Truman Burbank lives a life as least as wonderful as George Bailey's in "It's a Wonderful Life." Burbank, portrayed in "The Truman Show" by the sublimely resourceful Jim Carrey, greets his neighbors with a hello as warm as the bright sun that illuminates every pastel neo- Victorian house and white picket fence in the coastal town of Seahaven. A permanently cheery wife (Laura Linney), a loyal Joe Sixpack pal (Noah Emmerich), Norman Rockwell interiors and the dapper, button-down clothing styles from the postwar years complete this perfect picture.
Seahaven, though, like the neatly manicured, seemingly antiseptic communities in such films as "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "Blue Velvet," is Capra-corn with a frightening twist. Burbank gradually discovers that his entire life is a 24/7 television show that's a global hit.
Director Peter Weir has created a strikingly subversive piece of information-age paranoia as visionary as anything Hollywood might manufacture this summer, or this decade.
The Australian-born talent behind the provocative "Fearless" and "The Year of Living Dangerously," conspires with writer Andrew Niccol ("Gattaca") and cinematographer Peter Biziou ("Mississippi Burning") to create the illusion of a life well-examined ... by billions of viewers.
The film opens with talking-head commentaries by the cast liberally intercut with shots of prim old ladies (clutching a pillow with Truman's photo), parking-garage attendants, a lonely guy in his bathtub and a bar full of cheering fans. All are watching the further exploits of Truman, now in his 30th year of superstardom. "It isn't always Shakespeare, but it's genuine, it's a life," explains Christof (Ed Harris), the sinister mastermind of the international small-screen sensation. Other imaginative touches abound: Shots from myriad angles are employed to indicate the 5,000 cameras required to catch every moment of Truman's orderly existence.
Truman eventually begins to wise up to the cracks in his prefab environment. He sees his dead father's face on a homeless person, he's plagued by memories of a would-be lover and is attacked by a rain cloud. Just like viewers of the show within the movie, we become embroiled in Truman's efforts to break free and sympathize with the plight of a man who has a dubious relationship with free will. And like the viewers, we can always walk out of our own television shows.