Truman Show Is the Movie Essay

Pages: 5 (1810 words)  ·  Style: Harvard  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Film

Truman Show

Is the movie "The Truman Show" truly a work of art? What are the scholars saying about this most unusual and entertaining film that stars Jim Carrey and is produced by Peter Weir? This paper reviews and critiques the literature on the film and concludes that the film is, indeed, art.

What is Art?

"…Those who want to deny art-status to certain films are simply drawing the wrong distinction… [certain] contested films are simply low art (or in come cases, bad art) rather than non-art… [and] there are films that are not high art, but still art…" (Prinz, 2007, p. 3).

"Cinema is an art form just as significant and just as profound as any painting or song… Art exists to stimulate its audience, to provoke thought…" (Griffen, 2008, p. 1).

Nigel Warburton asserts that since there is such a vast variety of art forms, it is "a mistake to look for any general definition of art" (Warburton, 1992, p. 122). Warburton believes the best a critic or researcher can do is identify "the art form," which includes film, the novel, a symphony and/or course a painting / sketch / photograph. Warburton uses Clive Bell's description of art; that is, all "genuine works of art produce an aesthetic emotion in the spectator, listener or reader" (123). Certainly, there is not doubt that Weir's movie produces aesthetic emotion and psychological impacts as well.

The "idealistic theory of art," Warburton continues (125), posits that art created for pure entertainment purposes is "is a craft" and hence, entertainment art is "inferior to art proper" (Warburton, 126). This is not an agreeable definition for This paper because it becomes selective in a discriminative way. And the "institutional theory" is also inadequate to describe the film by Weir because art then becomes "whatever a certain group of privileged people choose to call art"; elitism in this genre is objectionable and partisan.

Gordon Graham explains that while painting is certainly an art, it cannot "depict that dynamic of a narrative sequence" -- and film can indeed offer a narrative sequence and hence film "succeeds where painting fails" (Graham,1997, p. 109). Film therefore has the power to "construct and display dynamic visual images" and hence film transcends the limited ability of the "static visual image" (Graham, 109).

The Literature on The Truman Show

In the journal Utopian Studies, writer Dusty Lavoie presents an esoteric essay that first of all claims "not much critical work has been done" with Weir's film; so he sets out to do what hasn't apparently been done with any depth. From there Lavoie launches into bold series of descriptions, comparisons, and opinions about the film. On page 53 Lavoie asserts that in the film actor Jim Carrey steps "outside Hollywood's limitations through Weir's crafting of the art form." Through this Weir-crafted art form -- that is one approach to the question posed in the introduction, e.g., yes this film is a work of art -- Weir has created a "biting dystopian social commentary" which reveals to the filmgoer that Truman Burbank (Carrey), the protagonist, is "cosmically naive" (Lavoie, 53).

The setting for this particular Hollywood art form is a "fabricated stage, a massive, self-contained, dome-like set piece" which is Truman's world, Lavoie explains. Using a postmodern theme, Weir is actually producing an artistic parody and visual attack on what Lavoie calls "the excess of mass media" and the obsession America has with "24/7 coverage" (Lavoie, 54). The "coverage" in this instance is not just with the interesting cinematic events seen by the filmgoer, but the "coverage" amounts to snooping into a person's "entire life" (Lavoie, 54).

The coyness of Weir in this art form comes through loud and clear as the audience is cinematically, psychologically encouraged to "misread Truman's unknowingness as a utopian ideal"; in other words, ignorance is bliss and Truman's life appears "neat and pretty… idyllic and ideal" (Lavoie, 55). However, the audience members who buy into the idyllic tone of Weir's masterpiece are encouraged to become "immersed emotionally in the very story we are to view critically" which in turn creates an "ideological tension in the extradiegetic viewer that is certainly not accidental" (Lavoie, 55).

There is a fascinating amount of artistic license and artistic depth to this film, in that Truman is a prisoner -- and in effect the audience is imprisoned as well because they can do nothing to help Truman escape or explain to him that he is part of a massive hoax -- and there is a story within a story. The main story is what the audience is witness to; the story within that is that television has created a phony world strictly for entertainment; and story within that is the life and times, and emotional responses of Truman, who is real.

And not only is the director manipulating every camera angle, the duration of every shot, and of ever fade out, the director is manipulating -- through Christof [who sounds a lot like God or Jesus Christ] -- the fate of the protagonist. This art form allows that Truman will suffer from what Lavoie (63) calls "a double awareness." To wit, he doesn't know "that or how he is being watched"; he is "institutionalized… under the gaze of the asylum's two-way mirror"; and moreover, the director is leaving the audience with that question that relates to the theory that art imitates life. "…Most interestingly," Lavoie asks rhetorically, "is Truman's done-world much different than our own?" (65).

Emma Kafalenos writes that the format of The Truman Show is "double coded"; that is, until the end of the movie when the television program is cut off, "whenever viewers see a scenic representation of Truman's life" the viewer is not able to distinguish visually between scenes from the movie and scenes from the television show" (Kafalenos, 2003, p. 7). This is where the art form, at one level, is clearly represented. As was mentioned earlier in this paper, there is depth in this film -- stories within stories -- and that moves the film from the genre of a beginning-to-the-ending story to an artistic portrayal of several levels of story telling. If this is not art, what then is art?

Film, like photography, "is iconic" because "it resembles its referent," Kafalenos explains on page 5. The very medium of film… heightens the customary difference between scene and summary in verbal narratives," Kafalenos continues. Film does this by depicting scenes "visually as well as through words"; novels, of course, are works of art even though they are not visual per se. They depict scenes, characters and events in such a way as to allow the reader to paint pictures in his or her mind. But film, as art, attests to the "materiality of the referent" (Kafalenos, 5).

Art is supposed to fascinate and arouse, stimulate and educate the viewer; it doesn't have to entertain but often it does. And fooling the audience is legal, it is frequently embraced and is popular for directors, but when it happens it makes for a deeper dive into the characters and the plot. On page 6 Kafalenos points out that twelve minutes into the film audiences know that are not watching "a representation of a real-time television program, but a movie." Truman's memories are important but are not available to the camera. So what is the audience thinking as they watch this creative film? Each individual has his or her unique response and reaction to The Truman Show; surely some pick up right away what is happening and why the director is doing what he does; others may be lost as to the stories within stories and just sit back and let the film play out, hoping someone later will explain what has just been seen.

For Leo Tolstoy (who wrote "What is Art? In 1896), The Truman Show is certainly art because it expresses "moral values"; Tolstoy did not define art in the terms of its ability to "express form and beauty" but rather in its ability to communicate "concepts of morality" (Scott, 2002). The reason Tolstoy believed that art should not be evaluated on the basis of an activity that produces beauty because "…beauty cannot be defined objectively" and hence, beauty is not qualified as a criterion to show was is, or what is not, art (Scott). When the audience shares an emotion, feeling or memorable experience, that qualifies the work as art.

And the most important quality of any work of art, according to Tolstoy, is "its sincerity"; true art expresses "original thoughts and feelings," and clearly The Truman Show expresses extremely original thoughts and feelings (Scott). Moreover, Tolstoy believed that art is supposed to be relevant to "everyone" and to "every aspect of the human condition," Scott continues. Tolstoy also put forward the notion that "good art" communicated some form of religious experience; it can be argued that religion does indeed play a role in The Truman Show, given Christof and his God-like use of power… [END OF PREVIEW]

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