Live television is not a new concept; after all, TV was originally a mostly live medium. When I was growing up, Live/unedited/unrehearsed TV mostly consisted of speeches, news broadcasts and sporting events. However, today, shows like The Real World, Cops, and the recent live coverage of a suicide on TV, have illustrated how much the audience hungers for "the real thing". Like an addiction, to maintain the high, audiences are treated to more and more down-to-earth gritty depictions of other people's lives. Why they can't just watch the news is beyond me.
The logical extension of the vicarious nature of TV audiences is depicted in The Truman Show. In this movie, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is an insurance salesman who lives in an apparently perfectly world: the people are always nice, the town is always clean, and the sun always shines (almost). Truman appears to have a great friend in Marlon (Noah Emmerich), and a loving wife in Meryl (Laura Linney) who has the odd trait of sounding like a commercial at times.
Unknown to him, Truman's every move (almost) is watched by millions of viewers around the world. Over 5000 cameras are used to record Truman's life and The Truman Show has been the highest rated show on network TV for about thirty years. The architect of this show is Christof (Ed Harris) who has constructed a large artificial world for Truman, enclosed in a giant dome (the only other man-made object visible from space besides the Great Wall of China).
While he may have suspected it all along, Truman wakes to the possibility that he is a prisoner when a light falls from the sky near his house. After that, things happen that don't really make sense: he hears a radio broadcast of his actions as he drives to work, his father who has presumed dead suddenly turns up again, complete strangers appear to know his name, and, my favourite, a shower of rain follows him around (in a way this showcases the arrogance of the creators of the show). Needless to say, Truman decides to stop being complacent and conformist and sets out to find the truth.
The concept that some alien race may be watching over us like the audience watches over Truman Burbank has been explored countless times before in other movies (most recently in Dark City). But The Truman Show highlights that the real puppeteers might not be aliens but (more plausible) forces closer to home. To me, the movie was about how some big brother entity watches over us, induces fictional phobias, and is ultimately able to gain control over us. The situation Truman Burbank is in applies to most of the people in the world. Viewers within the movie who are watching Truman's life on TV are just as taken in by the media propaganda as Truman is deceived about his life (in both cases, engineered by Christof). Today, viewers who accept what is presented to them by the media, the government, and their environment, without questioning it constantly, are in the same position as Truman. As Christof says, we all accept the reality which we're presented with.
Jim Carrey's performance is pretty good, but not his best. I thought The Cable Guy had the right mixture of a plot and craziness. The Truman Show is a brilliant concept, and a fairly original one at that, and that's the primary reason I'd recommend it. The concept alone carries the movie despite many flaws that have do with the vague semblance of a "plot". In general, I'd have to prefer The Cable Guy for a dramatic Jim Carrey movie, but pick The Truman Show for presenting a thought-provoking concept in a subtly humourous but disturbing kind of way.