Is This Real Life?
I don’t know what it is about the film or why I like it so much, but I have seen The Truman Show no less than 10 times and that number could be higher. It is just one of those comforting films that I could watch any time. When I was a kid, before this movie came out, I used to think that my life was not real and that in some way I had been implanted into my family. Of course (I say of course as if it is a given that the feelings ever go way, they don’t), I eventualy came to believe that everything that exists around me is authentic, but sometimes everything still feels surreal and maybe that is because it is.
Every detail, no matter how small, in Truman Burbank’s life is scripted, simulated, and manipulated. Truman’s parents, wife, friends, teachers, and clients are all fake (in a manner of speaking). Not only that, his entire “life” is broadcast for the world to see. Given that this film premiered when “reality” shows were on the rise and now “reality” television has literally taken over TVs, I want to focus on what is “reality” relative to our interpretations of it and is Truman’s life more like ours than we may believe.
I find it problematic to assume that Truman’s life is “fake,” because he lives, experiences, and feels the same way anyone does. Is his fear of the ocean not a “real” fear that anyone can have? Does the friendship between Truman and Marlon seems as “real” as any other friendship? Truman’s life is not “fake.” In fact, calling Truman’s life a simulation assumes that there exists a tangible, shared “reality,” which does not exist. Even a pre-digital world had no collective “reality.” Nothing in a conscious society can be real. We can perceive things to exist, but that perception will not produce a true reflection, if one exists at all. Literally, everything we view is a distortion of reflected light and there is no way of knowing somethings true form where there exists an absence of light. That which illuminates also blinds. The same is true with emotions or feeling, because the mind acts as a distortive perception filter, which creates “reality.” Therefore, how can anything be “real” outside of an individual experienced normalization process, which is learned and creates life perceptions. Truman’s experience is exactly like all of our experiences. We are simply unwilling to acknowledge the unreal “reality” of our situations. Now the case of Truman Burbank is markedly different from the cases of an Alice or Bob.
Truman is trapped. He lacks a certain expected freedom that we assume accompanies cognitive ability. He cannot choose, which is a quintessential aspect of humanity. Truman does not live an unhappy life, but his life is a lie, but not really. His life is the show. However, he cannot claim agency within that world. Christof is the only agent in Truman’s life with everyone else acting as vessels, or John Malkovich’s. Therefore, breaking out is his only option if he wants any semblance of agency. Yet, once Truman enters the “real” world with Sylvia he may or may not realize that those of us in this world lack agency as well in many ways. Truman will inhabit another simulation. There is no free choice. Only what we are guided, outside of certain personal choices, to choose based on corporate entities’ suggestions or based on what cultural perceptions deem to be appropriate or ideal. In our “reality” we are constantly looking up. We search for higher purposes, but in that search individuals are lost in a sea of simulation, an unreality. Truman is merely escaping a simulation of a simulation of something that doesn’t exist. When M. R. Franks said “There is no one reality. Each of us lives in a separate universe… Consciousness is the only reality” he was speaking literally about quantum physics. Yet, it is completely accurate. The only true “reality” that any of us should acknowledge is the one that exists within our own consciousness.