The Truman Show (1998)

trumanshow1Yogi Berra famously once said, If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be. And to go even further still, in As You Like It Shakespeare wrote, the world is a stage and all the men and women are merely players. They have their exits and entrances.” So it goes with this film — The Truman Show. In fact, in some ways, it feels reminiscent of the likes Groundhog Day and even Jim Carrey’s later project Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s meta qualities and storytelling structure truly pushes the boundaries of what we know to be true. And in each case the results are gripping.

Directed by Peter Weir an Australian craftsman of other fine works like Witness and Dead Poets Society, the film takes this fascinating concept and truly runs with it even from its initial title credits. Truman played so delightfully by Jim Carrey, is the perfect schmuck next door. He has a white picket fence, a beautiful wife, a stable desk job. What more could you ask for? It’s not the least bit weird that we get an uneasy feeling we’re in Stepford, in this case, his town named Sea Haven.

As an audience, all of this seems suspect, but Truman goes through his life strangely ignorant. Still, he has this unquenchable desire to go to Fiji, but the memories of his father’s tragic death and his wife’s (Laura Linney) reluctance to skip out on their mortgage is holding him back.

trumanshow2However, as things progress there begin to be even more warning signs and indications to Truman that all is not right in his world. In truth, his life is a TV show, where everyone is privy to a television program including the audience, but that program ends up being his life. Truman Burbank is at the center of this orchestrated universe and he has been for 30 years. But over time he gets wise to the game and he’s looking to push the limit of the rules as far as they will go so he can get to the bottom of it all. But as he begins to push the boundaries of this world, goofs and mess-ups become more obvious. Truman begins to notice loops and inconsistencies in the story being told around him. Some people, namely the former extra Sylvia (Natascha McElhone), want Truman released from this prison–this life under a microscope.

However, when we meet the show’s creator, director, and mastermind Christoph (Ed Harris) he sees what he has given Truman as a gift ( I have given Truman the chance to live a normal life. Sea Haven is the way things should be). But when Truman goes off the grid, there’s a media frenzy and he forces the hand of his creator. Thus, this “creator” and “created” paradigm is developed and they have their first interaction, which consequently will also be their last.

trumanshow3If there is a Creator of the Universe, our universe, The Truman Show puts it in a clearer light. Christoph seems like a somewhat selfish individual who allows his creation to walk off set rather reluctantly, but he finally does let go. Thus, his actions seem to make it clear that the most loving Creator possible would let his creation do what they pleased. He would be in control, but he would willingly give his created ones free will to do what they want. That makes sense to me. I would want to be a living, breathing, mistake-doing individual rather than a mechanized robot. That’s the beauty of this life.

Going back to the eminent Yogi Berra. Our lives are not perfect, they are full of hurt and pain and mistakes. A lot of which is brought on by ourselves or other people. But would we have life any other way? I think not. Because if life were perfect in every step, perfectly controlled and accounted for, what would that be? Hardly life at all. The Truman Show is a fascinating film, but let’s not have the conversation stop there. It is simply a film, but allow it to point you to the deeper, harder questions. Questions of free will and a creator, an imperfect world versus a utopia and so on. What if someday the joke’s on us and we find out that someone has been watching our every movement? That’ll be the day.

4.5/5 Stars

Witness (1985)

Witness_movieI think of Harrison Ford much in the same way that I think of Paul Newman. They both play the brash, bold, smart alec characters that we adore as audiences. They make the perfect action adventure heroes but are not always respected as actors which is a shame. For Ford, his reputation hinges on a number of great characters from Han Solo, to Indiana Jones, to Rick Deckard. They all are magnificently memorable action heroes. Ironically it is the plain, seemingly everyday cop, John Book that allows Ford to truly show off his acting chops like I have never seen him do before.

The film begins when a young Amish boy named Samuel gets to take his first adventure into the big city with his mother, as they head to see some relatives in Philadelphia. Little Samuel has a pair of dark brown, wonderfully inquisitive eyes in which to take in this world that is so foreign to him. That is, in fact, one of the major themes of Witness, the colliding of two worlds that are at odds.

But anyhow, when he ventures into the restroom to use the toilet, he unwittingly sees a violent murder committed and he is able to hide in the stalls, but he also gets a look at one of the perpetrators. And so, just like that, this little boy who never spent a day in the real world is a key witness to a murder investigation.

That’s when steady, straight-arrow cop John Book comes into the picture. He’s not a bad man by any means, and he wants to wrap up the case quickly so he can let Samuel and his mother go as soon as possible. You can see he finds their customs strange, and Book feels a trifle awkward being around them, but he does his job the best way he knows how, by confiding in his superiors and having his partner watch his back.

Everything blows up in his face. He gets shot and he must make a mad dash with Samuel and his mother to their quaint Amish home. Now the roles are shifted as he must wait it out building up his strength as his pursuers try and locate him. His world of cops and guns seems to have no place in this farm community of peaceful people. But as a former carpenter and a decent individual, Book is able to adapt rather well. Rachael Lapp soon finds herself enjoying his presence around their home since she is a widower and her father-in-law Eli reluctantly allows him to stay.

Book learns how to milk a cow and helps in a barn raising, all the while building a rapport with Rachael, but others seem to be wary of the presence of such a man.

As would be expected, we have our final showdown between Book and his pursuers who are a lot closer to home than he would ever expect. When it’s all resolved he leaves the country peaceful once more, but not without some intense memories.

Peter Weir’s film has a rather interesting pacing for a thriller, starting out slowly, but we know it must be building up to some impending doom so I would reserve from calling it boring. When that moment comes, it becomes a breakneck thriller before quieting down once more in the Amish town. Then the last 20 minutes are that of a dynamic action film. However, it is in these more tranquil moments that Harrison Ford gets to show off his humanity, whether it is talking about guns with young Samuel or dancing to a car radio with Rachael. There’s no doubt that you have not seen Ford like this before, and it’s definitely worth seeing him in this gripping ’80s thriller.

4/5 Stars

The Dead Poets Society (1989)

24bb0-dead_poets_societyDirected by Peter Weir and starring Robin Williams in a career-defining role, the film opens with the commencement of a prestigious all-boys school. There the boys say tearful goodbyes to their parents and get reacquainted with their chums. The strict and disciplined class regiment soon starts and everything is business as usual for these driven boys. 

However, their new English professor John Keating (Robin Williams) was a former student of Welton, and his teaching style is far from ordinary. His pupils first find him strange and then come to admire his methods. He instills them with the phrase “carpe diem,” has them rip out the stuffy introduction to their poetry textbooks, gets them to see the world from on top of their desks, and encourages them to call him “O Captain, My Captain.” Above all, he leads his students to seize the day, and think for themselves in the process.

 A group of his students re-launch the illegal Dead Poets Society that Keating himself had been a part of as a lad. There they share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas freely in defiance of the school. Charlie (Gale Hanson) for one puts an illicit article in the paper only to follow it by an audacious act that receives retribution from the Headmaster. Knox (Josh Charles) somewhat accidentally meets a girl who he immediately falls head over heels for. However, she already has a boyfriend, but the undaunted Knox will not be deterred, and he keeps seeing her. Against his father’s wishes, Neil (Robert Sean Leonard) takes up acting in a play only to receive his father’s immense disapproval later on. The outcome of this is tragic, and it ultimately leads to an investigation of Keating. Everything seems bleak for the boys as they either rat on Keating or risk expulsion. 

Keating is released and English returns to the same monotony. However, Keating’s impact cannot be destroyed that easily, and in one last act of the defiance the boys stand up for their Captain led by the formerly timid Todd (Ethan Hawke). I must say that although the film’s ending was inspiring, it left me wondering what the consequences were. Also, I did not really understand the point of The Dead Poets Society. The title would seem to be more aptly Carpe Diem. Putting that aside, there are some good performances here, and Robin Williams is truly a pleasure to watch. He could be my English teacher any day. There are some good lessons to be learned here too. Take note boys. 

4/5 Stars