So far, it is the social commentary in The Truman Show and similar works that has received the most attention. But these works aren't only about contemporary society. They are also disguised stories about birth, the mind, families, and mythic gods. Thus, in addition to depicting people breaking free from oppressive social systems, the characters are also disguised depictions of babies being born from the fake paradises of high-tech wombs into the world. At the same time, they depict a mind breaking free from neurosis and children breaking free from smothering and controlling parents. And they are re-creations of ancient myths that tell stories about heroes who try to free themselves from oppressive supernatural beings.
As we will see, all of these meanings relate to each other. And, in all of them, the character's effort to break through the social control is an essential element of the story.
Lets examine these elements, as they appear in The Truman Show.
* Birth: The Truman Show offers a disguised depiction of a baby being born and of the stages of birth. Truman begins in an idyllic womblike paradise of safety and comfort in which he is at one with his world and accepts everything as given. Then there is a disruption caused by his recognition that he is being watched, and there is a difficult birth as he braves a storm at sea, is tossed around and almost drowns. At the end, in a more peaceful scene that combines images of birth and death, he reaches the open door that will lead him into the world. His creator tells him it is safe inside but he has the urge to genuinely live. He rejects the fake heaven of his high-tech womb, in order to be born, so he will have a chance at an authentic, although a more difficult, life.
* Mind: The Truman Show is a disguised depiction of the mind of a man lost in a false personality of illusory happiness. His mind is kept in this state by an internalized, controlling, image of a father who wants to stop him from achieving maturity. When Truman stumbles on the backstage area in the movie, that is a depiction of the mind perceiving a part of the unconscious where this defensive false self is generated. When the security guards then drag Truman away, (as shown at the top of the page), that is the forces of psychological defense barring the mind from perceiving the forbidden territory of the unconscious.
The fear of water that is instilled in Truman, keeping him trapped on the island and away from the world outside, is the neurosis of agoraphobia that keeps this person locked in a false self. When he tries to grow into a fuller person with a real life, he comes up against the barrier of more defenses in the form of fire, the supposed radiation-leak and the people (shown below) who block him, catch him and take him back to his fake world. But he suffers through his fears and breaks through.
In the end, Truman is beckoned forward not merely by the prospect of a more genuine life but also by the memory of a woman who, in his youth, revealed to him that he is trapped in a TV show, before they took her away. Thus, the internalized image of the controlling, threatening, father keeps him from linking up with a women in what would presumably be a genuine marriage. The other woman who plays the role of his mother, and who tries to keep Truman there, as well, is the internalized image of a mother, who similarly is trying to keep him from growing out of childhood.
* Family: The Truman Show is also a depiction of a family in which the kind of dynamics described above are instilled in a child. Here, the society he lives in is his family. The actress playing his mother is just that, his mother. And the director-producer is his controlling father. They try to keep him from growing up and leaving the false happiness of a controlled family. Ultimately, his journey from this sanitized, happy-face world into the unknown larger world, where he will find a genuine love, is his effort to grow up, in the face of their opposition.
This domain of meaning also contains a fantasy, long written about by psychoanalysis, in which people tell themselves -- "These are not my parents. I come from a better place and better people than this. But that fact is being hidden from me." In the movie, that is precisely what Truman discovers about himself.
* The Truman Show is a re-creation of myths, depicting a man imprisoned in the nest of a fake paradise or heaven by a manipulative god. At the end, after Truman comes up against the enclosing wall and finds the door to the outside, the producer speaks to him in a voice from above and tries to instill fear in him, to keep him under control. It is an interesting ironic touch that as Truman goes up the steps to reach the door, just before the producer speaks to him, he is in a heaven-like setting. As noted, he rejects this false paradise and chooses to exile himself into the mundane world that is his natural home. He travels from fake -- fantastic and fabulous -- nature to true nature.
In terms of Biblical imagery, he is both Adam and Christ. He is Adam, who escapes from a false paradise and falls by choice into nature and history, and he is Christ who knows of a higher world and is crucified on the boat as a result.
In using this imagery, The Truman Show is repeating a common image seen in stories about false paradises. These works typically merge the images of the first and second Adam. Logan in Logan's Run, for example, is the first Adam who escapes from a false paradise of another enclosed city and he is the second Adam who brings the truth of a better world back to the people and is crucified as a result.
A number of people have mentioned that Truman is composed of the words "true man". He is a true man who will mature into adulthood and have a genuine relationship with a woman. He is a true man in the sense that he is brave. And he is the true man in the sense that he is the archetypal man for our age, who stands up to the false God and illusions of the media manipulators and develops the potential for an authentic life. Christof is God crucifying his only son, who is resurrected at the end.
* Society and Culture: Finally, the movie uses this mythological raw material to tell a new myth about contemporary America and the connection between invented substitutes for reality and the misuse of power. This new myth takes a number of elements of our current media landscape and mixes them together to convey its meaning. In part, it plays on the way we increasingly find ourselves watching staged events and theatrical illusions on television, even when we are viewing news, politics, advertising and public affairs. But in place of showing us an audience like ourselves that is being tricked, it cleverly turns the star of the show into the victim of the fraud.
It also plays on the way news and so-called reality programming turns real people into the unwilling stars of melodramas for audience entertainment. Dan Quayle and Tammy Faye Bakker get turned into comic characters who are a source of derision and ridicule. O. J. Simpson and the Goldman family end up as the stars of a courtroom drama. Monica Lewinsky's mother discovers she has been unwillingly cast in a supporting role in a political "bedroom" farce. But, once again, the movie cleverly mixes things up so that, unlike the real people who knowingly get trapped in fictions, it shows us a character who has no idea he is a character in a media invention.
And it plays on the themed environments that are turning up all over the United States, from Disney and Las Vegas to the fantasylands of many malls to the growing number of planned communities with faux quaint architecture and contrived nostalgia. These too are forms of media -- stage sets to be more precise -- that offer us entertaining fantasies. By placing its character inside an immersive stage set like this, the movie is able to depict the way we are surrounded by the self-contained simulation of the contemporary media industry.
These same elements can be found, with some variation, in the other works that depict false paradises and environments of illusion, as well, since all tell variations on the story found in The Truman Show. All make use of images and ideas about birth, the mind, growing up, gods, and contemporary culture. They use these images and ideas to depict these things and to comment on these aspects of life.
But it is when we begin to see how these meanings enrich each other that things get interesting. Through these multiple meanings, these works tell us we have to mature, individually and collectively, and be born out of false paradises of media and technology into a harsher world of truth. They tell us we experience the new media class of entertainment, news, politics and corporations as made up of corrupt and controlling parents who try to use us for their own ends. And these works depict the members of this class as suffering from a god complex, in which they toy with human lives and act as if they are above and beyond life's travails.
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