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  June 13, 1998: The Truman Show, film criticism, and real subverstion

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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:

Being There
"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.

Bob Roberts
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 guy.

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.

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