The Truman Show
“The Truman Show” is a very disturbing movie. On the surface it is about the exhausted edition of the blend of life and the media.
Examples of such turbulent relationships are abundant:
Ronald Reagan, the film president, was also a presidential film star. In another movie (“The Philadelphia Experiment”), a thawed Rip Van Winkle called out to see Reagan on television (40 years after her forced hibernation began): “I know this man, he played Cowboys in the movies . “
Candidate cameras monitor the lives of webmasters (website owners) almost 24 hours a day. The resulting images are constantly posted on the web and are available to anyone with a computer.
Over the last decade, a flurry of movies has been testified, all concerned about the confusion between life and the imitations of life, the media. The ingenious “Capitan Fracasse”, “Capricorn One”, “Sliver”, “Wag the Dog” and many less movies have all attempted to tackle this (happy) state of things and its moral and practical implications.
The faded line between life and its performance in the arts is probably the main theme of the “Truman Show”. The hero, Truman, lives in an artificial world, specially built for him. He was born and raised there. He knows no other place. The people around him – unknown to him – are all actors. His life is monitored by 5000 cameras and is broadcast to the world daily 24 hours a day. He is spontaneous and funny because he is unaware of the monstrousity of which he is the main wheel.
But Peter Weir, the director of the film, takes this problem one step further by committing a massive act of immorality on the screen. Truman is lied, deceived, deprived of his ability to make choices, controlled and manipulated by sinister, semi-gray Shylocks. As I said, he is unaware the only spontaneous, non-written “actor” in the continuous soap of his own life. All the other figures in his life, including his parents, are actors. Hundreds of millions of viewers and voyeurs stuck in to take a look at what Truman believes to be innocent and honest that he is his privacy. They are responded to various dramatic or anti-climatic events in Truman’s life. That we find the moral equivalent of these viewers-voyeurs, accomplices for the same crimes, as a shocking realization to us. We are (live) viewers and they are (celluloid) viewers. We enjoy both Truman’s unintentional, unauthorized exhibitionism. We know the truth about Truman and so do they too. Of course we are in a privileged moral position because we know it’s a movie and they know it’s a piece of raw life they watch. But film-makers in Hollywood’s history willingly and indifferently participated in numerous “Truman Shows”. The lives (true or consolidated) of the studio stars were exploited cruelly and incorporated into their movies. Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck, James Cagney, has all been forced to waste their intestines in catartic acts of camera conversion and not such symbolic humiliation. “Truman Shows” is the more common phenomenon in the film industry.
Then there is the question of the director of the movie as God and of God as the director of a movie. The members of his team – technical and non-technical – obey Christoff, the director, almost blindly. They suspend their better moral judgment and swear to his grills and the brutal and vulgar aspects of his piercing dishonesty and sadism. Torture loves its victims. They define him and fill his life with meaning. Caught in a story, the movie says, people work immorally.
(IN) famous psychological experiments support this statement. Students were led to administer what they thought they were “deadly” electric shocks to their colleagues or to treat their property in simulated prisons. They obeyed commands. That’s how all the terrible genocide killers have done in history. The director Weir asks: Should God be allowed to be immoral or should he be bound by morality and ethics? Should its decisions and actions be limited by a right and wrong crossing code? Should we obey our commandments blindly or should we exercise judgment? If we practice, we are immoral because God (and the Director Christoff) knows more (about the world, about us, the viewers and about Truman), better know, is almighty? Is the exercise of judgment the removal of divine powers and attributes? Is this action not bound to lead us on the way of apocalypse?
It all comes down to the issue of free choice and free will towards the benevolent determinism imposed by an all-knowing and almighty being. What is better: to have the choice and to be forbidden (almost inevitable, as in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden) – or to bow to the superior wisdom of an upright? A choice always involves a dilemma. This is the conflict between two equivalent states, two weighty decisions whose outcomes are equally desirable and two identical-preferential actions. Where there is no such equivalent, there is no choice, only the prescribed (given full knowledge) exercise of a preference or trend. Bees do not choose to make honey. A fan of football does not choose to watch a football match. He is motivated by a clear inequality between the choices he faces. He can read a book or go to the game. His decision is clear and predetermined by his love and the inevitable and unchanging implementation of the principle of pleasure. There is no choice here. It’s all rather automatic. But compare it with the choice that some victims had to make between two of their children in the face of Nazi brutality. Which child should be sentenced to death? Now it’s a right choice. It involves colliding emotions of equal power. One should not confuse decisions, opportunities and choices. Decisions are the mere choice of courses of action. This selection can be the result of a choice or the consequence of a tendency (unconscious, unconscious or biologically-genetic). Opportunities are current states of the world, allowing a decision to be made and influencing the future state of the world. Choices are our conscious experience of moral or other dilemmas.
Christoff finds it strange that, after discovering the truth, Truman insisted on his right to make choices, ie his right to experience dilemmas. To the Director, dilemmas are painful, unnecessary, destructive or at best disruptive. His utopian world – the one he built for Truman – is free and dilemma-free. Truman is not programmed in the sense that his spontaneity is extinguished. Truman is wrong when he shouts in one of the screens: “Be careful, I’m spontaneous”. The director and bold capitalist producers want him to be spontaneous, they want him to make decisions. But they do not want him to make choices. This influences his preferences and predilections by providing him with an absolutely totalitarian, micro-controlled, repetitive environment. Such an environment reduces the set of possible decisions so that at every crossing there is only one favorable or acceptable decision (outcome). Truman decides if he has to walk a certain road or not. But when he decides to walk, there is only one way for him. His world is limited and limited – not his actions.
In fact, Truman’s only choice in the movie leads to a probably unreasonable decision. He leaves ship. He goes out on the whole project. He destroys an investment of billions of dollars, people’s lives and careers. He turns his back on some of the actors who are really emotionally attached to him. He ignored the good and pleasure that brought the show to the lives of millions of people (the viewers). He goes selfishly and kindly. He knows all this. By the time he makes his decision, he is fully informed. He knows that some people can commit suicide, go bankrupt, endure severe depressive episodes, do drugs. But this massive landscape of consequent destruction does not stop him. He chooses her now, personal, interest. He walks.
But Truman did not ask or decide to be in his position. He held himself responsible for all these people without being consulted. There was no permission or decision of choice. How can someone be responsible for the welfare and lives of other people – if he did not choose to be so responsible? In addition, Truman had the perfect moral right to think that these people had wronged him. Are we morally responsible and responsible for the welfare and lives of those who have done us wrong? True Christians are, for example.
In addition, most of us usually find situations that we did not know in our decisions. We are unwillingly thrown into the world. We do not give prior permission to be born. This fundamental decision is made for us, forced upon us. This pattern continues through our childhood and adolescence. Decisions are made elsewhere by others and affect our lives deeply. As adults, we are the objects – often the victims – of the decisions of corrupt politicians, mad scientists, megalomanic media barons, gung-ho generals and demented artists. This world does not make us and our ability to shape and influence it is very limited and rather illusories. We live in our own “Truman Show”. Does this mean that we are not morally responsible for others?
We are morally responsible even though we did not choose the circumstances and parameters and characteristics of the universe in which we live. The Swedish Count Wallenberg lost his life (and lost) smuggling Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe. He did not choose or helped to form Nazi Europe. It was the brainchild of the apostate director Hitler. After finding an unwilling participant in Hitler’s horror show, Wallenberg did not put his back and chose. He remained within the bloody and horrible set and did his best. Truman had to do the same. Jesus said he loved his enemies. He had to feel and act with his fellow human beings, even to those who had greatly affected him.
But it can be an inhuman question. Such forgiveness and generosity is the reserve of God. And the fact that Truman’s tormentors did not regard themselves as such and believed that they were in his best interest and that they met all his needs – did not free themselves from their crimes. Truman had to maintain a fine balance between his responsibility towards the show, his creators and his viewers and his natural drive to come back to his tormentors. The source of the dilemma (which led to his decision to choose) is that the two groups overlap. Truman found himself in the impossible position to be the only guarantor of the welfare and lives of his evildoers. To clarify the question: Are we morally obliged to save the life and existence of someone who has done us much injustice? Or is revenge justified in such a case?
A very problematic figure in this regard is that of Truman’s best and childhood friend. They grew together, shared secrets, emotions and adventures. Nevertheless, he is constantly laying Truman and under the director’s instructions. Everything he says is part of a script. It is this disinformation that convinces us that he is not Truman’s true friend. A real friend is expected to provide our full and true information, thus improving our ability to choose. Truman’s true love in the show tried to do it. She paid the price: she was taken away from the show. But she tried to give Truman a choice. It’s not enough to say the right things and make the right move. Interior and motivation is required and the willingness to take risks (such as the risk of giving Truman complete information about its condition). All the actors who played Truman’s parents, loving wife, friends and colleagues failed to score this score.
It is in this mime that the philosophical key to the whole film is based. An utopia can not be falsified. Captain Nemo’s Utopian Underwater City was a true Utopia because everyone knew about it. People have been given a choice (although irrevocable and irrevocable). They decided to become lifelong members of the retired Captain’s colony and obey their (excessive rational) rules. The Utopia came closest to extinction when a group of lost survivors of a maritime accident were captured against their expressed will. In the absence of choice, no utopia can exist. In the absence of complete, timely and accurate information, no choice may exist. In fact, the availability of choice is so important that even when it is naturally occurring – and not by the designs of more or less sinister or monomanic people – there is no Utopia. In HG Wells’s book “The Time Machine”, the hero only walks to the third millennium to get only a peaceful utopia. Its members are immortal, do not have to work or think about survival. Sophisticated machines take care of all their needs. No-one forbids them to make choices. There simply is no need to make it. So the Utopia is fake and ends up badly.
Finally, the “Truman Show” encapsulates the most violent attack on capitalism in a long time. Greedy, thankless money machines in the form of billionaire power producers use Truman’s life scandalously and relentlessly in the ugliest display of human objections. The director enjoys his control mania. The producers enjoy their monetary obsession. The viewers (on both sides of the silver screen) enjoy voyeurism. The actors compete and compete in the compulsive activity to promote their small careers. It is a repellent cloth from a diverse world. Maybe Christoff is right when he warns Truman about the true nature of the world. But Truman chooses. He chooses the doorway leading to the outer darkness of the false sunlight in the Utopia that he leaves behind.