The Truman Show, a 1998 Science Fictiondark comedy/drama directed by Peter Weir and starring Jim Carrey, is widely considered one of the best movies of both men's careers.Truman Burbank, a well-liked small-town insurance salesman, lives a seemingly idyllic life. But Truman himself feels discontent with said life. He longs after a girl he fell in love with in college but who disappeared from his life in a sudden way. Strange things have also started happening in his town: what looks like a spotlight marked with the name of a star falls out of the air right in front of him, his radio has started to pick up signals that match his movements exactly, and everything from his beautiful wife to his loyal best friend seems somewhat...artificial. When he bumps into a mysterious hobo who looks almost identical to his dead father, Truman begins to suffer a paranoid breakdown and sets out to fully investigate his environment.But everyone around him tries in desperation to stop him from discovering the truth: Truman himself lives an artificial life. Since his birth, Truman has starred in a globally-successful Reality Show called "The Truman Show", directed by fanatical and obsessive creator/producer/director Christof (Ed Harris). While Truman has no idea about the level of deception everyone goes through to keep him in the dark, that changes soon enough...Out of the many different reactions to the film, "what a good idea" seemed to top the list, at least with television executives. Truman came out in 1998, the first series of Big Brother debuted in 1999, and Survivor premiered in 2000. Those initial "reality" shows seemed like a shocking idea at the time — but the people in charge ended up on the right side of history (Reality Television of all kinds has captured a huge portion of the television viewing audience).On the other hand, the people in those shows volunteer. (Usually.)
The Truman Show contains examples of the following tropes:
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.)
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... (See also Product Placement.)
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 its 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 the 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).
Truman's boat literally breaks the fourth wall as he sails into the "horizon" — a literal Lampshade.
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. If that weren't enough, many of Glass' previous work can be heard in the film, including The Anthem from Powaqqatsi and Opening from Mishima.
Visual Effects Supervisor Michael McAllister gets a cameo, too — he's the construction worker on the girder of the Truman Show studio dome, who can be glimpsed when the camera does a dramatic pull-back out the studio and past the Hollywood sign in front of it.
Catch Phrase: "Good morning. Oh, and in case I don't see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night."
Closed Circle: For a massive set for a reality show with only one real person, Truman Burbank, with the creators deliberately Railroading ways so Truman could spend his entire life in the fictitious Seahaven set. Or that was the idea at least...
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.
Crapsaccharine World: Truman's hometown, where everyone's happy and nice and pretty. Besides Truman's father being dead to enforce hydrophobia and the fact it's, uh, fake.
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.
To sum it up even more, recall that the backstory points out Truman is the first person to be adopted and legally owned by a corporation. The operative word there is "first".
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.
Domed Hometown: The town's actually a major dome built in Hollywood — it's famous for being able to be seen from space.
Drowning My Sorrows: It's implied that Marlon drinks heavily because of the guilt he feels over pretending to be Truman's best friend while lying to him constantly.
Dueling Movies: With Ed TV. Although fundamentally different to anyone who's seen both, the two were widely compared at the time due to their close release dates and (at the time, very unique) plots about a guy whose life is turned into a television show. The main difference: Truman's was set up before he was born, with actors playing the roles of family and friends, and Truman didn't know about any of it. Ed's was set up in his thirties (at his volunteering), involved all his real friends and family, and was completely in the open. Both were visibly prescient about (and arguably semi-responsible for) the forthcoming rise of reality television, with Truman being the groundbreaking speculative conclusion and Ed the more true-to-life concept.... for now.
This film also dueled with Pleasantville. Both movies presented idealized, televised (or from television) worlds juxtaposed against the cynicism of "reality", with its characters coming to the realization that they would trade their utopia for a more fulfilling, expansive world, even if it's not perfect.
Easy Amnesia: Parodied. It's Christof's plan to explain away what happened to Truman's father.
Enforced Method Acting: In-universe. Part of the way Truman figures out something is wrong is when he 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. They're eventually reassured that he isn't. It's implied that he actually is.
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.
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. The part where she passive-aggressively suggests that he was responsible for his father's death is truly horrifying.
Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: 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 breakdown 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 (Vivien) 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 this 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 confirms this and gives Marlon a redemptive moment — he comes across Truman in disguise while they're searching for him and chooses to look the other way.
Jumping the Shark: The Truman Show, in-universe. The producers decide to bring Truman's dad back from the dead in order to stop him from trying to escape Seahaven. But it is such a Contrived Coincidence that even Truman catches on.
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).
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.
Off Model: Invoked with the family photo of Mount Rushmore. Something about it is slightly off...
OOC Is Serious Business: So serious that Christof demands to be notified if Truman starts showing any abnormal behavior.
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.
The Other Marty: Dennis Hopper had been cast as Christof, but left the film over creative differences with director Peter Weir.
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.
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.
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.
Truman tried to put himself on a literal bus to Chicago. At the time, he hadn't realized the true nature of Seahaven, and just wanted to leave town. Obviously, the studio couldn't allow that, so the bus driver proceeded to ruin the gearbox by grinding gears.
Reed Richards Is Useless: They created a self-contained biodome that perfectly mimics weather and sky. Alas, it's 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.
Satellite 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 Vivien.
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.
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.
Completely subverted by the fact that they filmed the movie in a real neighborhood in Florida. note (The trope's origin could be that "real" suburbs tend to be somewhat "facade" and implausible, though.)
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, but 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.
The advertising even showed the final sequence of the movie, when Truman and Christof finally speak to each other.
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.
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. Once he does find Truman and tries to get him to turn back via an artificial storm. He's practically desperate, even willing to kill Truman after he yells if that's all they got..
The Wall Around the World: The enormous set of the show. Which Truman breaks through with his boat near the very 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?", and "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—but Truman of course has never seen the real moon.
What Could Have Been: Though the original script contains many scenes that made it to the final movie, its tone was much Darker and Edgier, reading more like a sci-fi thriller and set in (a fake version of) New York — for example, the scene where Truman threatens Meryl is much more violent, to the point where he actually tries to drown her in a sliced-open waterbed. He hires a prostitute to dress up as Sylvia. He also threatens to kill a baby at one point. (All things considered, probably for the best that it was altered.)
Truman was originally supposed to be played by Gary Oldman, and Christof by Dennis Hopper (Ed Harris was the last-minute replacement).
Truman was also supposed to be just out of high school, but since Carrey was in his thirties...
An in-show example in a deleted scene reveals that had Truman not realized what was going on, Christof and network execs were going to broadcast the main show and it's Spin-Off on a two-channel format; the main show following Truman and the spin-off following his unborn child, repeating the cycle all over again.
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.
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!
Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Truman's fear of water, deliberately engineered to keep him from escaping, because the town he lives in is on an island. Ironically when Truman makes his escape he goes by sea since it's the last place anyone would expect for him to go to. Indeed Christof and his staff don't figure it out long until after Truman has a head start on them.
Word Of God: Extra material offered by the writers reveals that Christof was an acclaimed filmmaker who won an Oscar in his 20s for a documentary on the homeless. He created The Truman Show soon after. This emphasizes what he's trying to say in the above "What the Hell, Hero?" quote — he really has tried to give Truman the perfect All-American life, sheltered from the cruelty and absurdity of the real world.