The Truth of Man Show (w6)
In order to truly understand the world in which we live, one must always be questioning it. Among the first questions one must ask would be those concerning the truth of the world around them and the reality it beholds. Socrates once stated, that the unexamined life ‘is not worth living,’ highlighting the importance of attempting to gain as much knowledge as is attainable, an understanding of one’s own reality, and the world around oneself.
This fundamental philosophical notion is evident in the 1998 American science fiction comedy: The Truman Show directed by Peter Weir. The movie’s lead protagonist, Truman Burbank, has lived his entire life, from the very moment of his birth as the star of the largest ‘reality’ television show in the world. The only problem is that Truman is completely unaware that his entire reality, the only life he has ever known, is merely an elaborate set. His mother, friends, neighbors, colleagues and wife? merely the actors. Truman’s most intimate and personal moments and memories? all staged and all broadcasted to a worldwide audience with no knowledge of Truman’s. Throughout the film, Truman’s questioning of the appearance of the world around him leads him to discover the truth of his exploitation. Weir presents the film in a way that viewers understand his message of discovery of truth and can determine that through an active examination of one’s reality, one can finally gain an understanding of the truth in the world around them.
It can be said that reality can be clouded by some form of one’s own previous judgments or opinions. One must, in order to see pure reality, cast aside certain knowledge ascertained through experience and one’s own ‘false opinions’ that often seem to be ground for assumptions, the leading force in a likely inaccurate sense of the world. Rationalist philosopher Descartes noted that ‘the senses are deceptive’ and to place complete trust in them would be unwise in a quest for the principal truths of reality. While all knowledge acquired through experience can be doubted, one cannot doubt the existence of oneself as a thinking being. This directly attests to the paradox one would have to claim in denial that one’s existence, at the very least, must be a mind that can think and reason. This is where Descartes’s theory ‘I think, therefore I am’ is applicable in serving as the foundation of knowledge, where one can begin to gain an understanding of one’s own existence as a thinking being, in which they can be certain of, while creating a certain sense of self-doubt and ambiguity in everything else.
Such themes are made apparent by Weir in the The Truman Show. In the large set that contains Truman’s entire life are all the things he accepts to be true — this includes his family, marriage, friends, and every aspect of his daily routine. The entirety of characteristics about Truman’s life are all carefully scripted and executed to be broadcasted. In this way, Truman is the only ‘real’ character in the show he is made to be the star of. Christof, the director of Truman’s reality show, acknowledges this when describing the shows success, in explaining its appeal, in saying that ‘while the world he inhabits is counterfeit, there’s nothing fake about Truman himself.’ Although originally blind to the truth, Truman starts to question the world around him. His outlook begins to transform dramatically when he starts noticing ‘loose threads [and] false steps,’ revealing a certain inauthenticity that only propels his suspicions and determination to continue searching for a larger truth. He begins to analyze his life much more intently and is able to let go of his false assumptions and knowledge obtained strictly from experience, which allows for a more thorough and rational evaluation of the reality surrounding him where he observes peculiar things that transpire, such as odd ‘slips of the tongue’ which lead him to begin doubting the genuineness of the people within his world. He expresses concerns to a friend that he believes ‘everyone seems to be in on it’ which casts a great doubt on everything in the world aside from himself, much like Descartes.
This directly correlates in the way Weir portrays Truman’s train of thought, while it is displayed he does not necessarily doubt the physicality of the world around him or the people within it, he rather questions their authenticity. This method of doubt displayed in the film portrays the message of Weir to first question what is assumed to be true in the journey to discover what is real. Until one is able to doubt all that encompasses him and no longer take what appears as real at face value, then he is able to uncover the truth — until then he will always be blissfully unaware that his reality is a lie.
Truman, prior to his awakening when he begins to doubt the world around him can be considered in some way to be enslaved to his own false assumptions. He had no previous reason to doubt that the world presented before him was false, one of sets, characters, and scripts, nor is he expected to. The producers and director of Truman’s reality show know this all to well. At one point during the film Christof states, ‘We accept the reality of the world which we are presented.’ Truman accepts the reality of the world which he is presented, however once he investigates it, discovers it is not reality.
Christof can be interpreted as some type of character who ‘plays God’ at the expense of Truman by exploiting him since his birth by broadcasting his life to essentially every household in America and the entire world with a television set. Weir’s presentation of this is very interesting in that he highlights certain ethical concerns by addressing them in a phone call to Christof during an interview. This is interesting because it highlights the moral issue of a society so accustomed and supportive of a television show in which a fake world is created, surrounding an individual in which the individual is not only unaware, but as a result has no possibility of making an alternative decision regarding his own life and how it is spent. The caller, Sylvia proceeds to criticize the show and what she perceived as a lack of freedom for Truman, who she referred to as a ‘prisoner.’ This again suggests that when one doesn’t know the truth of reality, he is imprisoned in his own ignorance.
The question of reality is made apparent by Peter Weir in The Truman Show. The restricted world in which Truman lives, at first is left unquestioned, as he goes about ignorantly relying on false assumptions and acceptance of the reality that is presented before him. Truman then starts raising doubt about his inauthentic world. In order to discover the truth, Truman begins to doubt everything in his set reality, everything he has ever known, which directly mirrors the philosophy of Descartes in the attempt to understand everything he could know for sure — that which is real. Truman then set out on this same venture, to discover the truth in his life, questioning his friends and family and everything in his life in an attempt to leave the only place he had ever known. Thus it can be argued that The Truman Show helps portray that everything must not be taken at face value for what it is presented as and by investigating the world around oneself, one can discover the truth. Once one’s reality is revealed it will be harshly apparent that ignorance is not always bliss.
Weir, Peter. 1999. The Truman Show. Paramount Pictures (Amazon Prime).