Philosophy and Film - Return to Main Page


PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: free will/determinism, existentialism/individualism, appearance/reality

CHARACTERS: Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), Christof (Ed Harris), Meryl Burbank (Laura Linney, Truman's wife), Marlon (Noah Emmerick, Truman's best friend)

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR PETER WEIR: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Gallipoli (1981), The Year of Living Dangerously (1983), Witness (1985), The Dead Poets Society (1989), Master and Commander (2003)

OTHER FILMS BY SCREENWRITER ANDREW NICCOL: Gattaca (1997), Simone (2002), Lord of War (2005)

SYNOPSIS: The film centers on the life of Truman Burbank. At birth, Truman is legally adopted by a major television network to be the unknowing star of a television series, in which his entire life is watched by an audience of millions through an intricate series of hidden cameras. Christof, the main figure behind the concept of the Truman Show constructs an artificial world, entitled Seahaven, around Truman, which is actually just an extremely large television set. Everyone participating in this created world is an actor except for Truman himself. Truman is the only “authentic” person in this constructed world; even his mother, father, and wife are paid actors/actresses. Throughout his entire life, the television network is on a continual mission to keep Truman in ignorance of his situation through the manipulation of his environment. The film follows Truman’s eventual realization of the true nature of his reality and his dramatic escape from the artificial world.


1. The movie opens with the following statement from Christof: "We’ve become bored with watching actors give us phony emotions. We’re tired of pyrotechnics and special effects. While the world he (Truman) inhabits is, in some respects, counterfeit, there is nothing fake about Truman himself. No scripts, no cue cards. It isn’t always Shakespeare, but it’s genuine. It’s a life." What is that Christof means when he states that “there is nothing fake about Truman himself.”?

2. In what ways does Truman’s relationship with his perceived world differ from that of a normal human being?

3. In Walden, Thoreau states that “men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Is this the case with Truman towards the beginning of the film?

4. When referring to the Fiji Islands, Truman says “You can’t get any further away before you start coming back. You know that there are still islands there where no human being has ever set foot.” This shows a desire in Truman for something more that his ordinary day-to-day life. In the world Truman lives in, the influx of perceptions into him are heavily controlled and restricted. This adventurous side of Truman is potentially very dangerous to the interests of the television network, which is in complete control of Truman’s environment. Where did these ideas that Truman has come from? Do you think that Truman was allowed to read works might potentially invoke these ideas?

5. During an interview, Christof says “We accept the reality with which we are presented. It is as simple as that.” In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, a few subjects are chained where all that they could see were shadows of real objects on the wall in front of them. According to Plato, these subjects come to accept the shadows as ultimate reality. Plato saw the physical universe in this way, merely as a lacking representation of the Forms, the ultimate reality to be found in a higher realm. In what ways might Plato’s Allegory of the Cave relate to Christof’s above statement?

6. Throughout the film, there are shameless advertisements and product placements presented as part of Truman’s life. Is it moral to use Truman’s life as a means to monetary gain?

7. In George Orwell’s novel 1984, the Inner Party (tyrannical government) attempts to control the populace through use of subtle propaganda and by inventing a new language. Throughout the Truman Show, there are numerous examples of the television network attempting to control Truman, i.e. dangers of flying posters, school teacher saying that there is nothing left to explore, his father’s death at sea, the rock climbing scene in Truman’s youth, etc. To what extent are human beings controlled by their environments?

8. In “Self-Reliance”, Ralph Waldo Emerson states that “Whoever so be a man must be a non-conformist.” Would Emerson consider Truman to be a man according to the above statement?

9. During an interview, Christof states the following: "I have given Truman the chance to lead a normal life. The world, the place you live in, is the sick place. Seahaven is the way the world should be." Is Christof correct? What, if any, would be the benefits of living in Seahaven as opposed to the real world?

10. In what ways are Christof and the television network similar to God? In what respects do they differ?

11. When speaking of Truman, Christof states: "He could leave at any time. If this were anything more than a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there is no way we could prevent him." Truman eventually does discover the true nature of his reality despite the strong efforts of Christof and the network. What does Truman’s triumph have to say about the free-will/determinism debate?

12. As Truman begins to piece together the falsity of the world that surrounds him, his view of Seahaven is radically altered. He starts to question and analyze all that he encounters. Can you think of a parallel in your own life that has changed the way you process the world?

13. Some of the core concepts of Existentialism are a focus on the individual, the idea of existence preceding essence, facing absurdity, and the individual granting meaning to an otherwise meaningless life. Are some of these existentialist themes present in the film?

14. The final scene of the film contains the following dialogue:

Christof: Truman, you can speak. I can hear you.
Truman: Who are you?
Christof: I am the creator of a television show that gives hope, joy, and inspiration to millions.
Truman: Then who am I?
Christof: You’re the star.
Truman: Was nothing real?
Christof: You were real. That’s what made you so good to watch. Listen to me Truman. There is no more truth out there than there is in the world I created for you. Same lies. Same deceit. But in my world, you have nothing to fear.

Is Christof on target when he says that there is no more truth in the real world than there is in Seahaven? What school of thought would Christof fall into with this statement?

15. Consider yourself in Truman’s position. If presented with the choice to remain in Seahaven, a place where you have been promised that “you have nothing to fear”, or to enter into another world that you know little or nothing about, which would you choose?

16. When Truman finally exits Seahaven, what do you think it is that he expects to find on the other side of the door?


The Truman Show is one of my favorites that I have viewed for this class. Jim Carrey portrays a pretty much normal man, who just seems to go through the motions of life, until one day he notices that everything seems to mechanical or synchronized. Later, he uncovers that his life is on display to the world in the form of a television show. The figures in his life are just mere actors in television show, and it is all being controlled by a director in hidden in the sky. This film has many religious connotations with it and many allusions to God. First, there is the fact that there is someone who is in “control” that can observe everything Truman does. In essence there is a God figure in Truman’s life that is control of things. This raises questions about God’s omnipotence and omnipresence. Overall, I enjoyed this movie and it is very plausible that our lives are indeed a television show is being watched by God. This film is easily one that should be added to any movie buff’s collection or a collection that has much philosophical content to it. — J.M. Author: Joshua McDaniel

Philosophy and Film - Return to Main Page