The Truman Show

The Truman Show Summary and Analysis of Chapter 16: Trutalk - Chapter 19: Setting Sail


Lauren/Sylvia sits at home, one of the millions of viewers watching Truman's emotional reunion with his father. She looks troubled and then, determined. On television, a news story about Truman begins, summarizing the show's popularity over the past three decades. Meanwhile, the 24-hour feed continues in a tiny window in the corner of the screen, showing Truman sitting in his kitchen drinking Mococoa. The news story reveals the "intricate network of cameras" that gives Christof and his team the ability to capture Truman's every move without his knowledge. Then, the newscaster announces that Christof, who is notoriously private, has decided to grant an interview. His office and the show's massive control room is hidden behind the "moon" over Seahaven Island.

The newscaster speaks to Christof through video conference, allowing Christof to do the interview from the control room. The newscaster reviews other instances (before the return of Truman's father) that civilians have successfully infiltrated Truman's world. Christof agrees that people have popped out of Christmas presents and parachuted out of the sky, but Kirk (Truman's father) is the first former cast member to make his way back onto Seahaven island. Christof takes his television audience through his manipulations in order to keep Truman on the island, capped by Kirk's death at sea. Christof is going to explain Kirk's 22-year absence by saying the man had amnesia.

Christof says that there are 5,000 cameras in Seahaven Island, but the show only started with only one. He says that Truman was cast as a baby because his birth coincided with the show's air date, and he is the first child to ever be legally adopted by a corporation. The newscaster comments that "The Truman Show" has generated revenues equal to the "gross national product of a small country," mostly through product placement. Everything in Seahaven is available for sale in "The Truman Catalog."

A viewer calls in and criticizes Christof for his "sick" manipulation of Truman and his life. Cut to see who is on the other end of the phone - it is Lauren/Sylvia, pacing in front of a bulletin board filled with "Free Truman" propaganda. According to Christof, Truman's life is normal and Seahaven is the way the world should be. He calls the real world "sick," and tells Sylvia that Truman prefers his cell. Christof indicates that Meryl will be leaving Truman and he still wants to broadcast the first "on-air conception," so he will be bringing in a new love interest for Truman.

Late at night, Christof watches a wall-size screen filled with a close-up of Truman sleeping and touches the image tenderly. Early the next morning, Truman looks into the bathroom mirror as usual. Two technicians watch him and wonder if he's looking at them, but he's simply drawing cartoons on the mirror with soap. Truman appears to be back to his normal routine, and viewers all over the world watch him happily. He goes to work and does his job with a smile on his face. He meets "Vivian," his beautiful new coworker and planned love interest. Later, he mows the lawn with his new Elk Rotary lawnmower. In the control room, the technicians appear to be on autopilot.

Truman is now living in the basement, because, as one of the technicians states, Meryl has packed up and left him. Suddenly, in examining the feed, Christof notices that something is wrong. He tries to call Truman, but he doesn't answer, even though he seems to be lying asleep on a mattress. Back on Seahaven, Marlon's truck comes squealing to a halt outside Truman's house and he barrels inside with his usual six-pack of beer. He pulls back the covers to find that there is only a plastic snowman under the covers. Christof directs Marlon to look around the room, but Truman is gone. For the first time in over 10,000 days, Christof suddenly cuts off transmission from Seahaven Island.

Christof and his team go into panic mode as thousands of extras patrol the streets of Seahaven looking for Truman, to no avail. Christof decides to cue the sunrise early so it will be easier to search the island. Meanwhile, he instructs all of the extras take their "first positions" as if the day is proceeding as planned. Finally, they shift to the cameras on the harbor. Christof whispers Truman's name and there he is, on a sailboat in the middle of the water. In a closeup, Truman is wearing a captain's hat, happily navigating his way towards the horizon. He is holding his makeshift photo of Lauren/Sylvia.

Christof orders another boat to sail out to meet Truman, but the actors on the ferry can't actually drive the boat. In a desperate attempt to stop Truman, Christof authorizes starting a storm over the boat, hoping that it will scare Truman into turning back. As the storm rages, Truman shows uncharacteristic courage, trying to keep going through the treacherous waters.


In this section, the viewer gets a look at the machinations that go into running Seahaven Island smoothly while keeping Truman in the dark. The ironically private Christof accurately describes the Island as a "cell" in his conversation with Sylvia. Meanwhile, just as this gilded cell keeps the horrors of the real world out, it also keeps Truman locked inside. Thomas More's version of utopia was an island with only one exit, just like Seahaven, but the community stayed there voluntarily. Christof's utopia, then, is a dystopia for Truman. Christof's utopia complies with the suburban ideal that populated American television screens in the 1950s and 1960s.

Just like Disneyland, Truman's suburban street has a mostly white population, everyone is happy, works 9-5 jobs, and nobody goes hungry. When a needy or dirty entity (like Kirk) appears - it is perfectly permissible for a middle-class white woman like Truman's mother to complain about the filth that has infiltrated the lily-white community - her complaint about the homeless is echoed in a newspaper headline the very next day. Earlier in the film, Christof claims that viewers find "comfort" in "The Truman Show," thus insinuating that his audience is most comfortable with the antiquated, artificial, white-picket-fence ideal. In this way, Weir is able to accuse the viewers of complicity in Truman's entrapment.

Weir also makes a conceded effort to minimize his depiction of the world outside of Seahaven Island, except for the most vital tether - the viewers who keep "The Truman Show" relevant, year after year. We see the same viewers in the same place in shot after shot, commenting on Truman. He is an embodiment of these viewers' desire to break away from the monotony of their own lives. While he hits all the benchmarks of life that Christof has planned for him, the viewers might be remaining stationery - in a job, a tiring relationship, or any other kind of rut.

Because the success of his show is based on dedicated viewership, Christof can never create a total separation between the world inside and outside the dome. The people outside are curious about what's going on inside, even breaking in on certain occasions. The insiders are dependent on the outside to fuel their livelihood. Everyone on Seahaven Island (with the obvious exception of Truman) has a life outside the dome. This is what Truman realizes when he sees that Meryl crossed her fingers while taking her wedding vows. Their marriage was real for Truman, but Meryl's crossed fingers indicate that she did not mean her vows, and might want to get married one day "for real."

The 18th century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham designed the Panopticon, an institutional building that would allow one watchman to observe all inmates at once. In his 1975 book Discipline and Punish, French Philosopher Michel Foucault wrote about the Panopticon as a metaphor for society. Foucault re-defined the panopticon to address the tendency of modern society to normalize itself. No longer were despots needed to exercise complete control; rather, permanent visibility forces members of society to comply by a common set of rules.

Many years later, contemporary social critics have invoked Foucault's theory to describe the effect that surveillance has on society. In an article from July 2013, nearly 15 years after the release of The Truman Show, Vice Magazine's Motherboard blog compares the ubiquitous Christof to the surveillance culture in the United States after 9/11. DJ Pangburn writes, "Christof's vocabulary echoes some of the common themes we recognize in national security language." He goes on to point out the crucial voyeurism involved in the success of "The Truman Show" in The Truman Show. He therefore compares Lauren/Sylvia and others like her to Edward Snowden - the infamous CIA whistleblower who alerted Americans to the extent of government surveillance.