Truman has grown up on Seahaven Island and despite the fact that every single person around him is a hired actor, his reactions to his world are completely real. Therefore, "The Truman Show" blurs the lines between reality and fiction, which, according to its creator, Christof, is why it is so compelling. The problem is that as Truman starts to explore his natural human instincts and desires, the show must try to keep up with him. It is much easier for Christof to exercise this kind of emotional power when Truman is young and impressionable, but as he nears 30, he knows that there are answers beyond what he sees in front of him. Therefore, the simulation starts to fail, because ultimately - there is a limit to the fakery (the wall of the dome).
The Power of the Media
The Truman Show is a satire, and contains a thinly veiled religious allegory. The aptly-named Christof is a mysterious character with a God complex who uses his omnipresence to control Truman - both physically and mentally - for the sake of ratings. Weir and Niccol bring viewers' attention to how far the media is willing to go to gain an audience. Weir has said that he was editing The Truman Show during Princess Diana's death, and while he certainly blames the paparazzi who drove her off the road, he asserts that the audience who consumed her public identity was just as complicit. Similarly, Truman's audiences are complicit in his entrapment, as Christof (a symbol of the all-powerful media), would be powerless without their attention.
Christof created Seahaven Island in his vision of utopia, which Thomas More defined as "a community or a society possessing highly desirable or perfect qualities." More's version of utopia was an island with only one exit - just like Seahaven Island. However, More's vision of utopia is only "desirable" if everyone living there shares the same definition of "perfection." Christof's vision, though, is his alone - he tells Truman that Seahaven is better than what exists outside it, but Truman has not seen enough to make this decision on his own. Truman spends the entirety of the film looking for the truth about what exists beyond the horizons of his world, and it becomes abundantly clear that he will do anything in his power to escape Christof's grasp. Christof might see himself as the creator of a utopia, but he is really a despot. Therefore, Christof's utopia is Truman's dystopia (which is the opposite of a utopia - an environment or community that is undesirable or frightening).
The American Dream
In 1931, James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream thusly: "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. Over time, this idealism has appeared in various visual incarnations. However, in the 1950s and 1960s, television sitcoms set in suburbia seemed to embody everything upwardly mobile Americans were looking for: a house in suburbia, a good job, a car, and relative safety and predictability. Peter Weir envisioned The Truman Show as a satire, invoking these ubiquitous images to build Truman's glistening cage. Weir found inspiration for the look of the film by poring over iconic television sitcoms like "Ozzie and Harriet" and "I Love Lucy." Christof's creation is a protection from the "sick" outside world that has perverted the American Dream. Weir's film points to the hollowness of the pursuit of that dream - a concept that is just as unreal as Seahaven Island.
During his "TruTalk" interview, Christof explains that "The Truman Show" is funded by product placement and that everything on the show is for sale. Weir invokes commercials from the 1950s and 1960s, as characters like Truman's wife, Meryl and his best friend, Marlon, turn straight to the camera and showcase an item they are being paid to endorse. This reminds the viewers of The Truman Show and "The Truman Show" that Truman's entire life is actually a commercial venture; Truman himself has become a commodity under Christof's gaze. Weir's film posits the world portrayed by commercials, and their promise of that world, is false.
The most valuable asset that Truman possesses is himself. After 29 years of living his entire life on television, Truman is a priceless entity. Without him, "The Truman Show" would be nothing. When he decides to break free, though, Truman exercises this power, acting out the ultimate rebellion against his overlord, Christof. Truman is actually willing to die to get off Seahaven Island, and Christof is forced to confront his creation and beg him to stay. Just as Eve could not resist the temptation of the apple, Truman cannot quell his curiosity to see what lies outside of Christof's Eden. The film is a bit of a coming-of-age tale, as Truman's illusions about himself are shattered. The quest for truth is worth the risk of the unknown.
[The Truman Show] is just as - if not more - relevant as it was when it came out in 1998. With the growing popularity of the reality television genre and the habitual "over sharing" that comes with access to social media, it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate what is real about a person and what is a construction intended for the consumption of an audience, no matter how small. While Truman Burbank has grown up in an entirely manufactured environment with actors playing the roles of all his friends and family, his reactions and emotions are real. Christof cites Truman's "authenticity" as the reason that so many people love to watch him, but it is also the most difficult aspect of the show to maintain. It takes thousands of people and nearly 5,000 hidden cameras in order to give the viewers the authenticity they love in Truman. However, over the course of the film, Weir makes it clear that even though he lives under surveillance 24/7, Truman's emotions and dreams are his own. "You never had a camera in my head," Truman tells Christof before leaving Seahaven Island for the first - and last - time.
The Truman Show Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Truman Show is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.