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'Truman': The Camera Never Sleeps
By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 5, 1998

  Movie Critic

The Truman Show
Jim Carrey stars in "The Truman Show." (Paramount)

Peter Weir
Jim Carrey;
Laura Linney;
Noah Emmerich;
Natascha McElhone;
Holland Taylor;
Ed Harris;
Brian Delate;
Una Damon
Running Time:
1 hour, 44 minutes
Adult themes and mildly offensive language
"The Truman Show" is "Candid Camera" run amok, a sugar-spun nightmare of pop paranoia that addresses the end of privacy, the rise of voyeurism and the violation of the individual. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

This show-within-the-show makes for a parody all by itself, but it is couched in an even more subversively entertaining satire. One of the smartest, most inventive movies in memory, it manages to be as endearing as it is provocative.

The plot revolves around the world's most popular television show, a hybrid of reality-based programming that follows the every move of Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), who made his unwitting debut via sonogram 30 years ago and has been under 24-hour scrutiny ever since.

His wholesome hometown of Seahaven is really a vast soundstage equipped with 5,000 hidden cameras. His friends, neighbors, even his toxically cheerful wife (Laura Linney) are all actors, genuine as Nauga hyde. But Truman has yet to figure it out because it's the only world he's ever seen. He's grown up on television.

In a way, the same thing could be said for the rest of us, which is exactly the point of this cautionary fable superbly directed by Peter Weir and written by Andrew Niccol, director of last year's "Gattaca." Though every bit as dark as that kindred portrait of genetic fascism, this yarn possesses a playful spirit.

As a sendup of media culture, it's more akin to "Forrest Gump" than 1976's ranting "Network."

In this creepy not-to-distant future, "The Truman Show" has attracted 1.7 billion viewers who enjoy watching the clueless patsy. The program's amiably goofy protagonist, however, has stagnated in the sunny surrealism of his sitcom Eden. Housed in a snow dome world created by the "televisionary" Christof (Ed Harris), synthetic Seahaven offers neither surprises nor challenges for its naive captive.

But Truman accepts his world's modest pleasures, minor frustrations and predictable rhythms without question. Then one morning as he sets out for work, something odd happens. A klieg light drops from the sky and crashes in front of his gingerbread house.

Truman approaches it cautiously, like the apes before the monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey," squints up at the blue sky in wonderment and for the first time begins to take stock of his life: dull job, insufferable Stepford wife and frustration at every turn in his plan to flee to Fiji.

Truman may not be mad as hell, but he's not going to take it anymore, either. Whether a victim of corporate avarice or his own gullibility, one thing's for darned sure: This boob is determined to escape the tube.

If the film is a showcase for Carrey, who gives a performance of enormous charm and restraint, it's also a triumph for Harris as the misguided man behind the curtain. Linney plays the plastic wife with scary success. And even the smallest roles, like smarmy Harry Shearer's TV reporter, are deftly cast.

Who would have expected this from "The Cable Guy"? This splendid movie is about as far from "Dumb and Dumber" as "60 Minutes" is from "Jerry Springer."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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