Unaware Reality Tv Star Truman Burbank In The Truman Show
The Truman Show (1998) is a film directed by Peter Weir. The story focuses on a unaware reality tv star Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) and the unravelling of the world that surrounds him. The film addresses many different themes through many different cinematographic means. In this analysis paper we will be looking at the photography of the movie, why it is here and how it works to advance the goals of the film. Within the broad category of photography we will be focusing, in a first part, on the camera angles and framing and then, in a second part, on the film’s use of lighting.
One of the first things we have to address in the film are the product placements. Due to the premise of the movie, Truman being on screen 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there is no time for advertisement, the film is therefore littered with product placement advertisements. The first one we see in the movie is when Truman is going to work, and two elder twins stop him and start chatting with him, one of the twins pushes him against the side of an ad poster. Truman himself seems confused as to what is happening, we can assume that at that point what we as the audience are seeing is from the same camera as the audience within the universe of The Truman Show (more on that later). Truman occupies one third of the frame as the ad fills the rest. This first product placement is “light” and can be easily missed (even though the same exact interaction occurs later in the film with a different ad poster), but the other product placement is a lot more noticeable such as when Truman’s best friend Marlon (Noah Emmerich) is drinking beer as he and Truman are shooting balls at a makeshift driving range. Or when Truman’s wife Meryl recommends a particular brand of chocolate powder as she and Truman are arguing about the strange events that have taken place during the day. Both of those scenes are interesting as both actors take the same poses as we see every day on TV advertisement spots. In the case of the chocolate powder, this scene undercuts the drama that Truman is experiencing, as he is “freaking out” and his wife wants him to drink some hot chocolate.
There are a lot of different shots used throughout the film, shots at different angles. The overhead shot is used in scenes such as when Truman buys a ticket to leave the island by boat. He struggles to get to the boat (due to the trauma of loosing his father), he is seen leaving the pier from a high angle. This denotes Truman’s powerlessness, his lack of control over his life which is controlled by an omnipotent puppet master. His fear of leaving the island having been engineered by Christof (Ed Harris), the director of the TV show, he holds control over Truman’s life. Another example of a high angle is at the climax of the scene when Truman’s sales towards what he believes is freedom. The people in charge attempt to dissuade him from doing so (by giving him terrible weather during his journey). Once again, Truman is powerless against the elements, but this time, what is being emphasized with this shot is the bravery of Truman, who will stop at nothing to discover the truth.
A shot that appears very commonly in the movie, is the Point-of-view shot. This is accompanied by a lot of different low angle shots that allows the audience of the movie to experience being the audience of the Truman Show. This is further exacerbated by some shots with a circled ring around it filming Truman throughout the movie. This particular type of shot, follows the process of vignetting, conveys voyeurism and in the film is meant to make us think we are watching the movie through one of the many spy cameras placed in Truman’s town, as the audience is doing for Truman. In one scene that was mentioned above, when Truman buys a ticket to leave the island (for the first time), there is a tracking shot, shot from inside the ticket booth, that turns and follows the Truman, the view is blocked by shades which are then promptly raised (the motion is accompanied by a mechanical sound, even though the blinds are for manual use), letting us know that once again we are watching the Truman show the TV show as well as the Truman show, the movie.
Towards the end, the shots used are less often high angle shots, but instead low angle and medium shots. An example of such a medium shoot can be found in the scene where Truman is struggling to maintain control of his boat and yells out to the skies that the only what that they will stop him from finding out the truth is by killing him. This shot enhances Truman’s bravery in our eyes. This seems to represent Truman slowing gaining control over his life. The same effect is achieved using lighting, as discussed later on.
One of the very last shots of the movie shows Truman walking along the painted skyline. Once again, this is a vignette shot, giving us the illusion that this is an actual TV shot of the show. Truman approaches the escape door that he will use to leave his world. Most of the shots we have seen in the movie, from the show’s cameras have featured Truman prominently (such is often the case when filming reality TV to give the actors more facetime with the camera), but this shot shows him from far away, it shows him being minuscule. As it is the end, when he is about to leave the studio, we can equate this shot to his soon to have loss of fame, of his importance as he is about to leave his prominent role for an everyday life (presumably). This shot also has us staring at Truman’s back, which could also symbolize his newly found freedom from the intrusive gaze of the cameras.
In this film there is a strong game of light and shadows, but unlike other movies (or even TV shows) they do not necessarily symbolize good end evil, but instead seem to represent the known and the unknown. For example, in the very first shot of the film, where we see Truman staring at himself in the mirror (unknowingly starring at the audience who is looking back at him), Truman’s side of the mirror is displayed with high-key lighting, but the studio side of the shot features only darkness and shadows. This is interesting as this difference in lighting summarizes the entire movie. Truman’s life, his world is known to him, everything is bright, he does not realize that everything in his life such as what his friends and family say is directed from the shadows, he does not know anything about the real world. Another example of this is present when Truman notices a lamp crash from what he suspects is the sky. Everything around Truman is bright, except for the shadow over the lamp, symbolizing once again the dark truth of his life. A scene later in the film shows the same effect but this time with low-key lighting. The scene on the beach where Silvia (Natascha McElhone) takes Truman after they try and escape from the gaze of the cameras of the show, is filmed entirely using low-key lighting. This scene one again shows the use of darkness as a symbol for the machinery that Truman is unaware of, as Silvia attempts to reveal what is happening to Truman, relating to the twisted intentions of the studio behind the show, her explanations however are dismissed by another actor who comes in and takes Silvia away.
Lighting is used again at the very end of the film, when Truman attempts to free himself and discover the truth about the world that surrounds him by sailing in the sea. Christof and his team create a localized storm, to thwart is plans. The entire scene is wrapped in shadows, in low-key lighting. Symbolizing the last attempt of the controlling hand to control Truman’s life. It is only after they give up that the sun returns, shining on Truman’s face showing us, the audience that Truman has triumphed over the television network, and is finally able to exercise his free will. In the last shot, where Truman exits the TV show through an exit door, after saying his catchphrase, Truman steps out of the fake world created for him, his utopia, into the real world, unknown to him, represented by darkness.
The theme of light and shadows used to symbolize knowledge and ignorance is showed in another manner, in reverse. Most of the time, when we would see Christof and his team working on the TV show in their office, Christof would be behind the image of the Moon in Truman’s world. This is indicative of Christof having the knowledge that Truman seeks, the bright light in the nightly sky. In fact, at the very end of the film, in the same scene discussed earlier, when Christof talks to Truman for the last time, we can see Truman looking at where Christof’s voice is coming from, and when we cut to where the voice is coming from (from Truman’s perspective) we can see that the voice is coming from the sun. The light is giving the answers to Truman’s questions.
As a conclusion, we can say that the Truman Show is an interesting film to analyze, as it is a film about a TV show. Some shots are deliberate (in the context of the show) and are put in place by the crew inside the studio. Christof seems to represent a higher power, shown especially at the end of the film with his last speech with Truman or when he says, “Cue the sun”. The film in of itself broaches on a lot of different themes, but as this analysis paper is focusing on photography, the main themes discussed with relation to photography are the travesty of commercialization (as product placements occur even during tense moments) and the constant surveillance of the masses. Those themes are presented to the audience through the use of camera angles and filming techniques.