truman show questions and summary...
Movie Night Philosophy 100
Fall 2010 Danielson
The Truman Show (1998) There are several themes in the film to keep an eye out for these can be used for discussion tonight or to write on for those who watch on their own: Authenticity v. Inauthenticity, Free Will v. Determinism, the critique of consumer culture, Reality and Illusion. If you are writing answers because you did not attend the film, or because you are writing for more extra credit, please answer one or more of the questions with a two-page response. You have until the date of the next film to submit your responses.
“The Truman Show offers a grand metaphor for contemporary American culture. Its message is that we are immersed in a media landscape of lifelike fantasies that serves the interests of those in power. If we want to be free and have a chance at an authentic life, it tells us, we have to distance ourselves from the safety and comforts of our media-saturated culture, and be willing to live in the world as it is.” Ken Sanes - in a letter to Salon. 1. One aspect of the - TV show within the movie - is that we are several steps away from reality. How might this relate to Plato’s cave allegory? (There is a postmodern approach to the entire film. The movie opens as if we are watching “The Truman Show” on TV vs. watching the movie of the same title. So we are already removed from reality several steps. How does this serve the film makers’ interests?) 2. In the film, the audience for the TV show is shown neglecting their own real lives to live vicariously through the events of Truman’s life. What is the director, Peter Weir, telling us about ourselves as a modern society? (Is it believable that people would be so interested in what happens to Truman?) 3. In one scene, Marlon, Truman’s best friend, and Truman are sitting at the end of the unfinished freeway. Truman is worried that something fishy is happening which is keeping him a captive. Marlon tells him that if that were true then he, Marlon, would also be in on the conspiracy. He says that he too would be lying to Truman. Simultaneously, Marlon is being fed the dialogue in his ear by Christof. How significant is this breach of authentic friendship? 4. Christof says at one point:” We accept the reality of the world that we are presented.” How true is this claim and what is its significance for our lives? Comment in terms of Parmenides’ ideas of Being. 5. The film is a critique of our media environment. It asks who is controlling our lives? Are we being presented with a facsimile of our lives? It says that the media is merely a means of selling us products that are produced by the same conglomerates that offer the entertainment. (Yet this is ironic since the means to provide the critique is once again a large media conglomerate, the movie studio.) 6. According to Robert Castle (2005, Bright Lights Film Journal, Issue 49), ‘The Truman Show demonstrates an individual’s struggle to gain his true Self.’ Comment on what the role of media could be in causing an individual to not know his true Self. Do you believe that audiences are so weak that they are unable to resist the power of media? Are they empty vessels easily manipulated by the media? 7. The film contains a lot of religious symbolism: Find the aspects of the film that depict Christian metaphors. Early on Truman has a light almost literally hit him. Is this like Saint Paul, as Saul, seeing the light on the road to Damascus? How is Truman both Adam and Christ? How is Christof, God the father, sacrificing his son? At the end of the film Christof tries to keep Truman in the world Christof has created for his “son.”
Relate this idea to the Christian creation story and the garden of Eden. (If this is comparison is accurate, what represents the snake in the garden?) What significance do the names of “Truman Burbank” and “Christof” have? (At the end of the film Truman sails the “Santa Maria” (Saint Mary, mother of Jesus), then he is shown twice in a crucifixion pose. Truman is also “walking” on water to escape.) 8. The film can be seen as the Hero’s journey. What are the obstacles keeping Truman from an authentic life? Do we face analogous obstacles? What are they? 9. Truman’s entire life is on display for viewers. Do you act as if your are being watched too? Are we living outside of ourselves as the movie suggests? How does this idea mirror the idea of reality programming that we experience in the contemporary society? In what ways does our modern world provide ways for us to life this way? 10. Are we enclosed in technological societies / cities that encapsulate our existence? We evolved as animals. Now we live within human created environments: work place, the mall, the media environment etc. Are these really prisons for us? 11. The people who work for Christof are willing to participate in immoral behavior towards Truman. (It looks a bit like the Stanley Milgram experiments in the 1960s.) Is there any defense for the behavior of the people who are on the show as actors or those who work behind the scenes? What is that defense? 12. If Christof is “god” to Truman’s character, is the director, Peter Weir, asking whether God can be unethical as long as it is his desire? Plato asked in one of his dialogues whether the gods can ask us to be unethical. If god commands us to do something, is it right to do because god commanded us, or can god only command us to do ethical things? 13. The question of determinism and free will is raised in the film. Truman’s life seems to him to be his own. Yet at another level, his entire life is being programmed by another. (Truman does state that although they could watch his behaviors, they didn’t know what was going on in his head.) Yet there is a conflict: the sponsors want him to be unpredictable and spontaneous and make decisions, yet Christof is angry that he might choose to leave the world Christof has created. Comment on whether or not Truman has free will or not. 14. When Truman leaves Sea Haven, is he being selfish? At the end of the film he has good reason to believe that there will be many consequences to others, the other actors etc. who will suffer if he leaves the show. Yet he chooses his own life to be free over staying. (Aren’t we like Truman in that we did not choose to be thrown into this world? Then we are faced with making a life out of what we find. We too are faced with making what seem to be decisions.) 15. The film is an attack on Corporate Greed. The moneyed interests want to use Truman so that they can sell products to people who are willing voyeurs of the enslavement of another. True he lives in a Utopia, but he is not fully human like all the others. And when the show ends, the people just change the channels. They do not have any deep care for the person, Truman. (Maybe many people in that world watching Truman do have misgivings, but they are not portrayed.) Is watching reality TV shows like Jersey Shore exploiting the people who choose to participate? 16. What is the price of fame in our society? Do the cast members of, say, Jersey Shore know how they are being perceived? Do they care? Why would people want to put themselves in such a situation? Why do the TV production companies want to present such “entertainment?”
17. Is it disturbing that Truman is the first human to be adopted by a corporation? Since Corporations have legal standings as persons under the constitution is it possible that such a move is inevitable? 18. The movie was filmed in Celebration Florida, at the time a city owned by the Walt Disney Company. It is a planned community which tries to recreate a small town. (See the Harper’s Magazine Story) Is this a creepy aspect to the film? Why? 19. There are also important features of the film regarding the camera angles: the gaze. The film looks at, watches, and acts as a voyeur of Truman. How do the camera angles help create our view of Truman? Notice that there are the camera shots which depict the world within the show as well as the camera angles that give the director’s view. What do the differences mean to us?