The Truman Show
- Describe an important idea in the text. Explain whether or not you think this idea is relevant to teenagers today.
An important idea in Peter Weir’s film ‘The Truman Show’ (1998) is Surveillance and Social Control. This idea is conveyed through the main character of Truman Burbank (T) as his life in the artificial, 1950’s American town of Seahaven is unknowingly broadcasted worldwide through the t.v company, Omnicom. Christof, owner of Omnicom and creator of ‘The Truman Show’ tv show, is a megalomaniac who observes the actions of T. and controls how others around him act. He goes to extreme lengths in order to keep T. on the island. Through Weir’s use of film techniques such as extreme close up, vignetting, and low angle camera shots, we learn how unethical Surveillance and Social Control is in the modern world.
‘The Truman Show’ is more relevant than ever as it predicted the rise of “reality” TV and a society under tremendous surveillance. Our modern world is filled with examples of surveillance and it is fair to say that our privacy has become under threat because of this.
In the beginning of the film, we are introduced to T. through his bathroom mirror, where he communicates with himself. The idea of Surveillance and Social Control is seen while T. is being watched from behind a mirror in the comfort of his own home. Weir uses vignette and a close up while T.’s dialogue during the opening scene where he says ‘we’re not gonna make it, you’re gonna have to go on without me/ no way mister, you’re going to the top of this mountain, broken legs and all… If I die before I reach the top of the summit, you’ll use me as an alternative source of food…’, is separated between the other main characters introducing themselves. This invasion of privacy is due to the fact that observing T.’s every move where possible and keeping him childish will refrain him from leaving the island, ensuring that he will not question his surroundings. A child-like mind can be easily manipulated as they are accepting of their environment.
Throughout the film, various perspectives of T. are shown to the audience through the use of vignetting. A vignette shot is when the corners of the frame are black and blurred, emphasising the focus on T. as the main subject. These camera shots are often from odd angles of different viewpoints from inanimate objects to people, signifying that he is constantly being watched. Surveillance and Social Control can be seen when a vignette shot of ‘travellers beware’ and a low angle shot of ‘it could happen to you’ disaster posters of worst possible outcomes: an airplane struck by lightning in midair, that could happen to T. if he were to leave the island. Travel Agencies are meant to be encouraging of others leaving one place to go to another. This is important as Weir shows us how Social Control can take place through the use of fear as a means of manipulation, using disaster posters to keep T. afraid of travelling.
Aquaphobia (fear of water) is an example of Surveillance and Social Control from the Show’s Producers to keep Truman on Seahaven Island. This fear is deliberately forced onto T. from the age of 8, when the producers stage his ‘fathers’ death by drowning him in the ocean, making T. feel as if it was his fault for being uncooperative when his father begged him to turn back. Weir does this through the use of flashbacks when T. is reminiscing on the beach. Forcing fear onto T. is unethical as it is morally incorrect to take one’s vulnerability and use it to your advantage in order to make them afraid of leaving. This is relevant today as fears are often controlled by the media, as what we see and experience can change our perspective on life, however not as drastic in T. 's case.
During the interview scene with Christof, the idea of Surveillance is evident when T. can be seen as an embryo through the use of an extreme close up camera shot in his mother’s womb. This helps us to understand the extent Christof was willing to take to make T. a commodity, using him for toxic entertainment purposes even before his birth. Weir’s deliberate choice of disturbing the audience by showing T. in the womb, allows us to consider the capabilities others may have to observe our own actions while we are unaware. Our disturbance shows how unethical it is to invade the privacy of others.
Truman is being watched and forced to stay on Seahaven. This is important to teenagers because present modern technology (CCTV, Internet tracking, facial recognition, school security cameras, spy satellites etc), are constantly being innovated to improve the successability of observing the actions of individuals. Due to the new generational obsession with mobile phones, it is easier for the government to control what we see on the media, especially in countries such as China, North Korea and Russia, where mass population media control occurs. The government only allows certain information in their favour to be shown. This is also important as ‘The Truman Show’ was released in 1998, and is said to have foreshadowed the beginning of reality tv shows (Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Big Brother etc) which first aired 20 years after the making of the film. Reality T.V is a form of toxic entertainment, profiting off the invasion of individuals’ privacy.
‘The Truman Show’, a Peter Weir directed film, highlights the important ideas of Surveillance and Social Control through the use of film techniques, which allows us to improve our understanding on how unethical the invasion of privacy is in the modern world.