The Truman Show is a 1998 American satirical social science fiction film directed by Peter Weir and written by Andrew Niccol. The cast includes Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, as well as Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Ed Harris and Natascha McElhone. The film chronicles the life of a man who is initially unaware that he is living in a constructed reality television show, broadcast around the clock to billions of people across the globe. Truman becomes suspicious of his perceived reality and embarks on a quest to discover the truth about his life.
The genesis of The Truman Show was a spec script by Niccol, inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone called "Special Service". The original draft was more in tone of a science fiction thriller, with the story set in New York City. Scott Rudin purchased the script, and instantly set the project up at Paramount Pictures. Brian De Palma was in contention to direct before Weir took over and managed to make the film for $60 million against the estimated $80 million budget. Niccol rewrote the script simultaneously as the filmmakers were waiting for Carrey's schedule to open up for filming. The majority of filming took place at Seaside, Florida, a master-planned community located in the Florida Panhandle.
The film was a financial and critical success, and earned numerous nominations at the 71st Academy Awards, 56th Golden Globe Awards, 52nd British Academy Film Awards and The Saturn Awards. The Truman Show has been analyzed as a thesis on Christianity, metaphilosophy, simulated reality, existentialism and the rise of reality television.
Truman Burbank is the unsuspecting star of The Truman Show, a reality television program in which his entire life, since before birth, is filmed by thousands of hidden cameras, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and broadcast live around the world. The show's creator and executive producer Christof is able to capture Truman's real emotion and human behavior when put in certain situations. Truman's hometown of Seahaven is a complete set built under a giant arcological dome in the Los Angeles area. Truman's family and friends are all played by actors allowing Christof to control every aspect of Truman's life. To prevent Truman from discovering his false reality, Christof has invented means of dissuading his sense of exploration, including "killing" his father in a storm initiated by Christof while on a fishing trip to instill in him a fear of the water, and making many news reports and commercials about the dangers of traveling, and featuring television shows about how good it is to stay at home. Despite Christof's control, Truman has managed to behave in unexpected ways, in particular by falling in love with an extra, Sylvia, known to Truman as Lauren, instead of Meryl, the character intended to be his wife. Though Sylvia is quickly removed from the set and Truman marries Meryl, he continues to secretly pine for her. Sylvia becomes part of a "Free Truman" campaign that fights to free him from the show.
During the 30th year of the show, Truman notices certain aspects of his near-perfect world that seem out of place. A theatrical light falls from the artificial morning sky, nearly hitting him (quickly passed off by local radio as an aircraft in trouble that began "shedding parts") and Truman's car radio picks up a conversation between the show's crew tracking his movements. Truman also becomes aware of more subtle abnormalities within his regular day-to-day life, such as the way in which the same people appear in the same places at certain times each day and Meryl's tendency to blatantly advertise the various products she buys. Truman's supposedly deceased father then reappears on the set dressed as a homeless man and is whisked away as soon as Truman notices him.
Despite the best efforts of his family and his best friend Marlon to reassure him, all these events cause Truman to start wondering about his life, realizing how the world seems to revolve around him. Meryl grows increasingly stressed by the pressure of perpetuating the deception, and their marriage unravels in the face of Truman's increasing skepticism and attendant hostility towards her. Truman attempts to leave Seahaven but is blocked by his inability to arrange flights, bus breakdowns, sudden traffic jams, a forest fire and a nuclear meltdown – which he becomes skeptical of when the policeman, whom Truman had never met before, calls him by name. After Meryl breaks down and is taken off the show, Christof officially brings back Truman's father, hoping his presence will keep Truman from trying to leave. However, he only provides a temporary respite: Truman soon becomes isolated and begins staying alone in his basement after Meryl leaves him. One night, Truman fools the cameras and escapes the basement undetected via a secret tunnel, forcing Christof to temporarily suspend broadcasting of the show for the first time in its history. This causes a surge in viewership, with many viewers, including Sylvia, cheering on Truman's escape attempt.
Christof orders every actor and crew member to search the town, even breaking the town's daylight cycle to help in the search. They find that Truman has overcome his fear of the water and has sailed away from the town in a small boat named Santa Maria. After restoring the broadcast, Christof orders the show's crew to create a large storm to try to capsize the boat, prompting a heated debate with his superiors over the morality and legality of killing Truman in front of a live audience. Truman almost drowns, but his determination eventually leads Christof to terminate the storm. As Truman recovers, the boat reaches the edge of the dome, its bow piercing through the dome's painted sky. An awe-struck Truman then discovers a flight of stairs nearby, leading to a door marked "EXIT". As he contemplates leaving his world, Christof speaks directly to Truman via a powerful sound system, trying to persuade him to stay and arguing that there is no more truth in the real world than there is in his own, artificial world. Truman, after a moment's thought, delivers his catchphrase, "In case I don't see you... good afternoon, good evening, and good night", bows to his audience and steps through the door and into the real world. The assembled television viewers excitedly celebrate Truman's escape, and Sylvia quickly leaves her apartment to reunite with him. A network executive orders the crew to cease transmission. With the show completed, members of Truman's former audience are shown looking for something else to watch.
- Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank: Chosen out of six unwanted pregnancies and the first child to be legally adopted by a corporation, he is unaware that his daily life is broadcast continuously around the world. He has a job in the insurance business and a lovely wife, but he eventually notices that his environment is not what it seems to be. Robin Williams was considered for the role, but Weir cast Carrey after seeing him in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective because Carrey's performance reminded him of Charlie Chaplin. Carrey took the opportunity to proclaim himself as a dramatic actor, rather than being typecast in comedic roles. Carrey, who was then normally paid $20 million per film, agreed to do The Truman Show for $12 million. Carrey and Weir initially found working together on set difficult (Carrey's contract gave him the power to demand rewrites), but Weir was impressed with Carrey's improvisational skills, and the two became more interactive. The scene in which Truman declares "this planet Trumania of the Burbank galaxy" to the bathroom mirror was Carrey's idea.
- Laura Linney as Hannah Gill playing Meryl Burbank, Truman's wife, a nurse at the local hospital. Since the show relies on product placement for revenue, Meryl regularly shows off various items she has recently "purchased," one of the many oddities that makes Truman question his life. Her role is essentially to act the part of Truman's wife and ultimately to have a child by him, despite her reluctance to accomplish either. Linney explains that Gill "was a child actress who never made it, and now she's really ambitious. Mostly she's into negotiating her contract. Every time she sleeps with Truman she gets an extra $10,000." Linney heavily studied Sears catalogs from the 1950s to develop her character's poses.
- Ed Harris as Christof: The creator of The Truman Show. Christof remains dedicated to the program at all costs, often overseeing and directing its course in person (rather than through aides), but at the climax/resolution, he speaks to Truman over a loudspeaker, revealing the nature of Truman's situation. Dennis Hopper was originally cast in the role, but he left in April 1997 (during filming) over "creative differences." Harris was a last-minute replacement. A number of other actors had turned down the role after Hopper's departure. Harris had an idea of making Christof a hunchback, but Weir did not like the idea.
- Noah Emmerich as Louis Coltrane playing Marlon, Truman's best friend since early childhood. Marlon is a vending machine operator for the company Goodies, who promises Truman he would never lie to him, despite the latest events in Truman's life. Emmerich has said, "My character is in a lot of pain. He feels really guilty about deceiving Truman. He's had a serious drug addiction for many years. Been in and out of rehab." His name is an amalgam of two jazz musicians, Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane, and in one scene he plays trumpet.
- Natascha McElhone as Sylvia (unknown last name) playing Lauren Garland (Truman's college schoolmate): Sylvia was hired to play a background extra, a fellow student at Truman's college, named Lauren. She became romantically involved with Truman and tried to reveal to him the truth about his life, but was thrown out of the show before she could do so. She then becomes a protester against The Truman Show, urging Christof to release its lead.
- Brian Delate as Walter Moore playing Kirk Burbank, Truman's father. When Truman was a boy, his character on the show was killed off to instil a fear of water in his son that would prevent Truman from leaving the set; however, he sneaks back onto the set when Truman is an adult. This causes Truman to begin questioning his staged life, and as he tries to get away from it the writers are forced to write a plot in which Kirk had not drowned but had suffered from amnesia.
- Holland Taylor as Alanis Montclair playing Angela Burbank, Truman's mother: Christof orders that she attempt to persuade Truman to have children.
- Harry Shearer (cameo appearance) as Mike Michaelson (news anchor): Michaelson hosts TruTalk, an entertainment-news program about The Truman Show that broadcasts early in the morning.
- Paul Giamatti as Simeon (control room director).
- Peter Krause as Laurence (Truman's boss): At Truman's office, Laurence often interrupts Truman when he talks about his dreams of moving to Fiji.
- Philip Glass, who composed and performed some of the film's soundtrack, makes a cameo appearance as the incidental keyboard player.