In philosophy, the representation of reality and truth has been the subject of debate for a long time. There is a feeling by some philosophers such as Plato, that what one perceives as reality is simply that which his mind has been exposed to, and that other forms of reality that one could discover after being exposed to them exist. Some fictional works seem to propagate this point. Their plots center on people who have been denied the opportunity to see all aspects of the world, making them only to know of the events they have been exposed to as the only reality. The Truman Show, directed by Peter Weir, presents some philosophical ideas that are similar to those presented by Plato in Allegory of the Cave.
In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, a group of men lives in a dark cave, chained on the floor facing a wall. They are not allowed to venture out of the cave, and the only images they see are those of shadows of humans illuminated on the wall by the light of the fire. With time, these people come to view these shadows as the reality (Dean 17). He says that when these prisoners are finally released from the cave, they are surprised to find out that there is another form of reality. Plato argues that many people are like these prisoners because the only reality they know is that which they have been exposed to. Similarly, in The Truman Show, Truman Burbank is an unwanted baby who is raised in a large restrictive dome in New York City. The dome has been designed to imitate a normal town. The rest of the people are aware of the existence of life outside the dome, but Burbank has not been made aware. In fact, he is discouraged from any interest of traveling to other places by stories of his father’s death in a boat accident, which gives him aqua phobia. There is deliberate effort to fully control Burbank’s life, such as falling in love and marrying his co-student, Meryl (Ebert, n.p). However, he becomes suspicious about his life, and even goes against expectations when he falls in love with Sylvia, who tells him that his world is artificial. However, she is withdrawn from his life and taken away. In an effort to follow her, Burbank discovers that there is a life outside the dome, which makes his reality to expand. Therefore, Plato’s allegory agrees with Christoph’s statement “We accept the reality with which we are presented. It is as simple as that.”
In the film, many advertisements and product placements have been designed to show the public that they are part of Truman’s life. It is not moral to use him for monetary gain in this manner, and the whole attempt to deny a man his freedom of choice is immoral. Christoph and the whole television network are attempting to play God in the film by taking full control of his life. They are the ones who attempt to play God’s role because they are the ones who determine his actions and the direction of his life. They do not let nature take its course. For example, they want to influence the girl he falls in love with and even his fears, especially the one of traveling using water vessels. When he falls in love with a different girl, they withdraw them from his life. To him, Christoph and the rest of the television network are like God because they determine everything that happens. In short, they try to create a completely different human being in him. However, they differ from God because they can only control the physical aspects and not the mind. They fail to make him love Meryl, and even efforts to take Sylvia away from his life do not stop him from loving her (Ebert, n.p).
Despite the effort of Christoph and the rest of the crew in controlling his mind, Truman eventually discovers that there is a different world, and escapes from the bondage. He overcomes the fear of water that had been created in him and plans to travel to Fiji in search of Sylvia. It is clear that Christoph and the rest of the crew have failed to tame his vision on reality. This reinforces the view that free will and determinism will eventually prevail in a human being. Free will proponents argue that a human being determines his actions while determinism thinkers argue that the decisions one makes are determined by circumstances beyond his control (Friedenberg and Silverman 41). In the film, free will is seen to prevail over determinism when Truman escapes the captivity he has been placed in.
Some existentialism themes are present in this film, for example, existence-preceding essence in which it is stated that man just happens to be there after which he struggles to define himself and make sense out of his life (Tymieyekha 105). This is seen when Truman first seems to follow the prescriptive life in which he finds himself, but as he understands himself, he begins to chart his perception of reality. Furthermore, existentialism states that individuals try to give meaning to an otherwise meaningless life. Truman’s life is an illustration of this concept since initially, he could not understand many things, and Christoph and the rest of the crew controlled his life. However, he begins to question some of the things he observes such as rain falling on him and not the rest of the people. At this stage, life is full of questions, and because he is not fully in control of his decisions, life is meaningless. When he discovers that he is living an artificial life, he begins a struggle to free himself, and that is when his life begins to have some meaning. In an interview, Christoph says of Truman, ” if he was determined to discover the truth, there is no way we could prevent him.” Christoph must have realized that it was impossible to completely control a human being’s mind, or that any success in keeping him under the artificial word was only temporary. Another concept of existentialism that the film explores is facing absurdity. This concept states that a human being placed under unusual circumstances will soon discover that his world is not normal and that he misses something. The theory proposes that the mind has been programmed only to exist in a friendly, normal environment and if this is not fulfilled, it will struggle to free itself (Sajovitz 19). This has been well illustrated by Truman’s discovery that his world is different from other people and his decision to escape. Therefore, one can conclude that the film offers an opportunity to practically examine some of the concepts of existentialism. The film shows that one’s perception of reality is limited to what he has been exposed to. Nevertheless, the human mind has an amazing ability to struggle against forces that seek to control it.
The question of a human being’s perception of reality and truth is still far from being resolved. However, there are important insights that offer a glimpse into the way human beings perceive reality. As demonstrated by Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and The Truman Show, it is possible to control one’s perception of life because it is shaped by what one has been exposed to. However, in the film, there is also a message that the human free will is so strong that given freedom, it will always overcome any efforts to exert control over it. Watching this film gives one a good understanding of the concept of ‘free will.’ Finally, it is evident that fiction is a true reflection of reality.
Dean, Michelle L. Using Art Media in Psychotherapy: Bringing the Power of Creativity to
Practice. Routledge, 2016.
Ebert, Roger. The Truman Show. Rogerebert, 5 June 1998, goo.gl/G4pnN8
Accessed 14 Dec. 2016.
Friedenberg, Jay and Gordon Silverman. Cognitive Science: An Introduction to the Study of
the Mind. SAGE, 2006.
Sajovitz, Mathias. John Irving’s Existentialist Heroes. Lulu.com, 2009.
Tymieniecka, Anna-Terressa. Phenomenology and Existentialism in the Twentieth Century:
Book I. New Waves of Philosophical Inspirations. Springer, 2009.
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