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Movie Review

This summer's best movie for parents and teens doesn't star a giant lizard or a comet hurtling toward earth. It features Jim Carrey as a naive insurance salesman whose humdrum existence is, unbeknownst to him, being telecast live around the globe 24 hours a day. With wit, intelligence and panache, The Truman Show skewers our media-addicted culture by raising questions about ratings-mad moguls and fickle, voyeuristic viewers always on the lookout for a new video fix.

The film evolves from an intriguing premise. A corporation, personified by a sovereign television producer named Christof, adopts an unborn child for the purpose of creating the ultimate home movie. For nearly thirty years, 5,000 hidden cameras monitor Truman Burbank's every move for the peeping masses. Truman doesn't know he's on display, or that his pristine hometown of Seahaven is actually an enormous sound stage filled with actors hired to play various roles in his life.

Whether manipulating Truman or conversationally plugging products, cast members--including those posing as his wife, parents and lifelong pal--act in the network's best interests, not Truman's. If someone on the "inside" develops a bout of conscience, they're ushered off by security officers before they can let Truman in on the charade. But things start to unravel. Strange events inspire Truman to satisfy his curiosity about the world around him, and Christof (symbolic of either a controlling parent or dictatorial creator) must stop him before he reaches the truth and freedom waiting at the outer walls of the set.

Who's really to blame for Truman's years of bondage? Christof? The actors? The sponsors? Or is it the multitude of viewers riveted to their TV screens? Clearly, all are willing accomplices (an issue worth exploring with teens raised in this cynical, self-aware era of COPS, Jerry Springer and televised murder trials).

Truman Show director Peter Weir told USAToday, "I think there's a kind of image virus. Images are so manipulated now. You can't be sure what you're looking at. Is it a re-creation? Is it actual? Is it fiction? Does it matter? Children see violence on TV so much that they don't know what's real or unreal."

The Truman Show implies that "what's real" includes honest, loving families and sincere friendships (if only by their glaring absence). But more than that, it forces us to reexamine our relationship with television itself. There's something sad about seeing an entire culture of "watchers"—couch potatoes spending hours tuned in to see one man putter through life instead of puttering themselves. What is TV really costing us?

Furthermore, the filmmakers allude to the blurring distinction between manufactured reality and what we ultimately accept as true. They also point to the media's persuasive power when they allow Truman to be brainwashed by subtle messages crafted to undermine his self-confidence.

Families in search of an entertaining "discussion movie" will find lots to chew on here. Several lines uttered by Christof are themselves rich with possibilities when examined from a biblical perspective ("We accept the reality of the world with which we're presented," "There's no more truth out there than in the world I've created for you,"etc.). However, the movie isn't flawless.

About a dozen profanities (including two inappropriate uses of Jesus' name) mar the dialogue. And Truman's best friend always seems to show up with a six-pack of beer in hand. That's a shame because, these moments aside, the film responsibly deals with many positive, challenging themes. And Carrey's noble nebbish is easy to root for as he perseveres against overwhelming odds.

Any medium that consumes 26 hours per week of the average American's time is worth a closer look. The Truman Show puts television under a magnifying glass, resulting in an intriguing social commentary for the '90s.

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Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone


Peter Weir ( )


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Bob Smithouser

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