There was something about the 90s that produced some fantastic, thought-provoking existential films such as the 1999 box office smash; The Matrix, the 1999 movie that you’re not supposed to talk about; Fight Club; and I’ll even throw in one of my personal favorites-the 1991 cult classic Drop Dead Fred.
While existential films and stories are certainly not a new thing, the theme always seemed to revolve around the question: what is reality?
The Matrix introduced the idea of simulated realities, Fight Club explored realities in which we create for ourselves and Drop Dead Fred portrayed the chaotic reality we build when we don’t confront and resolve our own inner traumas.
But in 1998, Andrew Niccol wrote and produced a film that, while not necessarily intended, would change our culture for years to come.
“It feels like the whole world revolves around me somehow.” -Truman Burbank
The Truman Show is the story of Truman Burbank (played by Jim Carrey) whose entire life since birth is recorded and televised live for the entire world to see with Truman being completely unaware of it.
Everyone in his so-called life are paid actors-from his wife and best friend down to even his own mother and father.
Although the memories he carries are real, the context in which they occurred are completely based on a controlled environment to build his story and produce more revenue for the creator of the show, Cristoff (played by Ed Harris).
Cristoff was able to keep Truman from leaving the picturesque town of Seahaven, and therefore prevent him from discovering the truth by instilling travel-related phobias in him from a young age and placing strategic obstacles in Truman’s way when he wandered too far or unexpectedly broke his daily routine.
When Truman becomes suspicious of the world he lives in after a stage light falls from the “sky” and noting the peculiar way in which the townsfolk interact with him, the desire to leave overwhelmes him and he sets out on a journey to find the truth.
Millions of viewers in the real world have followed Truman’s story thus far, all of them knowing that Truman himself is completely unaware.
Some viewed him as a hero of the world, while others viewed him as a victim who has been imprisoned and not given the chance to be his own person.
“This was a dangerous film to make because it couldn’t happen. How ironic.” -Director of The Truman Show, Peter Weir
In 2008, Popular Mechanics named The Truman Show as one of the top ten most prophetic science fiction films of all time, referring to the rise of reality television shortly after the film’s release.
The reality show, Big Brother, came out a year after The Truman Show-its premise being a house full of contestents surveilled for the audience to see.
Unlike The Truman Show, however, the contestants know they’re being watched and the audience is even able to tune into the live surveillance 24 hours a day.
Over the years since the movie’s release, there have been hundreds of cases reported of people believing that their life has been entirely staged and that their reality is not their own.
Psychiatrist Joel Gold and neurophilosopher Ian Gold have appropriately coined the term as “The Truman Show Delusion.”
While it’s not officially recognized nor listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, The Truman Show Delusion certainly took its toll on a few hundred individuals here in the U.S. and in the United Kingdom.
The individuals all suffered from the same delusion: that they were constantly being tracked and watched by cameras while being the “star” of a reality show with millions of viewers.
Sound familiar? And I’m not just talking about our loveable and oblivious fictitious character, Truman Burbank.
With the rise of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok, millions of people have been given a platform to share intimate details of their lives with the entire world, from sharing their thoughts and opinions on anything and everything to what they’re having for breakfast.
It’s hard to believe that within the span of just a couple of decades how the paranoia of constantly being watched has now become the fantasy (for lack of a better word) of millions of people.
But the loneliness has stayed the same.
Truman felt alone in the way that no one he knew was genuine and real and was not an actual part of his life.
The smiles, friendly conversations and reassurances from those he “knew” were scripted-and their lack of concern and desire to tell him the truth was disturbing and disheartening to see.
This is mirrored in social media which has also contributed to the isolation, loneliness and depression of its users-a tragedy enveloped in irony.
While a user can have hundreds or thousands or millions of views, reactions, or comments on a simple post from strangers, the need for real human interaction remains unfulfilled, whether the user realizes it or not.
Seeking the validation of others by posting every aspect of their lives to the world causes them to isolate themselves from the people around them who are right there, who are genuine and who are REAL.
The Truman Show was an exceptional story that still holds meaning 25 years later: just tune out and walk through that door, there’s a great big world waiting to be seen through fresh eyes.
“In case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight.”