Bad Liar: Almost every attempt to convince Truman that he's just imagining things and that everything's normal backfires through either poor attempts at covering up or, alternatively, overly-coordinated Contrived Coincidences.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Louis Coltrane (the in-movie name of actor playing Marlon) breaks the fourth wall when he speaks into the camera and to Christof ("He's gone!"), causing the latter to cut the show's transmission.
    • As well as Truman's wife when Truman becomes suspicious and holds a dangerous kitchen gadget to her neck and she screams to the camera "DO SOMETHING!"
    • Truman himself arguably does this towards the end, when he performs one of his usual routines in his bathroom mirror, only to mysteriously add "That one's for free." None of the crew watching pick up on it, but the implication is that he's signalling to the audience that he's just playing along; it's significant that he makes his break for freedom not long after. And then there's his climactic confrontation with Christof, where Christof converses with him via a Voice From Above (no doubt one of the studio's address systems).
  • Broken Bridge: When Truman tries to escape, a series of increasingly unlikely obstacles (up to a faked nuclear incident) are contrived to bar his way. In fact, any method off the island is a broken bridge for Truman, including a literal one.
  • Broken Masquerade: Truman starts noticing a variety of unusual things, such as an actors' break room hidden behind an elevator.
  • The Cameo: Composer Phillip Glass appears as one of the keyboard artists providing the live music as the show is filmed.
  • Catch Phrase: "Good morning. Oh, and in case I don't see you again, good afternoon, good evening and goodnight."
  • Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are: Louis after they realize Truman is missing.
  • Completely Missing the Point: Many viewers complained that the movie doesn't show us what happens to Truman after he leaves Seahaven... y'know, the place where he's had an audience watching his every move for his entire life.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Deliberately invoked, as the writers will set these up to keep Truman along the path they want him to follow. Of course, when these start building up, Truman starts figuring stuff out...
  • Control Freak: Christof is utterly convinced that he knows what's best for Truman and determined to rule every aspect of his life.
  • Crap Saccharine World: Truman's home town, where everyone's happy and nice and pretty. Besides Truman's father being dead to enforce hydrophobia and the fact it's, uh. Fake.
  • Crapsack World: Cracked.com's The 7 Most Ridiculous Movie Character Overreactions sums it up nicely:

Think about how many laws have to not exist in that universe for this show to happen. It's apparently legal for a person or corporation to imprison a person, as long as you feed him. It's legal to film and record someone without his knowledge. It's legal to defraud a person out of literally every possible thing he could have in his life, from a real marriage to a real career. If it can be done to Truman, it can be done to anyone, including you. It's as much an "anything goes" society as The Road Warrior.

  • Crash Into Hello. Subverted. The woman who was picked to be Truman's love interest falls on top of him, but he falls in love with a girl who is sitting on the lawn a little ways away.
  • Crucified Hero Shot
  • Diegetic Switch: “Why don’t you forget about the perils of flying, settle back, and let this music calm you down?”
  • Discretion Shot: ...to a Lampshade Hanging.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The creator of the show is named Christof.
    • During the final scene Truman is walking along "the sky", but from the viewer's vantage point it seems that he is walking on the water.
    • It goes even further in the very next scene, where Christof talks to Truman through a speaker, his voice echoing and even coming from a ray of light behind the clouds.
    • "I am the creator [long conspicuous mid-sentence pause] of a television show...."
    • Similarly "Cue the sun!" is reminiscent of "Let there be light."
    • The hole he digs to escape his house is directly imitating the "rough climb to enlightenment" that exists in the cave in Plato's "The Allegory of the cave."
  • Domed Hometown: The town's actually a major dome built in Hollywood - it's famous for being able to be seen from space.
  • Easy Amnesia: Parodied. It's Christof's plan to explain away what happened to Truman's father.
  • Enforced Method Acting: Part of the way Truman figures out something is wrong is when Truman starts acting wildly out-of-character and none of the actors improvise well at all to his behavior, especially his wife.
  • Enhance Button: shows up when Truman executes his "escape plan", when Christof and the control room director are analyzing footage of Truman supposedly sleeping.
  • Former Child Star: According to the script book, the woman playing Truman's wife took on the role shortly after she became one of these.
  • Fourth Wall Psych: In an in-universe example, Truman starts talking to himself through the bathroom mirror, and the production crew starts wondering if he's really aware of the camera that's hidden behind it.
  • God Is Evil: Played with: the director is the metaphorical "God" of Seahaven and hardly has Truman's interests at heart, but it's hardly as black-and-white as him being "evil".
  • Heroic BSOD: When Truman finally completes his ocean voyage at the end by crashing into the outer wall of the studio, and he has the dawning horror that all of his worst fears about his situation are true.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Subtly: the interviewer thanks Christof for the interview, noting how he famously values his privacy - the principal thing, besides truth, he has denied Truman his whole life.
    • Also, almost everything the out-of-character interviews with the cast stresses how 'real' the show is, and how Truman is an integral part of that reality, when almost everything about it is completely artificial and engineered (even Truman's own reactions were often the result of his own preconditioned choices). Amusingly, once he does begin to express his 'real' self, everything begins to fall apart.
  • I Never Told You My Name: What gives away the cop who stops Truman at the edge of "town"-- he used Truman's name, despite having never met him before or being shown ID.
  • Ironic Echo: "In case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening and good night" at the end of the film.
  • ISO Standard Urban Groceries: Truman's wife is seen carrying some early on in the movie.
  • Jerkass: A special note must be given to all the actors playing Truman's friends and family, especially the ones playing his parents -- it's baffling that any human being could play the part of Truman's parents, spouse or friend for all his life and not begin to form any genuine attachment to him at all, but rather just keep lying to him.
    • Although as noted just below, it's possible that some of them honestly thought he was better off being lied to. His mother is probably the worst of them, coming off as a total sociopath.
    • His "Father" played a big role in traumatizing a very young Truman and giving him a phobia of water that followed him all the way to adulthood by "drowning." We see that he was very upset over doing so... but only because it meant he had to be written out of the show.
    • Word Of Actor says that Marlon, Truman's best friend might be the exception, as he does really care about Truman and feels bad for lying to him (understandable as they'd known each other since they were kids). Emmerich also believes that Marlon had been into rehab several times over the years, due to having developed a severe drug addiction to cope with the constant guilt.
      • There's a deleted scene that supports this. About two-thirds of the way through the movie (after Truman's had his break-down and Meryl has left him) the actors and Christof have a meeting and discuss the next few months of the show. Christof has already scripted the whole thing out; he's brought a new character (Vivian) in to replace Meryl as Truman's love interest, they talk about her and Truman will get together, and Christof reaffirms his plans to have the world's first on-air conception, and he details how a second channel will be added to chronicle Truman Jr.'s life. At which point Marlon, who up until this point hasn't spoken, very bitterly comments "so when Truman dies, we go back to the one-channel format?" Acts as a very quiet Shut UP, Hannibal.
        • Another deleted scene from the part of the movie where the rest of the cast is out looking for the disappeared Truman and shows Marlon recognizing a disguised, hiding Truman, with the both of them staring at each other for several moments... before Marlon goes back to calling for Truman and rejoins the others. So he had a heart of gold despite his lifetime of deception.
  • Knight Templar Parent: Christof.
    • Depending on Alternate Character Interpretation, this also applies to some of the others close to Truman. It's possible that they believed that the lies needed to keep the show running were in Truman's best interest. Some characters (Marlon) lend themselves to this better than others (his mother, Meryl).
  • Locked Out of the Loop
  • Long Runner: In universe. The show has been running continuously since before Truman was born (almost 30 years).
  • Love At First Sight: Truman for Sylvia, despite his friend's attempts to distract him with trumpet playing and his planned future wife's Crash Into Hello.
  • Mad Artist: Christof.
  • Meaningful Name: Truman Burbank: Burbank because that's where Seahaven really is, and Truman as in "True man", because Truman is the only "real" person in Seahaven.
    • 'Christ'of, as well as Moses and Roman, the two network executives, and one of of Christof's assistants is named Simeon.
    • The principle characters also have names seemingly inspired by notable actors (Marlon, Meryl, etc).
  • Meet Cute: Invoked.
    • They seemed to be trying for it a second time, after the actress playing his wife has enough and leaves the show.
  • Missing the Good Stuff
  • Never Found the Body: Truman's reason for holding out hope that his father is still alive.
    • More subtly, it could be to keep Truman from ever getting closure, thus keeping him traumatized and afraid of water.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer focused on minor scenes in order to make it out to be the kind of outrageously wacky comedy Carrey was known for.
  • Not So Different: After their bitter on-air callback confrontation, the way both Sylvia and Christof stroke Truman's image on the monitor suggests that, for their obvious vehement differences, they both genuinely love and care for Truman in their separate ways.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Natascha McElhone (Lauren/Sylvia) slips into her native British accent when Sylvia is on the phone with Christof.
    • She also does this when she's about to be taken away, so this is likely an In-Universe case.
  • Painting the Medium: Whenever the camera is shot through a round lens, we know that we're seeing the scene from the viewpoint of one of the 50,000 hidden cameras. For shots impossible for the cameras to capture, a normal lens is used.
    • Though why some of these 50,000 hidden cameras existed where they did; such as on the boat at the escape sequence, breaks this system
  • Paranoia Fuel: Invoked. In Real Life, there is a variant of paranoid schizophrenia now named "Truman syndrome", in which the patient believes that their lives are actually a television show. This may be the best and most controversial example of Defictionalization ever.
  • Parental Abandonment: Truman was an unwanted baby, "sold" or "sacrificed" for the project. Additionally, the man who he thought was his father was Put on a Bus.
  • Pet the Dog: The moment where Christof strokes the large screen showing the sleeping Truman does suggest that Christof, in his warped and Control Freaky way, does genuinely love and care for Truman as a father.
    • Christof does the same thing at the very end, when he talks to Truman for the first time.
  • Platonic Cave: Where the "cave" is the set to a television show.
  • Product Placement: Parodied - since the show can't have actual commercials (it airs 24/7), everything Truman uses is paid for by corporate sponsors and people in Truman's life will give elaborate sales pitches of items used in their daily lives. This ultimately leads to Truman's "divorce" when the actress playing his wife does this at the wrong time.
    • It seems to be a combination of this and merchandising as there's a catalog for everything in the show that is not being explicitly marketed. It also explains why everything is so pretty.
  • Pull the Thread: Once Truman starts reacting to his early suspicions, further attempts by the TV crew to repair the illusion begin backfiring, each one mandating it be covered up in turn...
  • Put on a Bus: Sylvia and Truman's dad were both written out of the show to keep Truman from learning the truth.
    • The Bus Came Back: Some lines of dialogue imply that Marlon was Put on a Bus that Came Back at different points during the show's run.
    • Truman tried to put himself on a bus... er, a literal bus. To Chicago. At the time, he hadn't realized the true nature of Seahaven; he just wanted to leave town. Obviously, the studio couldn't allow that, so the bus driver proceeded to ruin the gearbox by grinding gears.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: See Smite Me Oh Mighty Smiter.
  • Railroading: Truman's predetermined wife. In fact, his predetermined life.
  • Reality Show: It essentially encapsulated the idea and then Deconstructed it before it became popular. For all the trappings of reality the show and its creators try to give it, it's still plotted and only has an illusion of choice.
  • Reality TV
  • Red Alert: During the staged nuclear power plant accident, a man could be heard announcing "This is a red alert!"
  • Redemption in the Rain: Spoofed - at one point, a scene that looks like it has this potential is ruined when the 'rain' falls only on Truman, nobody else.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: They have created a self-contained biodome that perfectly mimics weather and sky. Alas, it is the only one in existence ("Along with the great wall of china the only man made object visible from space"), and it's used for a TV show.
  • Ridiculously Average Guy: The fact that Truman is nice in an ordinary way seems to be part of his appeal to the viewers in-universe.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Not actually shown on film, but a couple of the show's viewers comment that Christof does this when Truman and Meryl get it on.
  • Shallow Love Interest: In-universe, Meryl doesn't really love Truman and is only acting the part of his love interest. At one point, he even asks her "Why do you want a baby with me? You can't stand me". After she leaves the show, the studio seems ready to set up a second relationship, in the form of a hot new co-worker named Vivian.
  • Small Secluded World: Most of the movie takes place in a small society that is extremely secluded from the outside world, although the main character is unaware of this.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter!: From the Trope Namer before he named the trope. See Crowning Moment of Awesome, above.
  • Spotting the Thread: What clues Truman into the artificial nature of his world.
    • In particular, a lady on a red bike, a man with flowers, and a Volkswagen beetle with a dented fender, who go around the block, over and over again, and always in the exact same order.
    • During the "Nuclear Meltdown" encountered during his escape attempt, his reaction to a complete stranger uttering:

Police Officer: No problem, Truman.

  • Stepford Smiler: Truman's wife, Meryl. It's creepy as heck.
    • To an extent, Truman himself. He's obviously quietly dissatisfied with his life quite early on in the movie.
    • Most of the town has shades of this, particularly the twins and the neighbor across the street. Marlon is the only one who feels natural, and as a result Truman continues to trust in him when he grows suspicious.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Subverted somewhat, in that Seahaven is designed to be unreal.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Vivian for Meryl. They look the same, dress the same, have the same hair; Christof clearly is a genius writer.
  • Tempting Fate: Christof almost mocks Sylvia during their phone call by stating that Truman could leave at any time "if it was more than a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined." Sylvia banks on the latter happening, and she's proven right.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: One of the rare examples where the viewer is already in on it when the film opens, though the extent of how much is slowly revealed to the audience along with Truman.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: It was originally supposed to actually be a twist; however the filmmakers decided a situation with Dramatic Irony was better. The trailers, posters, and even the name make it obvious. Despite this, Roger Ebert (being a critic, and thus treated to a screening before the advertising began) had the chance to see it without being spoiled, and complained about the advertising revealing the twist.
  • Twenty Minutes Into the Future: The time period the film takes place in is never stated or referenced in any way, however the technology running Seahaven implies it could be decades into the 21st century. Even some of the TV executives' outfits are a bit futuristic looking.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Reality Television.
  • Utopia: Christof thinks that he's created one in Seahaven, but he's hopelessly deluded.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Towards the end Christof and by extension the show, when Truman makes his escape attempt, begins to lose it quite rapidly and starts doing things that would be impossible to explain away to Truman, like turning the moon into a searchlight and having the entire town look for him.
  • The Wall Around the World: The enormous set of the show. Which Truman breaks through with his boat at the end of the film.
  • Was It All a Lie?: When Truman finally does get to speak to Christof, he has only three questions for him - "Who are you?" "And who am I?" "Was nothing real?"
  • Weather Control Machine: Christof and his technicians have total control over the weather in Seahaven. There seems to be some element of concealed mechanical sprinklers involved, but the incredible sunsets, clouds, and storm he creates at sea seem to imply the use of much more advanced atmospheric technology that can truly create weather. Unless, of course, it's all holograms, IMAX projectors and wind machines.
  • Weird Moon: The director's observation platform is behind the false moon. Also, the shadowing of the moon rarely corresponds to the position of the "sun," a cosmic mistake that seems oddly lost on Truman.
  • Welcome to The Real World: The entire film builds up to Truman realizing the world he grew up in was fabricated.
  • Wham! Episode: In-show example, when Truman is overcome with paranoia and flips out on his wife, and in the same night, he re-unites with his father who was previously written off.
  • Wham! Line: For Truman at least, "No problem, Truman."
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Sylvia's phone call to Christof:

Sylvia: Hi Christof, I'd just like to say one thing. You're a liar and a manipulator and what you've done to Truman is sick!
Christof: I have given the chance for Truman to lead a normal life. The world, the place you live in, is the sick place. Seahaven is the way the world should be.
Sylvia: He's not a performer, he's a prisoner. Look at him, look at what you've done to him!

  1. The trope's origin could be that "real" suburbs tend to be somewhat "facade" and implausible, though.