Jim Carrey’s ‘Truman Show’ Predicted Our Binge-Watching Age

Subversive dramedy saw the future in ways both comic and troubling

Peter Weir’s “The Truman Show” (1998) has a wild premise: what if a television channel existed where you can watch a baby grow up into a man in real time, and that man had no idea his entire life was a contrived television series?

Truman Burbank, played by Jim Carrey, witnesses strange, seemingly coincidental occurrences in his idyllic Seahaven town that suggest either a higher power or a conspiracy is forcing him to stay in his neighborhood against his will.

Attempts to escape are met by sudden turns of the weather or seemingly contrived human behavior from town folk that thwarts his every attempt. Truman is unaware that he is the star of a popular Reality TV series, but his audience watches daily as the show’s creator Christof (a wonderful Ed Harris) keeps his star under total control.

The Truman Show (1998) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Weir’s film reflects on the manipulation that both Truman and his audience (that’s us) experience. The music here is by three composers, and it’s always extraordinary. At one point, we even watch as Phillip Glass performs for Christof’s studio; we’re getting goosebumps and Weir/Christof are showing us why.

The pitch of Weir’s film seemed high concept and far-fetched in ’98. Then, a year later, a man named John Carpenter (not the filmmaker) was the first contestant to ever win a million dollars on a game show.

Carpenter became the first through-the-roof winner of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and the biggest game show contestant winner at the time.

He was even on the cover of USA Today.

US Winner Calls Dad To Say He's Gonna Be A Millionaire! | Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Not long after, the nightly game shows continued, as old standbys like “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” were countered by “real” shows like “Survivor,” “Big Brother,” “The Weakest Link,” “The Bachelor” and “American Idol.”

Then came the faux documentaries of Reality TV dedicated to the Osbournes and the Kardashians and…and down the rabbit hole we fell.

If “The Truman Show,” either the movie or the show within the movie, arrived today, would we watch? Of course!

If we weren’t already predisposed to be addicted to a series about a real person being manipulated by a cult of personality type pulling the shots in ’98, we’re certainly on board today.

The Truman Show (3/9) Movie CLIP - Being Spontaneous (1998) HD

Our addiction to Reality TV heightened in ’99 and never waned. In the saddest way possible, this movie predicted where we are and suggests (along with “The Running Man”) that Reality TV is just a few years away from being more insane than it is right now.

Truman, like Barry Egan, the protagonist of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002) wears a suit at the top of every day, is stuck in a pattern and gets his initial sense of a world without boundaries by witnessing an accident.

Truman discovers the power of free will, even as the world he inhabits says NO. There are layers to Carrey’s work here: Truman is watched closely by an adoring audience, which is something Carrey could relate to at that point in his career.


Did Carrey feel trapped by the enormous fame he experienced? Perhaps. The film works as a reflection of a Kafkaesque conspiracy against Truman as much as it could be taken as a reflection of celebrity worship.

Harris is playing the kind of aloof techno genius we oddly celebrate, and the appeal of his show is understandable. If we’re watching someone grow up in real time, doesn’t that make us feel like surrogate relatives, in the same way Christof sees himself as Truman’s “father” on some level?

Note the way he caresses the image of Truman sleeping on a giant screen.

If we’re watching Truman since birth, doesn’t that make viewing “The Truman Show” daily the ultimate form of binge watching? Scripted soap operas are one thing – could we turn away from an ongoing narrative if we thought it was “real?”

Truman’s world presents him with a weird form of gaslighting: conformity through conditioning in a Norman Rockwellian façade/prison. Andrew Niccol’s screenplay is straightforward in the telling but open to interpretations (is it about finding God, refusing God’s will, both or neither?).

The scene where Truman silently becomes conscious of his fabricated existence is poetry and offers perfect use of Glass as Truman walks through a revolving door with an empowered suspicion.

The Truman Show (4/9) Movie CLIP - Driving Through Fire (1998) HD

Darker shades are alluded to (Christof boasts that the “world’s first on-air conception” is forthcoming and Truman’s weird sex life in general) without tipping over Weir’s careful balance of humor and pathos.

The ambiguity of the final scenes frustrated me the first time I saw this, but only because I loved the characters and wanted more. The simplicity and profound rebellion or Truman’s final moment is all the closure this needs.

Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” and Sam Raimi’s “A Simple Plan” also came out in 1998.  Alongside those titles, I’d state that this is another flawless film from that year.

Unlike the others I mentioned, however, “The Truman Show” might be prophetic…maybe. We’ll see. Well, in case I don’t see you…good afternoon, good evening and goodnight.


  1. Excellent film, one of the best of the 90s. I could imagine this story unfolding as an episode of the 60’s “Twilight Zone” with the surprise twist ending of the hero realizing his entire life is being screened to audiences everywhere. This one ends differently of course, with a man who is gradually becoming aware that his “paradise” is really a prison that he must break free of all by himself. Personal freedom requires creative thinking, risk-taking, and sacrifices. The ending is perfect: Truman steps into the door of the Unknown, and we the audience have no idea what’s next. We’re not supposed to–only the hero can write his own ending.

  2. I was a teacher (in Sydney Australia), and I used to do a regular unit of work comparing Plato’s Cave and The Truman Show. Very enthusiastically received by the students. A lot of really interesting ‘compare and contrast’ elements. As an aside Peter Weir and I went to the same high school in Sydney but he was long gone by the time I arrived.

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