Political Film Society - Newsletter #27 - July 15, 1998

July 15, 1998


Peter Weir's continuing effort to inspire filmviewers to reflect on the stupid mistakes committed by those in power has hit the jackpot again. Whereas his Gallipoli questioned why Britain used soldiers as cannon fodder, and his Dead Poets Society depicted the cruelties of authoritarianism and antisemitism, The Truman Show tells us about the most frightening autocracy of all-the tendency for the general public to believe that everything in the media is real but to reject an authentic life in which a person might make his or her own decisions. In short, the message is that the media have capitalized on an inner totalitarianism because being a real person in a consumer-oriented society is terra incognita. Weir has indeed found a script to make the point that that if everyone thinks alike, then nobody is thinking, and the audiences of the television series named "The Truman Show" appear more the focus for Weir than Truman Burbank, the star of the show. The Truman Show, in demonstrating that few persons nowadays have an interest in being anything but spectators of the lives of others, asks us to turn off our television sets and live our own lives.

Ultimately, the hero of the film tries to assert his identity and he does escape his captor, who has monitored and directed his life for some thirty years, but the audiences who have been viewing Truman on television cheer his human liberation-but not necessarily theirs. The Truman Show, thus, portrays a world that is much worse than Orwell's 1984-one in which the public accepts and even applauds the totalitarian control of a human being simply because the result is entertaining to watch. One reviewer has likened Truman's story to Siddharta, but the audience portrayed in the film clearly has made a Faustian pact, and the outcome for the contemporary world is uncertain. The Truman Show, thus, makes a strong bid as the 1998 film that best raises consciousness about the need for greater democracy.

DEMOCRACY: Four Days in September, Primary Colors, Wag the Dog
EXPOSÉ: Bulworth, Four Days in September
PEACE: The Boxer, Men with Guns