The Truman Show was released on June 5, 1998, based on the idea that you’re watching a movie about a show that’s centered around a man who has no idea his life is a reality program. At the time, the concept felt unique, but looking back after 20 years, it’s a little disturbing just how ahead of its time The Truman Show was.

Jim Carrey stars as Truman, a man who is living in a world ran by Christof (Ed Harris) that’s completely fabricated. On the surface, the concept and the world that Truman lives in is fascinating and extremely clever. The story itself, Truman’s slow discovery that the world around him isn’t real, and his journey to find out what is real is entertaining and gripping enough to make a very good movie.

But that’s just what’s on the surface.

The Truman Show thrives because of its small details and its uncanny ability to look into the future.

If you’re old enough to remember life before and during when The Truman Show was released, you’ll recall a time when reality programming wasn’t the dominant force on television that it is now. The idea that you were constantly being watched was a laughable notion. Privacy, or lack thereof , weren’t a concern. Technology hadn’t progressed quite far enough to even make a concept like a real Truman Show possible.

Times have certainly changed.

Now, reality shows continue to dominate (just consider how many versions there are of House Hunters these days) and privacy is a hot topic. Cameras have advanced to a point where they really could be everywhere, and the fact you’re always being watched might hold some water, in one form or another.

Sometimes life really does feel like we’re all living in one giant advertisement.

The Truman Show is as deep as you want to make it. Whether you have an argument about politics, societal norms or some belief about where society is headed, The Truman Show is able to support many ideas without ever compromising its main story. It asks a lot of questions and lets viewers fill in their own feelings. Some are deeper and darker than others, such as the idea that Truman’s wife is being prostituted.

The movie even inspired the very real “The Truman Show delusion,” which is a term given to individuals who truly believe their lives are staged or possibly a part of a reality show. The idea isn’t formally recognized by the medical community as a whole, but the idea that the world may just be a simulation that we’re all living continues to gain more followers.

Deep and philosophical angles aside, the movie is also just a lot of fun.

The attention to detail is off the charts. Note the vitamin-D pills in the kitchen at Truman’s home that are necessary because there’s no actual sunlight within the domed set. Pay attention to all of the signs in the travel agent’s office that are all water-based to play off Truman’s fears of water.

Watching the “community” around Truman try to wrangle him in specific directions, for instance to stop in front of an advertisement for a few seconds, is fascinating.

If you’ve seen The Truman Show more than a couple times, consider playing the “spot the camera” game the next time you watch. An incredible amount of detail went into hiding cameras all over the town so that the idea that Truman was constantly being watched would seem plausible. Such as the camera above the Kaiser Chicken ad in the photo above.

These examples highlight just some of the hidden cameras you can spot throughout the movie.

Truman’s wedding ring even appears to be a tiny camera.

Director Peter Weir and writer Andrew Niccol succeeded in building a fake world that tells an incredible story and hits on tones of comedy, drama and sci-fi. However, despite accomplishing so much, Weir had a more grandiose idea for viewers.

Originally, Weir wanted a camera installed in every theater that was showing the movie. Then, during a specific moment in the movie, the projectionist would cut to the camera, showing the audience and bringing them into the movie itself. Unfortunately, the scale and hurdles in accomplishing that idea prevented it from happening.

Would The Truman Show work if it was released today? Probably not. If it was released now, it’d likely be criticized for being too direct, too on the nose and too unimaginative. That should be a testament to just how innovative and insightful the movie was when it debuted in 1998.

About David Rogers

Editor for The Comeback and Contributing Editor for Awful Announcing. Lover of hockey, soccer and all things pop culture.

6 thoughts on “The Truman Show remains an underrated classic 20 years after its release

  1. One of my all-time favorite movies — but I never noticed the hidden cameras!!! Gonna have to watch it again!

    1. I originally thought that too, but the more I saw it, although it has been awhile, the more I saw him as a plus because of how believable he was in it. He gave a delicate and winning performance in that regard that I do not believe another actor would have been able to pull off as well without coming across as overwrought or ham-fisted. Maybe a younger Dustin Hoffman could have pulled it off. But he was too old for the role and in his later years would definitely have come across with an overwrought performance. An unknown actor might have worked. Still, I cannot envision anybody else as Truman now.

  2. Awesome film. Thanks for reminding us of it. It’s been too long since I have seen The Truman Show, and it is high time to look at its production a bit more deeply. I had always wanted to see it turned into a cancelled-after-one-season TV series focusing on the escape. I use “cancelled…” because no way would that have worked as 1) Truman would have had to have been recast, and 2) TV series as intellectual exercises almost always never work. Still, the Truman Show and its 1998 companion, Pleasantville, continue to impact me in ways that last to this day. Again, thanks for looking back today! Er, whenever this was posted. Because I just learned of The Comeback — not even sure how I made it here — and I am enjoying it so much I have placed it in my weekly bookmark queue. See ya next Saturday!

    One note: please ask your staff to be a bit more diligent on copy proofing. Too many ticky-tacky, boneheaded typos and errors riddled the articles I have plowed through. Even this article’s subhed/pullquote has a typo in it. The minute or three of copying and pasting something into Word for its grammar check feature will help resolve many of the issues I noticed.

  3. Its a great film. Like the novel 1984, certain people seem to have taken it as a challenge rather than a warning lol.
    Also, you know a movie’s great when it spawns psychological issues.

  4. Top five fave of mine, even though today I cannot stand Jim Carey today. Great scene is when Truman flips out after discovering things are not what the seem and finds his friend stocking a candy machine. As they talk you can see the friend look over his shoulder, take candy bars from the back, and continue stocking the front.

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