Arch 443/646: Architecture and Film
Fall 2007

The Truman Show


Discussion Questions:

Please answer the questions below. Use paragraph form. Your answer should be around 400 words. Email me your responses in Word .doc format to: I will be posting these each week after the class. You should be prepared to deliver your answer in class -- but paraphrase, do not read it.


The first set of questions speaks to the characters. Generally speaking we have a "framed" story or a story within a story. There are real life actors, pplaying actors who play real people in the film. How does this feed into a feeling of the uncanny in the presentation of the charater? How does this help to reveal the plot? How does the nature of the type of character or actor work into their presentation of the film character?

Adam Brady

What if you had no control over your life, your job, your love? To say that you are just a pawn in a very real game of chess? The Truman Show is about one man’s game of life. The life that Truman leads everyday is this game.

Every event that transpires in Truman’s life is a sophisticated move that has been well thought out and more carefully executed. And each of the moves plays into a larger context, and serve a larger purpose. A blind, but very active opponent in Christof’s game, Truman is unaware of the charade that is his life.

Who he would meet, who he would befriend, and who he would later learn to love; has all been planned. There is neither genuine coincidence nor chance in Truman’s life. All of these people, well knowing of what they were getting into, have been inserted into his life.

No emotions or persona are true. These are paid actors and actresses, simply doing their job. Truman’s closest friends and family, including his wife Meredith, are all being paid to be a part of his life.
Love is one of the greatest emotions that a human being can succumb too. Truman is denied his chance at true love. His relationship with Meredith is controlled, and their love for one another is forced. She is an actress reading a script. Her life has been written to suit that of Truman. Her every action and reaction has come from the mind of another. There arises this uncanny feeling from knowing of this veil that covers Meredith and her interactions with Truman. Her attitudes and emotions are not true when directed towards Truman, nor towards herself. Who is to say, that in reality, would these two have met and fallen in love?

Because of this falsehood of love, things tend to not always go according to script. Without a constant voice in her ear, Meredith does readily adapt to her environments. She does know how to deal with out of character situations and confrontations with Truman. Because of this, her continual play to the cameras both consciously and unconsciously is uncanny.


Cassandra Cautius

One of the very opening shots of the film is a bit of an interview of the actor Louis Coletrain, the man who acts as Truman’s best friend Marlon, on the show. Here, Louis says; ‘nothing here is fake, only controlled.’ Yet as the movie unravels it becomes quite clear that Marlon is a fake friend, who’s sole purpose is to control Truman. Marlon was brought into Truman’s life when he was 7 years old. A full time commitment to a job, the adoption of an elaborate phony life in an elaborate phony environment. The friendship, created at such a young age, is based on manipulation. The creator of this world, Christof, has strategically placed Marlon close to Truman. He has implemented this relationship as a means by which to manipulate his world, control his creation. Ultimately he makes use of Truman’s innocence, his natural, unbridled emotions, his unquestionable trust in his life-long confidant, to cushion the bubble of ignorance in which Christof has placed Truman. At one point in the film Christof says that we accept the reality with which we are presented. This is a constant truth of humanity, but leads to questions of humanitarian treatment when any person would be so bold as to attempt to skew one person’s reality in relation to the rest of the world, for the entertainment of the rest of the world.

Marlon is sent to Truman in a time of need and uses Truman’s memories to control him, he even goes so far as to relate himself to Truman’s brother. By this point in the film the viewing audience is aware of the depth of manipulation happening all around Truman. One is led to wonder the depth of true friendship that time would have created between the two. The audience is led to assume that some true bond must exist there, as we understand the most basic of human emotions. But it only stirs anger to hear Marlon say such a thing as to consider Truman as a brother, only as a prelude to a beer promotion. Here a true and deep rooted feeling of the uncanny is presented. These people placed around Truman do not act naturally, but very robotically. They are all controlled, their emotions are not genuine.

At some points in the film it becomes difficult to recognize which shots are for us at the film’s audience, and which are for Truman’s audience. Where Truman’s audience would overlook the twisted bond between Truman and Marlon for the sake of entertainment, the film’s audience is presented with the extent of this manipulation in order to stir up genuine feelings of disrespect for a man who exists to us in 3 worlds. But further investigation into the film actually directs all these ill feelings towards Christof. Marlon himself is no less of a puppet then Truman. Marlon is manipulated in order to manipulate Truman. The bottom line this comes to is the disgusting world created by such intense and large scale manipulation.


Alexander Chan 

The nature of Truman is very ambiguous because he shares the role of the director with Christof. Truman is the creative genius in the film/show while Chirstof is the exploitive genius. In order for there to be a show that is captivating Truman must provide the content and Christof provides the infrastructure to do so. Therefore, I believe Truman is the more significant but mostly unaware part of the director (God).

Truman is the whole point of the show. He dictates what will happen so that the viewers might respond to it and influence the ratings. Truman’s vision and perceptions are the only ones that matter in the show because what he sees is what we see (not literally but he directs us to focus on specific things he feels are important). We are in tune with his emotional state by the way the images of the film are portrayed.

In a way the film creates a dialogue between us and Truman. There are times when he is staring right at us as if trying to speak to us directly. The joke about Truman discovering the camera is his mirror was just a play off the condition the audience felt at the same time. Truman was unconsciously breaking out of the 4th wall and communicating with us. This was slightly unsettling because Truman seemed to be self-aware of his circumstances in relation to the audience. We, like his many fans throughout the film were his voyeuristic observers and at times it seemed like he was watching us in return. This situation is reminiscent of the possible role-reversals between prey and hunter. We could in fact be the ones being scrutinized and examined by Truman.

A phrase that caught my attention in the film was Meryl’s comment that Truman actually wants to become an adolescent again. Ironically, Truman seems to have not reached that mental maturity within his life despite his physical growth. He in essence is a man-child. I find this condition of Truman to be his most enduring and repelling quality. In ways I can relate to his desires to escape his confined environment and seek true freedom. However, I felt these desires when I was a teenager. Truman is an established adult who was on the verge of starting a family.

x 4. x

David Henderson

Every aspect of Truman’s world is an elaborate fabrication, from the specifically placed products to his family and friends. Yet the most important person in Truman’s life is someone that he has never met. Christof, the creator of the Truman Show, controls the people, events, and even the weather in Truman’s world. Christof is perhaps the character that generates the strongest feeling of the uncanny in the film mainly because of the amount of power he has.

It is interesting to look at how he is perceived from within Truman’s world, and from the outside world. From the outside, he is just a director of a TV show. He controls what goes on on the “set” and is the main creative visionary for the Truman Show. He is loved by millions as any celebrity is, but he has little more power than anyone else in the real world. Yet from inside Truman’s world, he is completely unseen and at the same time, all-powerful. The man behind the scenes of the world’s most popular TV show is completely invisible within the world he has created. One wonders whether Truman’s artificial world is better than Christof’s real world. Christof is so detached from the happenings of his creation, but at the same time is so completely engulfed in it. In the third image we see Christof gently placing his hand on Truman’s face as he sleeps, as a caring parent might do. Although he never comes in contact with him, he views Truman like a son. His life is spent making sure that every aspect of Truman’s life goes smoothly. His entire world is centered on a fictional world of his creation, and in a sense, he along with Truman, is a prisoner of this world.

Christof’s role in this film could, in a way, be seen as the role of god. In this sense, Christof is both loved and feared for his role in this world. Everyone obeys his every wish, and follows the plan he has laid out for them. He even chooses what people say to Truman. The actors obviously don’t view him as a god, but it is an interesting parallel. At the end of the movie, the first time Truman ever speaks with his “creator”, the dialogue is reminiscent of an encounter from the bible where god calls out from the heavens. One can only imagine what Truman would feel in such a situation as he has just reached the end of the earth, and is now being called to from an unseen powerful voice from above.


Minwoo Lee
Truman's mother and father

There is a most rudimentary assumption in the lives of people, sometimes untrue but nonetheless fundamental; you are the child of your parents. The familial relationship, the so called blood is thicker than water, is the most intimate and tightly knit interpersonal relationship in a person’s life.  The theatrical roles of Truman’s parents are the most brute breakdown of physical reality, a decadence of all fundamental principle that belies all natural assumptions.  Only when we find out that even the parents are of fictional existence, we realize that indeed there is nothing real in Truman’s life.

Once the fictional reality has settled in, one questions what remains truly real in the life of Truman. It is made clear, that the only thing that could be accepted as being real is the aspect of time. The role of the parents is significant because they have physically lived their lives with Truman from his adolescence to his adulthood. In this enormous time frame in which the actors involved themselves with raising Truman, one expects some form of attachment to have formed between them and Truman.  In many ways comparable to that of adoption, there is certain anticipation that there is a bond formed beyond the requirement of their roles.  A hope that despite the false façade of physical reality, there exists a chance for genuine emotional reality.

The true sense of uncanny arises when even this trickling hope is terminated at the betrayal of the parents of even the most basic forms of attachment. This betrayal can be clearly seen when Truman’s father returns to him to exploit Truman’s emotional trauma for the corporate interest. In this moment there is a realization that every single aspect of Truman’s life, the physical and non-physical, are being manipulated and exploited creating the possibility of a complete false reality.


Paula Lee

The framed strory within a story, that one’s life is part of a tv show that is being scripted and played out by the people around him for a watching audience of billions, is an uncanny case of reality imitating fiction as one’s reality is bound in the unreal- the irony arises from the film setting up Truman’s idyllic lifestyle and then revealing to its viewers the subtle intrusions the TV show makes into the familiarity of reality. The viewers first get introduced to Sylvia in the film, as she introduces herself as Lauren to Truman: this is interesting as her real name as an actor is Lauren but in the film this name is just a fake one she tells Truman in the show when her real name in film is Sylvia- confusion within confusion. She is an important character as she is the only one to hint Truman of his fake life. She enters the film as an extra in the film within film then she is whisked away by the TV producers to the real world within the film. Sylvia is one of the characters who, like Truman’s father, makes viewers and Truman realize of fake reality within the movie.



Evelyn Lo
Other carefully positioned characters within Truman's world...

The family across the street, the elderly neighbour, and the two twin gentleman play an integral part in creating the framed story within the story, they add to the unsettling uncanny feeling depicted by the plot of the film, as well as help to further the plot itself through their rigidly choreographed placements in Truman’s life, their relationship to him and their dialogue and interaction with him. The extreme coordination with which they play their roles as real people his life give a strong sense of the staged and idyllic theatre that is Truman’s life. These characters play a dual-role- they help to manipulate Truman’s everyday actions, as well as serve practical purposes – providing ideal locations for additional cameras with interesting and personal angles to add variety and interest to the Truman show.

In perfect sequence, upon his arrival on his front porch, Truman is greeted by the endearing family that lives across the street; that father, mother and young daughter and save for a few improvisations in dialogue, Truman’s actions and dialogue are controlled through the staged responses from the family, ultimately resulting in Truman saying his line ‘ in case I don’t see you later, good morning, good afternoon, good evening and goodnight!’ or the family completing the line for him, and both sharing a moment of laughter at the joke together. This allows for a camera to be directly across from Truman and can zoom in to create a picture perfect scene of Truman against the backdrop of his perfect front door. Immediately following this, his next-door neighbour- an elderly man, walks by Truman accompanied by his green garbage bin held up high in the air. They exchange a dialogue and subsequently the neighbour’s dog is released and jumps up on Truman. The film blatantly emphasizes the camera on the garbage bin as well as on the dog’s collar, and allows for panning shots of Truman and one from below as the dog lunges for him.

Finally, on his way to work, Truman is rather aggressively accosted by the two twin gentlemen, who whilst making small-talk, push him up against billboards in act of forcing Truman to endorse whatever product is being advertised behind him. Again, cameras are implemented somewhere on these men.

These characters play in to the uncanny by creating a disturbing sense of stagnation, as they complete the same routine every single day, the characters never seem to alter, nor do their relationships with Truman progress and grow either. They serve to give Truman a strong sense of familiarity and security, as well as provide for distractions to ensure that he remains unsuspecting of the crafted world around him. As Truman has grown up on the show, he is more inclined to be naïve about his surroundings, while we, as viewers, realize how unnatural and fraudulent these characters are- these characters who seem to be completely one dimensional with no lives or emotions of their own, clearly their roles consist of solely catering to that brief moment with which they interact with Truman. The cameras implemented on their clothing or props also provide up-close and personal angles of Truman that fixed point cameras may not be able to achieve.  At the end of the film when Truman addresses Christof and says ‘ Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight’ he is making the statement that he has come to the realisation his entire life has been staged and that his dialogue has been written stage lines carefully prompted by the characters around him. 


John McFarlane
Character roles "outside" Truman's world...

The characters outside Truman’s world have effects on several levels of comprehension to make their presence at once comforting and uncomfortable.  They are people who are fans of the Truman Show; watching Truman and the actors in his life. We also understand them as actors playing people watching actors playing people on a TV show. We further understand them as characters which we watch: we are people watching actors play people who watch other actors play people in Truman’s world, in which they maintain the act for him.

It is this expanding understanding that makes us uncomfortable in that it draws us into the movie’s matrix of surveillance. As we expand our appreciation of who is watching who and who is acting for who, we become aware of the movie’s reference to our relationship to the content and people we watch on television, film, and computers. Simultaneously, the characters we see watching the Truman Show are the most endearing because they are the most easy to relate to since they represent the anybodies of the world, a group we belong to. Just as they cheer for Truman as the character most embodying what they find real and compelling in the face of the godly Christof, we cheer for them in their minor joys and empathize with their minor sorrows as they express their emotions over the show and live their lives on our screen.

Our empathy for them is linked to the ability of these outside characters to represent for us the heartfelt authenticity in the movie, which itself is so focused on reality’s mutability. “We accept the reality that is given to us” says Christof, explaining why Truman hadn’t doubted his constructed reality earlier. And as described by Walter Benjamin in “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in a state of distraction we experience film as reality like no other type of art except architecture. What the Truman show does is to deconstruct the construction of reality, showing the power structures at work and how they maintain their power. That is to say the Truman Show demonstrates the power of understanding, in this case that of Truman, to break the prison of his own fear and ignorance. The Truman show by this reading can be considered a retelling of Plato’s allegory of the cave in the age of the film. Truman’s central storyline is comforting and reassuring in its (relatively) happy conclusion. The peripheral minor stories of the people watching his story are disquieting because they imply an obligation on our part to understand our own constructed reality and its creators and in doing so to outgrow them.


Sava Miokovic
Characters that represent the interphase between the two worlds.

In this film we are constantly questioning the authenticity of the characters.  Because the parameters of the movie are so regular, we can easily relate to it, take it for a representation of reality.  Although it is made clear from the start of the movie that Truman is living within a show, interacting with actors, we often fall into the everyday events of his life and forget this fact, in the same way the fictional audience does in the film and the way we do whenever we watch a tv show ourselves.  We are continuously reminded that Truman's reality is a deception.  This is done in many ways, including the footage of the actors receiving instructions from Christof, a camera angle or a glitch in the running of the mask.  Continuously slipping between these two frames of perception, the question of who is real and who is acting is imprinted on the forefront of our thoughts so strongly that when we slip out of the movie, we propose the question to the people surrounding us.  The thought that the people in our lives could be deceiving us, not necessarily being actors in a grand tv show but that we could be directed by motives other then our own, makes us uncomfortable.
The fact that the Truman Show is a business is brought out through the nature of the characters that represent the interphase between the two worlds.  In the first slide we see the control room operators being directed by Christof.  The standard relationship found in all offices between boss and employee is played out in this scene.  In the middle slide we see the financial investors.  We were first introduced to them in the beginning of the movie when they walk into the control room to congratulate Christof on the miraculous television entertainment moment.  In the slide, we see them following the close of the show.  In both cases the message is the same, the show is a business investment.  The business aspect is also expressed through the broadcaster in the final slide.  He comes off as a sales man, selling the everyday life of Truman to the world with his cheery tone, wide smile and thumbs up.  He is the epitome of all salesmen who are inherently questioned of their authenticity.  The portrayal of the business aspect of the Truman Show adds to our uncomfortable feelings by playing on our ethical standpoint.  Most of us would agree that it is wrong for a business to gain profit by deceiving a man without his consent.
Other then Christof, the characters representing the interphase between the two worlds are emotionally detached from the fate of Truman.  For them Truman is just part of their job.  This obviously makes us feel uncomfortable since we are emotionally involved in the fate of the hero. 


The second set of questions speaks to the general notion of this story. It "pre-dates" current "reality" TV shows by almost a decade. How does this impact OUR 2007 reading of the film? When answering these questions please speak to the uncanny as both an issue of seeing the film "now", as well as to its state in the year 1998.

Reena Mistry
The idea of the use of a "baby" as the beginning of the show.

Seeing the film in 2007 far exceeds the uncanny effect of seeing it in 1998, due to its proximity to today’s reality that causes the disturbing notion of this story seem increasingly probable.

In 1998, “reality TV” had not yet become a reality. Seeing the movie in this context can allow for themes in the film, (such as imprisoning real people for entertainment, deceitful reality, continuous live broadcasted real people) to be overlooked as fictional, comfortably removed from the reality of 1998. Television was still governed by good old sitcoms like Boy Meets World, Dawson’s Creek and Friends. By 2007, we have witnessed: Survivor, The Bachelor, Big Brother, American Idol, The Apprentice, etc. Prying into the real emotions, secrets, insecurities, and lives of normal everyday people has become a disturbing yet acceptable reality. What these shows have in common however, is the willingness of the “nobodies” to knowingly and consciously permit “reality TV” to broadcast their lives to millions.

What differs with The Truman Show is that the star is born to the show; he has no idea that he lives a fictional life that is watched constantly by millions of strangers, and the greatest overarching uncanny fact is that the world has allowed for a baby to be born to media. Truman, “the first child to be legally adopted” by a television show, manipulates and imprisons an innocent life for the entertainment of others. What right does media have to “take a baby and turn his life into a mockery?” Also the malign inversion occurs when the network executive warns, “For God's sake, Chris! The whole world is watching. We can’t let him die in front of a live audience!” To which Christof responds, “He was born in front of a live audience.” This sudden transformation of the creator into the destroyer shows the disturbing complete control that media has on Truman’s life. His unwilling and unknowing birth into a television show was just a matter of arriving on schedule for the pilot episode.

The proximity of this film to today’s reality cause the same disturbance generated by the uncanny valley. Our society has already produced twisted people out of child celebrities, raised in the entertainment business (Michael Jackson for example) but never to the extent of being unknowingly and literarily born to media… but perhaps that is just a matter of time.


Melissa Ng 
The impact on Truman growing up in this fictitious enviroment.

The Truman Show is a film based on the constructed reality of one man’s life, from birth through childhood, and presently as an adult.  The creators of the 24-hour televised program have constructed a utopian suburb based on new urbanism principles; not only is the functioning of the town seemingly ideal, but everyone part of the small community is pristine as well.  The impact of Truman growing up in a constructed environment has had a great influence on shaping his future as an adult - though consequently in the film, he is able to surpass this manipulation of his beliefs and fulfill his initial aspirations.  As Truman begins his schooling, he is instantly intrigued by geography and the act of discovering.  He expresses to his teacher that he wishes to become an explorer, much like the great Magellan.
 Without pause, his teacher immediately discourages this goal with sub-par reasoning, almost mocking him of his illusion.  As the creator of the show wishes for continual success of the program, Truman’s aspiration to discover is not only further discouraged, but the idea must be eliminated from Truman’s thoughts.  A system of careful and extreme conditioning of Truman as a child had instilled an abnormal and excessive fear for the act of exploring in his adulthood.  The use of rabid dogs obstructing his path, or the violent and emotional ‘death’ of his father is able to push Truman to relinquish his dream of exploring.  The success of this conditioning is evident as the results are of Truman becoming an insurance adjustor – a field of safety and security versus his childhood dream of uncertainty and mystery. 

Little Truman’s future is dictated by the authoritative figures in his life; much like our own.  His fictitious caregivers define Truman’s developing character; his future predestined and inevitably developed through false experiences.  His childhood is constructed in a manner for Truman to grow in a most normal, common atmosphere – in hopes of constructing the ideal man in the ideal setting.  In addition, the film becomes so engrossing that we feel as if we are characters in the film watching the Truman Show, forgetting that we are viewing a film.  Once we keep a critical distance, do we realize that we exploit Truman for entertainment.  Worse yet, little Truman has no choice or even awareness of this exploitation – which makes us realize the amoral actions of the media in its exploitation of child actors.


Aisling O'Carroll
The development of "friendships".

Our current reading of the Truman Show is affected by our current position of being surrounded by reality shows in the media. Because we are so used to seeing reality television shows, we are not as surprised by the nature of the Truman Show. It does not seem as shocking that numerous people would choose to have their lives played before the world on national television. At the time, not only did it seem uncanny to have the main character, Truman, in a concocted reality in which he is unaware of his condition as a television star, but it is also uncanny that the rest of the cast consciously decided to dedicate themselves to the show and put their lives in front of millions of viewers. The idea of being continuously filmed would have been quite an uncanny concept, however now it is so common in much of media culture that it seems less striking.

In terms of the development of friendships, the movie's presentation of friendships is quite uncanny. It is very uncomfortable to listen to his best friend Marlon comfort Truman when he is beginning to be suspicious of the conditions around him. Marlon recounts a number of moments from their childhood, and talks about how Truman was his best friend, and he only felt safe because of him. This is an extremely personal scene, and emotional for Truman, and then we discover that Marlon is having lines read to him from Christof the director, and is not even coming up with the speech on his own. The moments Marlon references in his speech are clearly past staged moments, and so it is uncanny to imagine them from Truman's perspective, as his entire life has been directed by external forces, but also from the perspective of Marlon, who has spent his entire life living this characters life. At some point you wonder where reality begins and ends, if Marlon has been playing this character his whole life, what is the difference between a real friendship and a fake one? Does Marlon really feel this away about Truman because they truly have grown up together, or is he strictly playing a role?

Marlon directly lies to Truman about being 'in on it' and does so with apparently little difficulty. This makes his character quite uncanny because he has spent so much time with Truman, and them in the end appears to be not affected by it.

Marlon is an example of how uncanny the development of the all the friendships in the plot are, except one. Truman's relationship with Sylvia is the one honest relationship he experiences in the film. There is a moment of relief and ease when he is with her, which is quite fleeting as the stage men quickly act on the scene. This natural attraction shows Truman's human quality and it serves to further amplify the uncanny quality of his other relationships, because he clearly is aware of the difference in his feeling for Sylvia versus Meryl, and yet he consents to the life scripted for him with her.


Shannon Ross
Significance of photographs. Feel free to bring in comparative comments from Blade Runner.

Photographs in the truman show play an important role in establishing an identity for Truman.  When confronted with the realization that his world is fabricated he relies on his photgraphs to comfort him in the fact that his past was real and that his fondest memories are true.  Similarly in Blade Runner photographs are given to the replicas in order to acheive the same recognition of existence and identity.  What is different from the two movies is that Truman had actually experienced the events but unfortunately for him he realizes at the end of the movie that they were all manufactured and he is essentially a slave to the programmatic control of a television producer. 


Terry Sin
The manipulation of truth about the outside world.

Today the manipulation of truth in the media seems to be something that is understood by a greater portion of society. However I think it would seem a bit more ridiculous if one was to view this movie in 1998. A teacher that discourages a student to explore, a travel agency that causes fear and a fake Mount Rushmore would seem to be silly at the time. In a 1998 viewing, the media in the movie would seem uncanny because of its control over Truman. Within his world, things that we take granted are manipulated. However, in the current state of the world, it does not seem as fictional. The middle image reminds us of the fear of flying, post 911. With the rise of Photoshop, the third image doesn’t seem that unreasonable. Thus, in our current viewing, the manipulation of truth may seem uncanny to us, because it is possible that our world is being filtered. With the technology and resources available to the media (such as news stations), manipulation is very much a possibility. Furthermore, in reference to current reality and hidden camera shows, it seems like the person you’re talking to in the mall could just be an actor.

The third set of questions speaks to the creation of the "dome" that is used to make the show.

Helen Tout
How does the use and creation of the "dome" factor into the uncanny aspects of the film?

I assume that the dome was created before Truman was born or very early on in his life. The whole purpose of the creation of this dome was to come up with a contained reality, in which Truman could grow up and experience what he thought was real life but is really a giant sound stage where people all over the world were watching him through hidden cameras. The purpose of the dome is two-fold, it has to be a convincing enough reality for Truman and also the audience to accept, but it also has to allow the crew to have full control over everything that happens inside of it like the weather, traffic and the characters to name a few. The only thing they don’t have full control over is the actions of Truman, yet they control everything that he sees and experiences. All of Truman’s friends and family are actors. Only Truman doesn’t know that he is on TV, and this is probably why people watching relate to him so well. We’ve all felt paranoia that perhaps we are ‘being watched’ at some point, and to watch this controlled ‘reality’ television may feel even more real than their own lives to most people. This is uncanny to watch because it makes us think of our own reality, and what illusions the media and even ourselves draw for us.

The dome here is used as a large media tool that lets us see that in our own society television blurs the lines between reality and entertainment. The dome represents our own media landscape. The news and publications make up everyday illusions which seem plausible to us; much like the mock sincerity of what Truman thinks is his best friend. This media also acts like it is benevolent in that it creates a reality that we want to be in because we know no other, and it is seamless in it’s depiction of reality, much like the dome, until things start to go wrong. It is also ironic that the machine that is telling this story to us is a form of media. We are a part of the audience watching Truman and who identify with him but are also willing to exploit his life for entertainment.


Jamie Usas
The interior representation of the dome provides a fairly believable real world setting, except for some "clues". How do these clues provide an uncanny feeling to the film, prior to figuring out the real story? Do you think this is successful in the film?

The dome, within which Truman's reality exists, is represented through seemingly artificial  composition and picturesque imagery, that is created and controlled by Christoph, the director “The Truman Show”.  Although the viewer is initially unaware of the true nature of Truman's reality, subtle and at times unsubtle “tells” are provided to the viewer, suggesting a latent reality just below the surface.  The three images above illustrate the varying degrees of subtlety that are presented to the viewer, revealing the artificial nature of life within the dome.  The first image depicts Truman on the beach during a moment of contemplation, during which it begins to rain.  The falling rain is restricted strangely to the area directly around Truman, himself.  Upon Truman's realization of this phenomena, torrential rain subsequently erupts all around him, referencing the cartoon cliché of the personal rain cloud that follows an individual, as well as suggesting the artificial nature of Truman's reality, through an unsubtle manner.  The second image uses impossibility and the picturesque to infer Truman's simulacra by composing an image of false reality.  The reality suggested in the image of Truman and Marlon; setting on a hill top, watching the sunset while the moon rises, is seductive, yet at the same time, impossible.  The rising moon cannot be viewed in the same region of the sky as the setting sun, scientific fact. The false nature of this image is subtle, but clear.  The viewer is struck by their  uncanny awareness of the realization whether conscious or unconscious of the scientific impossibility.  The third image, Truman on the beach staring into a giant moon, similarly demonstrates the picturesque compositions presented to the viewer throughout the film.  Although this image presents no clear impossibility, the illustration of a perfectly rendered, enormous half-moon, positioned with seeming deliberate composition, within a picturesque sky, becomes  suspicious, after being encountered at a multiple of moments throughout the film.  The uncanny arises in the viewer when it is realized that a true representation of reality would not be characterized by so many examples of the picturesque, and that real life is seldom so perfect.   By way of the mentioned examples, the film succeeds in providing the viewer with accessible clues, both unsubtle and subtle, which lead to the realization of the true nature of Truman's reality.

The fourth set looks at the impact of the specific camera angles and devices and the uncanny nature of the film. Think about the difference between what a person notices when they first see the film, and what might be more perceptable upon repeated viewings... How does the size of the projection and nearness of the viewer affect the peripheral part of your vision? ie. movie theatre vs. TV... All of these things factor in. Also, the use of Seaside, a real town.

Susan Varickanickal
The use of the oval mask around the image.

Having the oval mask around the image reminds the viewer that Truman is the star of a man made and operated world, where everything can be controlled and manipulated except for Truman’s own behavior.  A first time viewer would probably interpret this shot as a reminder that Truman is a character in a show and is constantly on camera, and the oval mask may then go unnoticed; however, watching it a second time the viewer might interpret this shot more of an invasion of privacy rather than entertainment.  By using this specific type of filming its creates the feeling of looking through a peep-hole.   The idea of watching someone without them knowing they are being watched, falls into the realms of the uncanny. 
Having the camera placed at different heights and distances also affects the viewer.  In the first image of Truman walking along the seaside, the camera is further away and is located in a higher place.  This gives the feeling of someone peering out of a window, down at Truman, also an invasion of privacy.  Using this uncommon type of filming creates the sense of reality of TV, that the camera angles are awkward because they are meant to go unnoticed to capture a genuine moment; however, every moment in Truman’s life is staged and orchestrated in a particular manner. 

Using the oval mask around the images clearly defines the plot of the TV show, such that it forces the viewer to recognize Truman’s role in the show.  He is the star…the Hero, and this type of filming demonstrates that very well.  


Chao Lun Wang
Views through "holes".

Viewing through holes or tiny apertures evokes a strong sense voyeurism. They are for surveillance purposes from the most unnoticeable placements such as a pencil sharpener.

This feeling would be even stronger if the film is being viewed on a personal TV screen since we feel more intimate with the device and the events on the film becomes more personal. We become the audience in Truman’s life.

The first two images in particular shows Truman in attempt to escape the false world that he begins to notice as he confronts the actors in him life. He is staring right into the camera. Though he doesn’t know that the camera is there, but he is challenging the authority of the producer who has been playing god in his life, and also the conscious of the audience.

The most uncanny aspects of these camera placements is the nature of their concealment. Though Truman eventually begins to suspect that everything he does is monitored, controlled, and contrived, when he notices the flaws in the stage, he is still watched from beginning till end, not able to uncover a single spy cam.

This is can lead to a reflection of our own world in which we often find surveillance, manipulation, and social control behind the masks of corporate firms, media, and political groups. Yet no one tries to objectify these hidden means of control since they have become a method to maintain a social stability.



Benjamin Wong
Mirror / reflection shots.

The use of mirrors plays a large role in creating the feeling of the uncanny throughout the film.  The shots that focus specifically on the mirrors serve to emphasize the feeling of being under constant surveillance.

This is first established with the shot shown in the third image, where Truman is in front of his own bathroom sink.  Even in such a private space as his own bathroom, millions of people around the world are watching Truman.  At the beginning of the film, Truman is unaware of the fact that he is being watched.  The bathroom mirror shot first occurs at this point.  As Truman comes to the realization that his life has been a staged show, he begins to notice where the cameras are hidden.  In a later bathroom scene, taken from the same angle within the mirror, Truman performs a spaceman skit.  This is when the audience also begins to see the hints of Truman’s cognizance of his surveillance, which causes a change of roles.  The audience is no longer within its own safe haven of voyeurism, but has to begin to face the questions of morality that come into light.

The first image, similarily, is also a one-way mirror, in which a camera is presumably placed behind.  The uncanny nature of this lies in the fact that these mirrors appear as regular, everyday objects, but are serving to hide so much from peoples' perception.  No one ever really knows when they are being watched or not.  Not only Truman, but also the whole town is under this constant surveillance.  In the reality of the film, cameras would be placed within all of the homes in the town in order for the directing team to be able to keep track of everything going on.

The second image shows another way in which the mirrors act to obscure the surveillance from view.  This image is showing a reflection of Truman, with the angle and position of the shot suggesting that it is actually the view that someone else is seeing.  In this sense, the mirror hides the voyeur from being noticed by the subject.


Erin Corcoran
Comment on the use of Seaside (a real town) to represent Seahaven, the fictitious town, understanding that the director is NOT making a set to represent a set, but has instead chosen to use a real town to represent a set, representing a real town... How does this feed into the Uncanny? Do you think this is completely lost on "the general public".

When the designers of the Truman show were searching for a set for the movie, the initial plan was to build the village of Seahaven on a studio back lot and use bits and pieces of architecture from the various architectural styles available on the lot; bits of Paris, the Wild West and Manhattan.  However, because this would be a very costly option, and also because it would fail to yield the uncanny feeling of the ‘real but not real’ that the Truman show demanded, other sites were explored, first a barren typical suburban neighbourhood of cookie-cutter homes, and second the village of Seaside in Florida.  Seaside, a four-hundred home development on the west coast of Florida is a New Urbanist creation with strict restrictions on building type, size and description.  All buildings are built to be unique in their form, but are required to respect the overall style of the place, they must have porches, be fenced but not in the same style of the houses directly adjacent to each other and each must be maintained and have exterior decorations that conform to the overall sense of the village.  It is a place populated predominantly by tourists and the rich, and is marketed as a “modern Victorian town with narrow streets, picket fences and homes arranged close together to encourage walking and neighborliness”.

In its use as a town that is the set for Truman to live out his life, the usage of a real living town is uncanny in the fact that such a surreal place does in fact exist.  Throughout the course of the movie, Seahaven is portrayed as a better than real life place, where the sun is always shining, life is better, cleaner, and perfect, and this element of perfection plays to the unreality of the Truman Show, a state that becomes ever more and more clear as the movie progresses and Truman becomes more aware of his situation.  The fact that such a place could exist in real life plays to create a feeling that perhaps anyone could be duped into believing that their reality was in fact, not real.  Also, when or if the viewer is aware that this town does in fact exist, they may come to ask themselves how such a place could be built and what kind of deluded people reside there.  It is a fantasy of perfection, and it represents an ideal of escaping to somewhere cleaner and better in order to turn one’s back on the realities of day-to-day life.  The fact that such a fantasy has been built and that people live there begs the question: Is it so easy to turn away from reality?

And lastly, as to whether or not this fact is lost on the general public, I think the themes of idealism and questioning one’s reality are available and ready to be understood by any who view the film.  The ironic intricacies of the fact that the town that is a set is in fact a real town does add a level of complexity to the message of the movie, but I believe that this could be understood by anyone so long as they were provided with the knowledge that this was filmed in a real town. 


Matthias Heck
Use of high and low angle shots.

Many scenes of the movie imply the use of surveillance and secret cameras that are installed throughout the city to monitor Truman Burbank’s daily life. Of the more than 5000 cameras that are used for the Truman Show, many are attached at an appropriate covert location or the actors are supposed to have them on them. By using these hidden cameras, we as the audience get the feeling to be right in the middle of the events and to observe things in an “ultra-reality mode” from as close as the viewer might get.

At encounters with various persons the view also changes to a worm’s eye view or a bird’s eye view. This has two different effects: Objects or persons appear bigger and details like buttons or hands, that play a major role in many settings, become the focus of a certain scene. Furthermore this creates the feeling of obedience/powerlessness or predominance. In the worm’s eye view (for instance the dog’s perspective when Truman leaves the house or when Truman is lying on the ground trying to fight off the nuclear plant security) an obedient feeling is transported. The opposite effect is achieved when the perspective changes to the bird’s eye view: when he meets the twin pair on his way to work and the perspective changes to the high angle shot or whenever we look through cameras that are installed at a certain height, we experience the feeling of predominance, furthermore the already small actors dwarf in contrast to Truman.

Also, every so often the perspective is reduced to a circular aperture. This does not only put the focus on certain persons or objects, but it also implies a voyeuristic and intimate view, as looking through a spyglass or a peephole, hence the sensation of an emotional voyeuristic perception is created.

In most of the cases the various scenes are connected by hard cuts, there are rarely any soft cuts in the movie. This also applies to the change of the worm’s eye view and the bird’s eye view, which are connected by hard cuts, too. Considering that the show is supposed to run live without almost any interceptions, those cuts supposedly simulate the nature of the live broadcast.


Suzanne Gibson
Comment on the effectivenss of the connection between the "reality" of the set and the artificiality of the boundary condition.

Truman’s fears of water acts as the first boundary he must over come, in this case I’m reminded of the primate environments at the Toronto Zoo.  The primates have a fear of water so around each exhibit there is a pool and the observer stand on the other side of the pool just above the level of the enclosed environment and the water. Similarly the water that encloses the island plays on Truman’s fears of water and ensures he will not escapes, and like at the zoo from above the director watches Truman’s every move. Like the primates at the zoo Truman seems content, as the director Christof explains ‘We accept the reality with which we are presented.’ And it is true very rarely do we question or for that matter even examine the world we live in too closely, so it is easy to believe that Truman believes and accepts his reality. To the audience who is outside of Truman’s ‘reality’ the set is an improbably ideal world, a world of gone by days, where neighbors greet each other over their picket fences and manicured lawns. But as one becomes aware of the artificiality of the Truman’s world the set becomes hyper real, the colors are too bright, the neighborhoods are too seamless, the movement of the people are too well planned, in total the set is so perfect that it only be artificial. In many ways this reality is parody of the ideal small town American community.

However, once the fabric of Truman’s ‘reality’ begins to tear, he begins to realize that he is trapped in what maybe thought of as a false paradise.  Everything is too perfect too well planned and Truman comes to understand that only by escaping will he ever have a chance to live a truly authentic life.   Truman’s attempts to escape bring forth the next boundary set in motion by the producers, these boundaries tend to be less sociological and more staged boundaries, ranging from scary dogs, to staged forest fires, nuclear disaster and huge storms, couples with more subtle images of lighting hitting planes with the words this could happen to you, and newspaper headlines declaring Sea Haven the best place to live.  These boundaries are merely meant to stop Truman from finding out the truth and discovering that his ‘reality’ is in fact an unreality.

The last boundary is the physical boundary, that of the dome. In contrast to the rest of the sets that are hyper real the dome appears extremely artificial.  The horizon line is visually shortened, and as the boat gets closer it becomes obvious that the clouds are painted on.  The boat collides and punctures the set, and at this moment the artificial condition in which Truman lives becomes obvious, both to Truman and the viewer who’s able to feel the full impact of the disconnection between reality and the unreality of Truman’s world for the first time.  The horizon meets the sky and Truman gets off the boat and walks along the edge that is created by the two joining forces, creating the surreal appearance of walking on water, and then there are the stairs that lead to the exit, painted like the rest of the backdrop with only their shadow betraying them. The play of shadows on the backdrop amplifies the clash between something that moments before seemed so real to being something obviously and completely artificial, heightening the sense of the uncanny.


Kate Gould
The music is played by artist Philip Glass and largely uses classical pieces. How does this relate to the use of music in silent films? Any other genre that this recalls that can work with the film to make it uncanny?

The music in the film The Truman Show is related to the conceptual framework of the show itself.  As the show is conceived as an around the clock production the director, Christof, would play typical pre-recorded elements for everyday events, which would be then be complemented by live musicians.  These artists could then improvise music to relate to more pivotal moments.  For most of the pre-recorded music Phillip Glass and Burkhard Dallwitz performed original pieces and reinterpreted classical pieces, such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Rondo alla Turca and Horn Concerto No. 1 in D Major.

The significance of the use of these classical pieces of music could be that it perpetuates the ideal image of the suburb Seahaven that Christof is trying to create.  The music is very relaxing and well composed, creating a feeling of well-being and happiness.  This makes the audience feel that Truman’s life reaches perfection, that he is living the American dream.  As Christof states this then gives many people hope and inspiration for their own lives.

Overall, the relationship in the film to the musical score is reminiscent of silent films.  In this genre due to inability to verbally communicate, the actor’s body language and facial expressions along with the music were essential in creating the film’s environment.  The music was used to create the atmosphere and give the audience vital emotional cues.  This acted to heighten the overall emotional reaction to the film.  In the Truman Show this technique was used in many scenes, such as that of Truman’s reunion with his father.   As the scene gets more emotional, the music follows cue, with Phillip Glass’ cameo showing a live musician taking directions from Christof.  Our emotions are unconsciously being manipulated, when with a sweep of his hands Christof acts as a conductor ordering the music to climax.



updated 23-Dec-2007 10:48 PM

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