I first watched the The Truman Show as an 8-year old boy, and it put me into an immediate trance.
I love hunting for the symbols and deeper meanings in film. This one is packed with them.
Reflecting on this multi-layered masterpiece today, I’ve come to resonate with the journey of Truman Burbank even more strongly.
To recap (spoiler alert), the movie picks up with Truman going through the motions in his daily life.
Working as an insurance salesman in the picture-perfect island of Seahaven, he has nice house, a beautiful wife, and a solid best friend.
On the outside, Truman seems quite cheerful about life.
Midway through the film, however, cracks start to appear in his reality.
For one, Truman starts to wonder why he’s always in the middle of strange coincidences. Is he living in some strange dream? Is he being ‘gaslighted’? He enters a period of deep questioning, of everything and everyone around him.
Unsatisfied by the dismissive answers given to him, Truman digs even deeper. An explorer at heart, he refuses to drop his hunt for the truth.
As the audience, we then discover that Truman has been living within the confines of an artificial dome since birth, replete with fake weather, a massive cast of actors, and thousands of cameras which broadcast his every waking moment around the globe.
Truman becomes spooked enough to attempt a bold escape. It’s bold because the only way out is setting sail, despite his intense phobia of water.
Christof – the show’s director – generates a storm to slow Truman down, almost drowning him. But he prevails.
At the film’s climax, Truman’s boat crashes into the dome’s wall, painted to resemble the sky. He walks along the edge, reaching an exit door.
Christof speaks to Truman directly for the first time, presenting him with a momentous choice.
Truman can either go back to the safe, problem-free world he came from. Or, he can head out into the real world – which Christof calls the “sick place”.
In an act of courage, Truman steps out into the unknown.
3 Life Lessons from The Truman Show
This film has a lot to say – perhaps more today than ever before.
While it’s easy to focus on the film’s ‘Big Brother’ theme, I believe the following parallels between Truman’s and our own lives are even more relevant:
- Like Truman, none of us chose the identity we were born into (and conditioned to uphold)
- Like Truman, most people we meet are acting (and we never get to see who they really are)
- Like Truman, we must get uncomfortable and face our demons in order to discover who we are (and see reality as it is)
Maybe these parallels explain why the film always strikes such a powerful chord with me. Even with the fanciful premise, there’s just something so relatable about Truman’s experience.
For one, can’t it sometimes feel like we’re all talking from a script?
So much about our existence is conditioned. We’re told who to be, how to act, what we should pursue, how to be happy, and what we’re capable of.
One of the most touching moments in the film is when we reflect on Truman’s childhood. At every turn, he expresses a longing to explore, manifested most clearly in his adult obsession with visiting Fiji.
But to keep him ensnared within the TV show’s warped reality, Truman’s co-stars are forced to mock and belittle his dreams.
So the fact that he continues listening to his own heart in the face of overwhelming cynicism is inspirational. Slowing down to understand who really are in the midst of such a maelstrom is heroic indeed.
That said, here are 3 life lessons that I continue to draw from Truman’s journey…
1) Be the star of your own show, not somebody else’s
Some people are perfectly happy to passively go with the flow and see where the status quo carries them. If that isn’t you, then take Truman as your spirit animal and heed the following warnings:
- If you don’t write your own scripts, you’re always going to be an actor in somebody else’s show.
- If you don’t become the hero of your own narrative, you’re always going to play the supporting roles.
So who’s currently the director of your life? Is it you?
2) To be authentic, question everything and everyone (including yourself)
Now I’m not suggesting we question reality to the point of paranoia, as in Truman’s case(!)
Rather, I’ve found it useful to gently and intentionally reflect on why things are the way they are.
Approach life from a place of openness and curiosity, paying special attention to glimmers of truth and realisation in your environment.
Much as cracks appeared in Truman’s fabricated world – acting mishaps, technical errors, and so on – our own cultures develop regular cracks too. Because other people are only so good at ensnaring us within the status quo.
For one, ask yourself why people act the way they do. What’s really going on with them? Are they as happy as they claim to be?
More importantly, question your own way of being in the world. Are you living authentically? Or are you living a life you’ve been told to live?
3) Leaving your comfort zone is the ultimate act of self-compassion
Embracing the unknown takes guts, but it also takes tremendous self-compassion.
Truman put his entire, cushy life on the line in order to be true to himself, including his house, job, marriage, friends – even his identity.
I find this last point especially inspiring.
Of all the protagonists I’ve watched on-screen, I struggle to think of many braver than Truman Burbank.
Remember, he had absolutely zero knowledge of the reality beyond Seahaven.
Yet he embraced it without looking back.
He left the comfortable, safe mould creating for him, accepting the inevitable pain and suffering this would bring.
To me, that’s a powerful lesson for anyone.
Because on a smaller scale, we each face the same decision every single day:
> We can stay in our comfortable bubbles, or venture outside them
> We can either own our truth, or conform to somebody else’s
> Finally, we can either be who we are, or be someone else
Thanks for reading,