Interviews → Cinedicate — The Truman Show
Satire, free will, visual metaphors, Jim Carrey, and everyday heroes.
This is the full transcript of my interview with Cinedicate, a podcast sharing hidden movie gems by revisiting them through a conversation (for both old and first time viewers). I picked one of my favorite movies... The Truman Show.
Download: audio (mp3)
Publication date: 2020-10
ⓘ Transcript slightly edited for clarity.
Armand (host): What was your first impression when you saw The Truman Show for the first time?
Sim (guest): I actually remember being fearful of it, from the trailer.
Sim: A little bit. I remember seeing the trailer when I was 12, or so [in Italy]. The idea of this man being on television, all the time... The Big Brother was not even a thing—as a reality show. It just gave me the idea of something bigger, and greater. It wasn't just the world, but a constructed world. I felt like if I saw a gigantic computer, for some reason. That is the picture I had in mind: a gigantic, organized “thing”.
I remember some fear: my first experience watching it was in high school—teachers just had us watch it. And I was really, really happy. I was lucky: they made us watch a lot of good movies. My literature professor decided that cinematography was an art as much as painting or other classical arts were.
Armand: Oh, yeah.
Sim: He and another professor decided “We're going to take some time every week to watch a movie. And we're going to have some movie critiques, and directors. We're going to dissect those movies, and we're going to talk about them.” So, we ended up watching most of Hitchcock, most of Chaplin, most of Kubrick in high school, and some other stuff here and there. From Woody Allen, for example, we watched The Purple Rose of Cairo. And we watched The Truman Show, which at the time wasn't that old. But one of the two teachers liked it, so we watched it. And I am really glad it stayed with me.
Armand: There's a lot to dissect with this movie, like with the themes and so many allegories that it paints. Before we get into that, what we love to do at Cinedicate which is the 60 second elevator pitch.
Sim: Oh, boy. Okay.
Armand: The main point of this show is to convince people why they should watch this movie. And quite frankly, this happens to me almost every day. When I'm scrolling through Netflix, I can't find anything to watch or there's just too many options that I ended up not watching anything.
Sim: It happens with any streaming app, just existential void—and the thumb keeps scrolling on the remote.
Armand: You're never satisfied. So, you are going to have 60 seconds to give me an overview of the plot without major spoilers. And... are you ready?
Sim: Okay, I guess!
Armand: 3, 2, 1, go.
Sim: Okay. If you like well composed movies (classic and linear), easy to understand as a language (cinematographic language) and at the same time you like a “hero's journey” (an ordinary hero), you should watch The Truman Show. It's funny and serious at the same time, because it's a satire about society. It's a satire about what we do, about this everyday common character, Truman, against the deus-ex-machina, Christof...
Armand: 30 seconds!
Sim: And if you like self-liberation movies (like The Matrix, for example) and well-shot movies, or you want to see how Jim Carrey went insane from Living In Color, doing farts and comedy sketches, to acting as an existential nihilist, watch The Truman Show. It's a great, funny, terrible, tragic movie.
Armand: Wow, with 10 seconds to spare. That's a new record, you did a good job.
Sim: Thank you! I earned a good grade.
Armand: Yes, A+. So, now let's get into the central theme of the movie. Right in the first act, we have a main character. His name is Truman. And it's directed by a man named Christof. We don't know his last name. It's just his first name.
Sim: I mean, we don't need it, right? It's Christ.
Armand: Yes. Exactly. He is the Christ figure.
Sim: He is the Christ, Christof, Christ-Of. And Truman is True Man, right?
Armand: Damn. Okay. So, Christof, if you dissect his name, Christ, so he is like the God of this world [Truman's world]. And like many directors, they're all a little bit Gods because they're formatting their own world. Christof takes it to the nth degree, which is creating his literal own world and by tricking a single man into believing that's his reality.
Sim: Right. I think that can be approached from multiple sides. But two that interest me particularly are... One: besides Christof and what he thinks of himself, anger or not, he is creating a world that looks like a utopia. There's this perfect, plastic utopia. And not just the world is of plastic, but also people and relationships are. That's one side. The other one is about Truman's role in it. Truman is owned by a corporation, is adopted by a corporation. And corporations in our society are granted a legal person status.
Armand: Oh, yeah.
Sim: The one thing they can't do, now, is adopting a human being. They can adopt other corporations—that's called a subsidiary, or a holding. But they can't adopt a human being. In this case, this world is crafted for profit, by a corporation, using a human being. And Christof is just part of the mechanism that is moving there. He's not even the ultimate engine of this mechanism. This crafted world... How does it influence Truman? What I ask to myself is...
“If I were born in something like that... how much can you notice the signals that show that you are immersed in such world?”
Because Truman lives in this reality show since he's born until, allegedly, he dies, or else. And he's born with commercial products placement around him that viewers see. So, if Truman uses a cup or a brand of cereals, awkwardly there will be his, wife or a friend, looking into the camera lens and going “Uuuh, this is what a cold beer should taste like!”. This is normal to him because... if you grew up with that, you do not pick up on those signals, at least not early on. Eventually, he starts to, right? And that drives him to insanity.
Armand: Yeah, there's a lot of hints that he notices throughout the entire movie. The first one, which comes in within the first 10 minutes, is a light falling down from the sky.
Sim: They said that a plane dropped something, but it's just a stage light.
Armand: Yeah, like those breaks in reality. I don't know what I would do. So, the show has been running for 10,910 days, which amounts to 30 years. This man has been in a false reality his entire life. He sees those cracks in his reality. I would be driven to insanity. It's like “this is my world!” and then I see behind the curtain.
Sim: I think this is very important: you call this a fake reality*, a fake world.
Sim: It is not, to him.
Armand: That's true.
Sim: I'm dearly attached to The Matrix too. And I think these movies are substantially the same plot, and the same movie. “If you see a deja-vu” that is not a weird signal of the world or an interruption of the Matrix for you. In the same way, if you see a light from falling from the sky, and “It's a piece of satellite!”... Well, I mean, how can you verify that? Even if it fell down now... unless this is staged too, which you'd be used to. You subconsciously might know that things are “off” but more because they're “off the routine” actually than because they're in reference to a world that you do not know anything about, outside.
Armand: That's true. All his days seemingly seem the same. There's a comfort in just having routine. This is my ritual. I wake up, see my neighbors, tell them good morning. And if I don't see them, “good afternoon, good evening, and good night”. He goes about his day, goes to his work, then he starts being unhappy with his work, and all the cast members that he doesn't know reassuring him. “You have a great job. Why would you leave this place?” or “Oh, it's very scary out there.” There's so many subtle hints to keep Truman entrapped in this seaside town.
Sim: Fear is the real cage.
Armand: Oh, yeah, fear is a big theme in this movie.
Sim: Fear is how Christof controls Truman's life. They staged the death of the father when he was a kid, in the sea—so he will be scared of the sea and of leaving this “utopia”.
Armand: Yeah. And you see that very early on where he goes to the dock to... I forget where he's actually go somewhere for work. And he sees the boat that has been submerged. And then that triggers a flashback of when he was a child. And in that particular episode of The Truman Show, they go sailing and his father seemingly drowns. And he's been traumatized of the water ever since. And it's a town that's surrounded by water, so you can't leave.
Sim: Fear is the tool that is used over, and over, and over again—especially via induced trauma—to control him and to keep him within the cage of that reality (again, for profit). But another important theme that contrasts fear in every hero's journey (and human life), is probably love. Because Truman falls in love with this person in high school, this girl.
Sim: Sylvia actually falls in love with Truman Burbank, the human... Instead of “I love you”, she says to him: “Truman, I need to tell you something... Everything is a lie. Your life is a lie.” That is the true gift of love: liberation, and self liberation. So much that these two things battle throughout the movie: immediately everybody intervenes to “Get her off stage immediately! She cannot be near Truman.” And the actor that was interpreting her father tells Truman: “Truman, she's crazy! We're moving forever.” “Where to?”, asks Truman. And the actor improvises: “Uuh... Fiji...”
Sim: That stays with Truman: “One day, I want to go to Fiji...”. That is the escape: love. Coming from the one, single, unscripted line. Unplanned, improvised, real, in-the-moment love (that happens for the actress portraying Sylvia as well) is the key to Truman's desire to get out of this cage of fear. He wants to travel to Fiji. But fear, again, holds him back because he's scared to travel—because of his father who died on a boat. And he needs to take that boat to get on a plane to Fiji. That is intense. You have this guy outside [Christof] playing with fabricated fear, trying to constrain the only force that... in this case, in this movie, it's one of the messages that can get you out of this routine, out of this comfort zone and take a risk that you would never take in life otherwise. Isn't it comfortable to have a routine?
Armand: Absolutely, because it's the familiarity.
Sim: So you trade that. You trade fear for safety. Why aren't you and I right now wherever else in the world or doing anything but a 9:00 to 5:00 job? Because we trade this kind of being adventurous, or anything else, for not having to fight to get your own food in the wild every day.
Armand: Security. You trade the call to adventure for comfort. You can't have both. You can't have an adventure without risk. Adventures are never easy. They're never comforting. It's very tough. But with Truman particularly, initially he thinks, “I want to go to Fiji.” He wants to break out of the mundane, the normality to go to a faraway land, to go on that great adventure. Then it's revealed very quickly it's because of Sylvia. He found his love. And he wants, like you said, that liberation in the form of a genuine relationship.
Sim: To find that out, eventually he has to defy the limits of the cage. And, eventually, you need to break out of your boundaries—regardless of the place or regardless of what is around you as a society. You just have to understand. A time comes when you have to face who you became, and the reasons why you became that. For Truman, that is just growing up within a stage. That's what torments him. It is in a similar way.... I think it was Plato's myth of the cave.
Armand: Yes. I was going to bring that up. From The Republic, Chapter VII.
Sim: Oh, wow, The Republic, okay! If you always live as a man in a cave and you see the shadows coming from the outside projected on a wall, you are seeing a reflection of reality. Although, to you, that actually is reality. And, to Truman, that means the characters around him—who are not his real friends but a reflection, the shadow of the real people they are outside, portraying those characters. He is literally in a cave. And he decides to step out, pretty much how Plato said that if you step out, you actually gain knowledge of the truth, which again in the analogy with The Matrix would be “going down the rabbit hole”. Here is something else that is also in the metaphorical, imaginary world of The Truman Show (there are lots of references not just in the name of biblical characters but also in the journey): Truman eventually reaches the border to a limit of his reality. And he's going to have to face a choice. I don't know if you noticed that there is this ending scene which is really, really beautiful to me. He breaks the fourth wall. He breaks his cage with a boat.
Armand: I didn't think of it that way. But yeah, it's true. When he's sailing, he hits the wall of the dome and breaks through it.
Sim: Yeah, that's breaking the fourth wall, as in breaking out of the “weird reality”. And when he walks off the boat, the water is so shallow that he can walk on water.
Armand: Yeah, I noticed that.
Sim: So, he walks on water—literally! Also, this is where the sky, and earth, water meet: at the end of the world. And that's all the creation of Christof, right? That's a beautiful image that represents this freedom. I really don't want to spoil the final movements, but I love it. The Truman Show ends where Neo goes off to the rabbit hole, and wakes up from the Matrix.
Armand: Right. It's very open ended. There is a doorway, but what happens after we don't know.
Sim: Christof tries to keep him in. In Christof's view, the fabricated world is not less real than the outside world. It's probably more fair to Truman than the outside world would be, so much that at the end, he says directly to him “Truman, there is no more truth out there than there is in the world that I created for you. You belong here.” There is this love that Christof has for his “creation”. That's how he sees it. But that is not how the world works. Because even if we want to go on with more creation myths, the world is created—but then it's left to both evil and good, through the agency of freewill—which is what Christof is not really conceding to Truman.
Armand: And it's kind of like the Garden of Eden, if you will. Like, “Here's this perfect area. And if you leave, it's going to be wickedness and turmoil outside. Do you want to make that choice?”
Sim: Jim Carrey, in his real life spiritual journey... It's crucial to think that this movie and Man on the Moon broke his vision of the world—as he was preparing for them and working on them. After not doing anything for 10 years, he worked on a documentary [and Sonic...]. It is on Netflix. It's called Jim & Andy. It's just him explaining how interpreting Andy Kaufman (this comedian from the '60s and the '70s that was “ambiguous”)... he didn't see it as comedy, he was just disrupting the role of entertainment in society. How trying to interpret him [Andy Kaufman] broke his [Jim Carrey's] vision of the world and made him understand it better. Now, Jim Carrey goes around saying things like “ I'm just trying to cope with the fact that I don't exist and I still go through life every day.” Whatever you think of that, Jim Carrey is a guy who was going “Hey, hey, ha ha ha!” [mimics heightened laughter] like that, every day! I think after those experiences he felt something closer to “My existence is void. I am the void.“. That is quite the change, and I think it might have started with The Truman Show. Partially... My guess is... you go through these documentaries and you wonder “How much did the preparation to interpret this role make Jim Carrey reflect about us and our society?” I don't think it's the same, of course.
Armand: It's very different.
Sim: Yeah, it is very different, but it certainly ingrained something in his brain.
Armand: Yeah, I could totally see that happening. Because when you take on a character, you have to really get that mindset in your brain.
Sim: He does not break off character. When he prepared for Man on the Moon... he just goes 100% into it. And he was behaving with everybody outside of the stage as if he was Kaufman, as if he was Andy Kaufman.
Armand: Not enough credit is given to Jim Carrey.
Sim: I think he's great. He's totally insane. And he has been very good on the screen. He's a guy who went from incredible physical comedy skills (an Eddie Murphy [or Robin Williams] level) to doing something much different. And he did great.
Armand: It takes a special actor to do comedy. A lot of people can do dramatic roles. It takes a very specific skill set to do a comedy movie. And for a lot of comedians, a lot of them transition to be dramatic actors because they have the ability to do that.
Sim: That's true. Robin Williams, for example... The director of The Truman Show is the same director of the Dead Poets Society.
Armand: Yeah, which is another favorite film of mine.
Sim: It is?
Armand: Peter Weir is the director of The Truman Show.
Sim: Yeah. So, the director recognized a comedic actor that transitions into a serious, dramatic role.
Armand: Yeah, same with Robin Williams. That was his first dramatic role, and that elevated his career to a whole another level.
Sim: So, maybe it's this guy. It's the director who can guide exceptional comedic talents to... I don't know.
Armand: Hey, Peter, if you're listening, props to you, man. So... let's talk about the outside world of The Truman Show. There's a few lines of dialogue which are very interesting, and you can extrapolate a lot from them. The narrator of The Truman Show, says, “This is the largest set in the world.” And I really looked at it because it's situated behind the Hollywood sign. It's like, “Okay, you don't really see the scale yet until it goes into like space view.” And the size of the dome if you really measure it out, it's 10 miles. It's a 10-mile mega structure. And it's situated on Burbank, the entire city of Burbank has been taken out. And Burbank lives on in Truman's name because his last name is Burbank.
Sim: Yes, Truman Burbank. You're right.
Armand: You really don't notice it. It's such a subtle detail. But there's so much to say. It's like, “Would the city of Burbank be willing to give away all of its real estate for a television show?” It's like, “What does that do for the Los Angeles economy to have this giant facility?” I assume it makes a lot of jobs because you're fabricating an entire town for a 24-hour TV show. So, it makes you think. They use the term largest movie set, which means are there bigger structures? Who makes all these things? Like if it happened today, it'd be one of the largest human made structures in human history other than the Great Wall of China.
Sim: If you wrap it around, it could be the walls of the set! No... I don't know. I never thought it from the Martian point of view of colonizing. But it does raise a few interesting questions. Let's dive into the economics of that. It's a 30-year long show. So, you need to distribute the price of that over 30 years.
Armand: And when it started, so let's say 30 years from 1998. So, it happened at 1960. So, what was on TV? Leave it to Beaver. I Love Lucy.
Sim: Here is when the economics start to make sense. Christof has been trying to have Truman have a child, and the characters in his life push him to have this kid.
Armand: The first “on-screen conception”, that's what Christof wants.
Sim: Right. And it would be a spin off. There was a planned spin off.
Armand: Wow. Okay.
Sim: In that case, you have two shows. And they start to think like that could become a family, that could become literally a parallel word. That is what they hint in the movie. So, at that point, you can optimize the cost of this mega structure over, potentially, 100 years—if you go through generations. That's when it starts to make more sense financially. Also, everything is monetized in the show! We see shots of ladies in England sitting and holding hands: they have a pillow with Truman's face on it.
We see people in Japan following the show, and they have all kinds of memorabilia around them. In Japan! This is a world phenomenon that is sold out every minute of every day. In one of the cutscenes that you can find in the DVD... (get the DVD!) There was the scene that was just this commercial of what you could buy from The Truman Show. The narrator went through the catalog, kind of an IKEA-like shot of Truman's house: “This exact copy of object X is only $9.99—on the Truman Catalog! Order now at 800-555-5555”. Or “Item number 234, Item 235. This is wonderful...” And just blah, blah, blah $99, buy it.
Armand: I'm disappointed they cut that out. But also it's almost not needed because throughout the entire movie, there are so many instances of commercialism, like you said before, “Ah, great beer. Ah, you know, that lawn mower, we should really get this model of lawn mower,” directly at the camera.
Sim: That's weird, right?
Armand: I don't mind being advertised to. I really don't. If there's like a good food that you want me to eat, sure, I'll give it a shot. When it's annoying, when it's like so invasive... In Truman's life. It's like his entire world is one giant commercial.
Sim: That's what... A giant commercial for you! You are the consumer. Everything is commodified [The Truman Catalog]. Paradoxically, the only commercials that Truman watches and sees are the ones for the people outside. They're not really trying to advertise anything to him. He's almost advertising-free compared to the people who watch the show. This “Utopia City”, if you look at it, there are no big billboards in it. There are only tiny posters near which he gets pinned to by two weird twins who work in insurance. And they show like a, I don't know, “Buy-this-chicken!” brand, or whatever. But he has no ads (mostly) except the ones needed for the people outside. I wonder if he can buy those products at all.
Armand: Let's go back to the megastructure. Burbank, in World War Two, was the site for Lockheed. And Lockheed was responsible for creating experimental aircraft for the war efforts against the Axis powers in Europe. So, back to our previous point of how could they justify getting rid of an entire city of Burbank? What if in this alternate reality, Burbank was destroyed in the war? So, the real estate was completely gone. And they built a dome on top of the ruins of Burbank. Because it could have been possible that the Japanese powers would have sent a missile or destroyed the city in some ways.
Sim: Yes. And what if it happened to other cities, too?
Armand: Yeah, because the whole world seems very dystopic. Who else would fund this giant propaganda piece for an ideal American town than the government? Who has the funding to...?
Sim: Wow. Dude, you're going into conspiracies a lot.
Armand: Yeah, here we go. Tinfoil hat is secured on my head.
Sim: No, it's okay. It's okay, I'm following. I'm doing my best.
Armand: Because think about it, it's like the ideal, perfect town of 1950s America: white picket fence, like, “Oh, my wife is making me dinner today. And let me go to work as an insurance salesman.” It's this picture-perfect view of American life. And when Truman is like, “I want to go out and this and that.” And his mother is like, “Why would you want to go outside of the town and be like the rest of America?” Insinuating that the rest of America is not in a good state.
Sim: Not safe. Yeah, we go back to the fear concept, right? I can play this game, if you want, of the authoritarian dystopia outside of the dome of Truman, if we want. Although, the way I saw it was more like advertisers gone wild, like that's how it happened. I saw it more as an exponential development of a product [Truman Show] to the use of everybody else. So, it wouldn't be more like “What if...”. Okay, there is this recurring theme (Steve Jobs especially had it)... “What if... Apple ran a town?”. This corporate fantasy world: “What if Apple built...” a city?, “What if Google built a city?”... Which is happening in Canada, in Toronto.
Armand: Wait, really?
Sim: There is an idea for a smart city which is on the Toronto shore. There is a whole area which has been built with sensors and optimized by algorithmic changes for traffic... for managing everything: trash, all of that.
Armand: A real life Truman Show.
Sim: Actually, in this case you are not selling your experience to other people watching the experience itself [like The Truman Show]. We're selling the optimization of your personal experience to the greater good [algorithmic city]. But yes, to some extent, it answers the same question “What if a for-profit corporation ran a city, a limited environment where people can live in?” And we can already partially see that... I had a chance to visit, in the past, the Facebook headquarters, and it feels a bit like that. They have their own situation where everything is free. There is free restaurants. There is a free barber shop. There is the dentist. And it's all in between the buildings of this company. And there is a free arcade... Like you'd go there and there's tens of machines, just for fun. So, what if Truman is a take on that idea, The corporate town?
Armand: That's a more realistic outlook for the future than I would say the...
Sim: Than “the city got destroyed and the government wanted to find...?” Yeah, I don't know if that...
Armand: A brave new world where your pleasures ultimately control you. Why change anything if everything is given to me?
Sim: And if I'm okay with it! There is the battle that Truman ultimately fights: everything is perfect, except it is not. Because I did not decide to determine this future and this “being” for myself. I was imposed this. So, do I trade comfort for freewill?
Armand: He has the call to adventure. He refuses it. Then he pursues it to the point where it threatens his life and his well-being. In life, that's where character truly comes from. Outside of a narrative, character comes out of adversity. It doesn't come from getting everything you wanted.
Sim: That's what it is: adversity. It's not just the adventure, but overcoming the obstacles and adversity: that's the key to the hero's journey. Coming back home is... Ithaca? I am struggling with English translations of that.
Armand: The Iliad.
Sim: Sì, l'Iliade, esatto. It's that. So, that is the same thing...
The journey is overcoming the obstacles to come home to yourself. And “home” is not necessarily a physical place, but it's yourself. And that's what Truman does. For me, or for you, it can be different: the journey, for some people is a struggle with health, for some people it's a struggle with economy. For some, it's fighting off the insecurity that they have about something else.
To Truman, it's overcoming the fear of leaving home, going to Fiji, finding love, and finally breaking through that fourth wall that has been built around him. And, once he overcomes that obstacle, we don't need to know what's outside! He already came home to himself. He decided, at least, to get on board with the journey. And, if he doesn't see you, “good afternoon, good evening, and good night!”.
Armand: Exit stage left. So, to close the show, we like to do “one good reason”. If you were to give someone one reason to watch this movie, what would it be? It's a tough one.
Sim: [Laughs] I like to see Jim Carrey go around in a car, in a roundabout, about 20 times and scream “Someone help me! I'm being spontaneous!” [Laughter] That is the best part for me. Just watch it to see Jim Carrey going in a roundabout 20 times with his wife screaming in the car. His fake wife...
Armand: Yeah, that was a fantastic scene. For me, the one reason is the spiritual journey. It makes you reevaluate your life. What part of my life needs to change?
Sim: Before I drive around on a roundabout 20 times...
Armand: Yeah. Even though that's fun and I love doing donuts and eating donuts.
Sim: Oh, that's how you call it?
Sim: Doing donuts?
Armand: Yeah. Driving around in a circle, it makes a donut.
Sim: Yeah. He has about 20 donuts in that box.
Armand: More than a baker's dozen! So, that would be my reason. But that's it for this time on Cinedicate. We've been talking about The Truman Show by Peter Weir. Please check it out where it is available. All set, Cinedicate. I hope you enjoyed yourself. I like to thank my guest, Sim, for coming on the show.
Sim: Thank you, Armand.
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I've been a satirical author, marketing manager, radio host, Comedy Central correspondent, and improviser. Process optimizer, critical observer, easily obsessed—and emotional stoic—I love meaningful conversations and silences. Rome (Italy) native, I now live in Chicago → more about me and what I'm doing now.