June 13, 1998
The Truman Show , film criticism, and real subversion
It seems as if every film critic is using The Truman Show as a way to up their 'hip' factor by discussing
what a brilliant commentary it is on our current TeeVee-obsessed society. Well, they're all full of it, because
TTS isn't about anything at all--it's just an enjoyable fantasy romp with some good comic moments
and a few touching scenes.
There's nothing subversive about this film. A true filmic commentary would have pointed fingers not at the megalomaniacal
Creator, but at those whom the Creator is serving--the voyeuristic masses. But in TTS, the audience-in-the-film
gets off responsibility-free, allowing the audience-in-the-theater to feel justified in their (lack of) actions.
One of the few who got that TTS was about nothing was Michael Sragow (whose reviews get syndicated in
alternative weeklies). I pointed my dad to his review, and my dad responded as so:
"He is one of the better reviewers down here also. However, without
having seen THE TRUMAN SHOW, I have to quibble with his dissection of it. His entire essay is based on a serious
misunderstanding of motion pictures. I will now give you the only meaningful explanation of movies; "The essence of film is emotion, not meaning".
Take it to the bank.
Film can have meaning beyond emotion, but if you are not reviewing the emotion of a film, you are not reviewing
its essence; its essentialness.
A movie is no different than a piece of music, or chopped liver; if it makes you feel good, it is good. Once one
accepts the emotional essence of a film, one can then analyze the elements that created that essence, or failed
in that attempt; but no movie review can have any meaning or pertinence of its own unless it proceeds from the
starting point of audience emotion."
And, you know, my dad's right. And TTS is a pretty good film. So go see it.
If you do want film-as-commentary, where there is emotion and meaning, may I suggest:
"I like to watch" repeats Peter Sellers, in perhaps his finest role, as Chauncey Gardiner. His television
obsession is our television obsession, as the idiot cipher rises to power on a series of horticultural cliches.
And, yes, at the very end, he is doing what you think he is doing.
The mockumentary style (constantly referring to Don't Look Back, for some reason) delivers an
amazingly clever send-up of modern politics. Doesn't always stick together, but Tim Robbins is clearly a savvy
Wag The Dog
If you seriously think about the premise on which this movie is based, well, it's pretty damn chilling. Unfortunately,
the solid first two-thirds are nearly ruined by a chaotic and crumbling last act.
And, well, there's always Stanley Kubrick...
Paths of Glory may be the classic American anti-war film, Spartacus is about a slave (read: labor)
uprising, and Dr. Strangelove is a most wonderfully maddeningly
frustrating look at the absurdity of mutually assured destruction.
Props to Sam Pratt of The Finger for encouraging the thought behind this piece.
June 6, 1998: Las Vegas Without the Gambling
May 30, 1998: Dark City and The Parkway
May 24, 1998: Frames: Information vs. Application
May 21, 1998: Transitions
in Experience Design
May 17, 1998: Interface Lessons from Video Game
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