Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) feels trapped, and he can't quite put his finger on why. Like many people who have never left their hometown, Truman is restless to explore the great, wide world that lies just beyond the boundaries of Seahaven, an impossibly beautiful island community whose very name exemplifies shelter from everything vast and unknown.
The characteristically easygoing and mild-mannered Truman looks around at his beautiful house and his beautiful wife, Meryl (Laura Linney), and wonders how he got there. He confides to his best friend Marlon (Noah Emmerich) that while his life is the same as it ever was -- a virtual dream of suburban success and comfort -- he's growing increasingly restless. He thinks more and more about a mysterious, worldly woman (Natascha McElhone) he met in college, wondering if it's not too late to leave Seahaven and pursue her and the very different life he might have lived if he hadn't played it safe.
Truman is asking quite normal questions about his life, but he doesn't possess a crucial piece of information. While some people egotistically believe that the world revolves around them, the guileless Truman's actually does: He's the unwitting star of "The Truman Show," a round-the-clock television program that's the brainchild of "televisionary" Christof (Ed Harris).
Christof has created Seahaven on a soundstage and populated it with actors. "Nothing you see is fake," he explains about the complex facade of Truman's existence; "it's merely controlled." But just as Truman is examining his cautious life, the carefully choreographed infrastructure of Seahaven is beginning to reveal some cracks, enough so the most famous television personality in the world may finally get a peek at the world beyond his box.
Director Peter Weir and screenwriter Andrew Niccol have created something quite special in The Truman Show: mainstream entertainment that tackles the sticky, complex relationship between viewers and the persistent flow of images that they absorb on a daily basis and without a second thought. Weir cuts between broadcasts of "The Truman Show," behind-the-scenes footage of Christof and his minions, and the viewpoint of an increasingly aware Truman, thereby engaging the audience in an act of voyeuristic complicity: To watch Truman is to be not just a spectator but a co-conspirator in his bizarre fate.
It's a tricky balancing act that Weir pulls off with aplomb. In this twisted scenario where Truman Burbank is treated like family by his millions of viewers, even his de facto father, Christof, doesn't love Truman per se, but the image of Truman.
Excellently cast, immaculately designed and imaginatively filmed, The Truman Show casts the hypnotic blue glow of the television screen in a whole new light.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.