The Truman Show
2). Describe a significant time or place in the text. Explain how this time or place was important in understanding an idea.
A significant place in Peter Weir’s 1998 film ‘The Truman Show’ is Seahaven Island. ‘The Truman Show’ is set in the artificial 1950’s, fictional American town of Seahaven, where the life of Truman Burbank (T.) is unknowingly broadcasted worldwide through the t.v company Omnicom. Christof (C.), owner of Omnicom and creator of The Truman Show t.v show (TTS), is a megalomaniac who observes the actions of T., controlling how others around him act. Seahaven highlights the importance of unethical surveillance and social control, as C. goes to extreme lengths in order to keep T. on the island.
T. is introduced in the opening scene of ‘The Truman Show’ through the bathroom mirror of his house in Seahaven. This invasion of privacy in the comfort of his own home is shown as a vignetted close up, with dialogue of T. communicating with himself saying ‘we’re not gonna make it… If I die before I reach the top of the summit, you’ll use me as an alternative source of food.’ Weir’s use of vignette signifies that T.’s actions are being watched from a perspective, either of an inanimate object or person. The idea of surveillance and social control is highlighted through T.’s lack of privacy and child-like personality, as his every action is being observed for the sole purpose of ensuring he will not consider leaving the island or question his surroundings. A childish mindset is susceptible to manipulation as the acceptance of his surroundings is easier to convince, with their underdeveloped knowledge of reality.
The location of Seahaven situated on an island was a deliberate choice from C, as he conditioned T. with aquaphobia. This fear is revealed through a flashback while T. reminisces on the beach, as Weir incorporates a high angle to display the boat with a close up of eight-year-old T. and his father’s hands slipping out of reach, to indicate the producers of TTS taking advantage of T.’s vulnerability, making him feel as if it was his fault for pursuing his father to continue sailing in unfavourable conditions. Surveillance and social control is highlighted through the use of fear as means of manipulation, to ensure T. will be overwhelmed with fear, not in consideration of leaving. What we see and hear in the media can have a negative effect on how we, as individuals, perceive the world around us sparking unintentional fear, however, not to the extent that T. experienced.
Seahaven Island is set in a different time period in comparison to the present day of 1998, when TTS was being filmed. The 1950’s was considered as the ‘Golden Age’ in terms of the American ‘dream,’ with sitcoms such as ‘I love Lucy’ and ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ were televised for T., enabling the audience to distinguish this epoch. Weir creates a Hollywood allusion of the TTS show setting through a close up of the Lancaster Square street sign, indicating that the street names are taken as inspiration from famous actors during the 1950’s. As this scene progresses, a high angle shot reveals everyone in the town frozen in mid-action as the diegetic sound of a radio squeals in high-pitch. This emphasises the false reality of T.’s world in a controlled setting, as the people he is surrounded by are actors. The 1950’s time period highlights surveillance and social control as there is a restriction of modern technology, therefore the media presented to T. is what the producers allow him to see. Communist governments (e.g Russia, China, Cuba etc.) control the media shown to the population to make their leaders appear greater than they seem, and to convince masses that their actions are to benefit communities, when in reality a corrupted leader is using their power to exploit the people who trust them blindly.
The setting of Seahaven Island helped me to understand the idea of surveillance and social control, as T. is constantly being watched and forced to stay on the island through unethical methods. C. forces his utopia through dialogue of ‘Seahaven is how the world should be,’ onto T. in selfish hopes of protecting him from the ‘sick’ outside world. In present modern society, these similar actions occur through the use of complex surveillance such as CCTV, internet tracking, facial recognition, school security cameras, spy satellites etc. Every action one makes, in public or in social media, even in the privacy of their own home, is recorded. This technology is constantly being innovated to improve the successability of observing the actions of individuals. The digital revolution increases the government’s ability to control the media shown to the population, especially in communist countries (e.g China, North Korea, Russia etc). These governments restrict information shown on the media, deceiving the population to believe what they want.
In conclusion, Seahaven Island is an important place in Peter Weir’s film ‘The Truman Show.’ The 1950’s setting on the island, allows the audience to gain an understanding of the idea of surveillance and social control through the use of film techniques such as vignette, close up, and high angle. This is important as T.’s manipulation occurs today in various forms of government controlling the media. The audience is able to apply their knowledge of privacy invasion taken to extreme lengths, allowing them to spread awareness of how technology can be abused for the benefit of those in authority.