Imagine that you are in a different world. A world where everything is perfectly decided by someone else and none of it really decided by you at all. The people that surround you were put in place just to surround you. Your job was given to you just so you could have one. Everything just is and there is nothing else to it. The Truman Show directed by Peter Weir contains a reflection of the fear that there is no free will and that everything has been predetermined by something or someone else, but at the same time it tells us that there is an escape from destiny. We will explore themes such as “big brother” always watching, whether a higher power is in the picture, focuses on the bitter end, and the Allegory of the Cave.
Firstly, throughout the film, the “Creator” of the show, Christof (Ed Harris) acts indeed as a god figure to Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey). He also was a part of the aforementioned predestination theme. He has always been watching over Truman from the very beginning and for thirty years, Truman has been unaware. From the beginning of Truman’s life, Christof had decided on each and every aspect of Truman’s life from his job to even his wife and the “death” of his father.
In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, it was written “Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, present, and future”(60). This was very much in response to the explanation given to him of the Tralfalmadorians that everything was already decided. It always has been and always will be. We are powerless to do anything to change what was meant to happen. With this idea in mind, we need only to return to Truman. He discovered that he wasn’t living in a real world, so he sought escape from the life that was constructed for him and sought out his own life in the outside world. If Truman could escape the status quo in spite of peril and however slight emotional attachment, then that is a good message saying that we too can escape the “destiny” that has been spelled out for us.
Next, the character Lauren, or “Silvia” (Natascha McElhone) as we later learned was wearing a button on her sweater. Silvia was a perfect object to show that there is is an escape from destiny. Christof wanted things one way, she wanted them another. Silvia’s mentioned button read “How’s it going to end?” Now, Silvia was the start to Truman’s awakening. The question imposed was about destiny. How is it going to end and what will happen to bring us there? Concerning this, Evan Lange wrote saying,
“The only real end to life is death, so destiny, a word about endings, is best reserved for a posthumous summary… I think we can have a real destiny, but only after death… If you are applying the word ‘destiny’ to a life that isn’t over, chances are you’ve given up somewhere – possibly to someone else who has convinced you there is no other way it can be. Or, you have designated your life to a force greater than yourself, one that has determined your path, and your destination, for you.”
Death is inevitable. How does it end? Death! What happens to get you there? That is unwritten. Lange said that our destinies cannot be determined while we are still alive. Why? Because we are still living and while we are living, our destiny is in a state of flux unless we have totally given up on life. Truman took one look at Silvia’s pin button and said simply “I was wondering that myself”(0:24:27). It is true, aren’t we all wondering what our destiny is? Aren’t we all curious to discover just how we will be remembered and are we as aware as we can be that time isn’t “a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually… it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff”(Steven Moffat) that is powered by humanity alone because the construct of time is our invention to make sense of the way planets, moons and stars move across our sky? We may think the universe would be the same without us, but that can’t be further from the truth. Even one drop of water in the ocean can send ripples for hundreds of thousands of miles.
Thirdly, because Truman had grown up in the show, that had become his reality. He was experiencing a sense of learned helplessness because everything had been predetermined for him and he had not yet discovered that there was an escape from the ebb and flow. Christof said “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented”(1:06:10)
Truman had lived thirty years in the show and everything within the show was his reality. This phenomenon is very closely related to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In the allegory, there are a group of prisoners within a cave. They are all tied to chairs facing a wall and facing away from the mouth of the cave where a fire is perched. All these prisoners can see are the walls of the cave and the shadows of things from the outside passing in front of the flame. The only things “real” to the prisoners are the shadows of things from the outside. To Truman, the only things that were real were similarly “shadows” of things from the outside world. Plato continued to describe how in the event of a prisoner getting free, at first, he would be blinded by the light of the outside world and then he would realize that the reality he had been living in had been fake this whole time and wouldn’t ever return to the cave.
The Truman Show is a modern day Allegory of the Cave and very much like the single prisoner escaping, Truman eventually faced the same thing. He realized that he was living in the “cave” and that everything was just a “shadow” to the things on the outside. At first he was blinded by fear and paranoia but then he realized that to escape, all he needed was to take control of his own life and destiny. So, he did and then left the cave forever.
Lastly, with the idea that either there is no free will and everything has already been decided, or that it is that way until we change our circumstances, discussing the divine is inevitable. Now, as previously mentioned, Christof was something of a god figure to Truman. Christof was the “Creator” of the world wherein Truman lived, he was, in essence, Truman’s father, and at the very end of the show, when Truman was climbing a staircase into the clouds, he heard Christof’s voice coming from “heaven”.
The idea of a higher power, or a god is an essential part of the free will debate. The Christian God is referred to as being omniscient and omnipresent, meaning He knows everything and is everywhere. But because He knows everything, does this mean that He has already decided everything for us? The short answer is no. If this God “so loved the world” (John 3:16), then why would He doom any to fail? It is written as well that “Men are free according to the flesh and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose”(2 Nephi 2:27).
Furthermore, this higher power cannot control us. God and Christof know their “children”. They know their attitudes, their fears, their tendencies, but they cannot in the end control the actions of their children. Though Christof sent a storm to drown Truman and God sent a whale to swallow Jonah, they still couldn’t force their children to do their bidding.
Ultimately, The Truman Show contains a reflection of the fear that there is no free will and that everything has been predetermined by something or someone else, but at the same time it tells us that there is an escape from destiny. Even though “big brother” and a sort of destiny may be looming over us, and just because our reality appears to be one way doesn’t mean that we should accept it. We are free agents unto ourselves and it is up to us to decide on whether we will live lives of freedom or lives of captivity kept in a cave with shadows as our only friends.
featured image courtesy of blobla.com