The Truman Show
The Truman Show was made the year before Big Brother started. But it is not so much about reality TV as it is about certain aspects of social media, internet culture, and media celebrity. The old women who wear Meryl's dressing gown are predictive of the people who rush to buy whatever KateMiddleton wears. Its one of the best movies I've ever seen.
It is above all a modern version of The Odyssey. It is thought of as a religious commentary in which the director Christoff plays God. But really he is, like Zeus, all too human, and Truman is Odysseus separated from his Penelope (Sylvia) and kept captive by Circe (Meryl). This interpretation explains the movie's obsession with the sea. There are also influences from Aristophanes' The Wasps, The Lord of the Rings, It's A Wonderful Life, and Stepford Wives. It owes something to John Cheever, Charlie Chaplin and Steven Spielberg too. It is better (and more disturbingly) classified as speculative than science fiction.
It was filmed in a real master-planned community in Florida. All the Norman Rockwell pastiche is a diversion from the fact it is a satire on Hollywood and TV executives and their culture. The script was re-written twelve times and Carey cut his usual salary by 40%.
It obvious to say so, but in an age of mass surveillance and constant social posting, we're all Truman now. The fantasy that we can escape the edge of the world we live in and get out into 'reality' is central to the notions of hope and delusion. It's the inevitable ending to a post-Cold War movie. I was not surprised to learn that it was directed by the same man who directed Dead Poets Society.
One of the original reviews said this: 'Truman's end catharsis needs greater emotional heft, given the enormity of the ultimate realization that his life has been one big Nielsen rating.' They missed the point, in those heady 1990s, Clinton-economy, end of history, Great Moderation days that escaping into freedom is the emotional heft. It was developed at the same time as The Matrix, and for my money is the better movie. Ultimately, the movie's pessimism about the modern world is over stated. But, unlike The Matrix, it could still happen.
And in some places in the world, something not dissimilar was and is all too real. Forget the Berlin Wall. When they all go out looking for Truman in the night you start to think of the puritan, insular, authoritarian nature that runs so deep in American culture. Like The Handmaid's Tale, we can say that it won't happen exactly like this, but we can't disown the story altogether. Truman Syndrome is a recognised condition in modern psychiatry.
Like all great movies, it is at heart a good old-fashioned love story.