A movie so influential that a syndrome has been named after it. The Truman syndrome entails those afflicted with the disorder to believe their lives are reality television shows. The Truman show came out in 1998, starring Truman Burbank, the protagonist of the story who is unaware that his everyday life is being televised continuously across 220 countries.

The movie’s inspiration ostensibly stems from Plato’s allegory of the cave, which explains that society has been tied facing a wall, unable to see their heads, merely seeing the shadows of the world. It is the philosopher that is freed from the cave and uncovers the true semantics of the world. The prominent themes such as manipulation and doubt, real truth, liberation, and escape encompass the central ideas of epistemology. In this epistemological analysis of the Truman Show, the movie’s foremost themes and intrinsic significance will be approached.

Since even before the day Truman was born, his life was broadcasted. Christof, the creator of the Truman Show, and the people of “Trumania of the Burbank galaxy” as Truman himself calls it, are unanimous in their effort to manipulate him into being oblivious to reality. He was born into a world where the truth was being hidden from him. Truman’s frightening realization that his whole world revolves around him is a gradual process through unusual albeit subtle things.

A prominent turning point is when Truman’s car picks up a frequency he was not supposed to hear, which comments on his every action and position. Henceforth, Truman becomes increasingly suspicious that some higher entity may have orchestrated his whole life. To satiate his doubt of the world, he begins acting spontaneously, which affirms his supposition. Truman craves the truth and aims to come to the bottom of what he can know with certainty. This thought process is similar to that of Descartes’ skeptical method, which assumes all prior beliefs to be false unless proven otherwise.

The Truman Show begs the question, what is real if reality is not real? This is explored via the movie with Truman’s unintended romantic interest, Sylvia, whose feelings were not orchestrated by the show’s director but by his own free will. To answer this question, we need to travel to Athens about 2,400 years ago. Plato stated that “the things we know, are the things that are true, that we believe, and that we have justifications for believing” But how do you know what you know? Knowledge is obtained through memories which exist as complex and intertwined relationships all over the brain.

“The sun will rise in the morning” is an uncontested statement because it has been proven by all our sources of knowledge e.g. science, senses, and observations. But one often reaches a predicament when asking questions like such because science, or anything for that matter can never evince that anything exists beyond the figment of the mind. This view or theory is commonly known as solipsism, which implies that oneself and only oneself can be known to exist. This links back to Christof’s final statement “You were real. That’s what made you so good to watch.” Realism is thus not known but believed.

 Throughout the progression of the movie, the beholder comes to terms with the revelation that Truman is a prisoner, notwithstanding the ardent claims from Christof that he is free to leave whenever he wishes to. This is the driving force for the growing chorus of people, such as Sylvia, denouncing the Truman show and demanding, “what right do you have to turn someone’s life into a mockery?” Truman’s escape from the reality television show is symbolic of a liberation and departure of his younger, more ignorant self. This marks his transition from someone who was content with living the American dream to a True-Man, a mature and authentic adult. His determination and fearlessness of death marvels Christof in such a manner that he decides to spare his life and reveal the truth.

The Truman Show is a hash of emotions that question reality’s confines. The film forces viewers to think more about their ambitions, purpose, and attitude about life, similar to Truman’s poignant marriage with Meryl. The Truman Show ties in the dilemma of living in an artificial world that inhibits growth with the egocentric human condition.

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William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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