Hyperreality as a Theme and Technique in the Film Truman Show
Susee Bharathi T* and Ajit I
School of Social Sciences and Languages, VIT University, Chennai Campus, 600127, Tamilnadu, India
- *Corresponding Author:
- Susee Bharathi T
School of Social Sciences and Languages
VIT University, Chennai Campus,
Received Date: Aug 08, 2017; Accepted Date: Jan 31, 2018; Published Date: Feb 8, 2018
Citation: Susee Bharathi T, Ajit I. Hyperreality as a Theme and Technique in the Film Truman Show. Global Media Journal 2018, 16:30.
Copyright: © 2018 Susee Bharathi T, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution
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Global Media Journal
Film is an upgraded version of book in this virtual age. Like in the literature, film started to talk about many issues and portray the real problems faced in the world. In the postmodern world there is no the truth it is just a perspective of different person. In a film, hyperreality is primarily a visual language as it works better with images in order to give a hyperreal experience to the audience. An Individual is taken to the hyperreal scenario by images which showcase his/her desires and needs. The study questions whether the world shown by the media is reel or real. It also attempts to find out the techniques used in the film “The Truman show”, which bring the hyperreal experience to the audience. The paper finds out the hyperreality used by media in the current age through the film “The Truman show”, which portrays the current situation of the real world.
Hyperreality; Postmodernism; Reality;
Human beings have constantly nurtured the desire to live a
complete life replete with happiness. What occurs, however, in
between is the yearning to split their worlds into two halves:
the actual and tangible world which they crave and the “reel
“world which has over the years grown into and invaded the
households and minds of many. In the process, they fail to
differentiate between the two and lose the knowledge and
ability to recognize both worlds. This leads to the state of
hyperreality which can be defined as below. Hyperreality is
seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are
seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear
distinction between where one ends and the other begins.
Hyperreality is primarily about the visual language. For
example, advertising. It depends on surface appearance and
tones down the complexity of emotions or human behavior.
We can say that hyperreality relies on a form than content .
Hyperreality works better with images because it immediately
brings out a response. Images can directly talk to our desires
and needs and easily take us into the hyperreal.
Literature is the mirror of life which has always tried to
explore and discover truth from the societies we all live in.
Writers and authors have constantly endeavored via their
knowledge and research of subjects to convey the truth to the
world through literature. Likewise, a film is a major tool to
express the thoughts and ideas of a society as seen through
the eyes of the director. A film is the upgraded version of
books in this world. A film can also be termed as a fantasy
world, because it creates unreal characters and stories in a
visual image. The power films have to influence modern day
societies is awesome and is therefore the most important
media in this postmodern world. The 20th century is totally
different from other ages and eras that our world has
experienced. After the end of the Second World War, there
was chaos everywhere. Societies have to be rebuilt after the
ravages of this ruinous conflict that has affected so many
nations and claimed the lives of millions.
This period and especially the latter part of the century have
witnessed the birth of a new style and concept in the arts,
architecture, literature and criticism. It has represented a
departure from modernism and came to be called the era of
Postmodernism: An Overview
Postmodernist assumptions reject the difference between
high and low. It started to challenge and deconstruct
universally established ideas. In times when industrial growth
and technology reached its peak, postmodernism established
itself in the fields of art, architecture, literature, films, painting
and music. It is difficult to define postmodernism because
there is no such concrete definition for this theory. It is
believed that postmodernism is not even a theory; it is simply
a way of experiencing everything. Postmodernism consists of
multiple directives showing not just the mind of one person
but of many. It has disjointed narratives and reliable narrators.
It usually mixes the genres to create hybrid forms and multiple
realities, as reality is considered to be non-existent anyway.
Most commonly used themes in postmodernism films are
shamanism, dystopia, hyperreality, virtual reality, cyberspace
and cyberpunk, and the techniques used are usually nonlinear plots, satire, fragmentation, irony, playfulness comedy and
inter-textuality. In the book contemporary literary and cultural
theory by Pramod K Nayar “Lyotard inaugurated the key
theoretical note in postmodernism when he characterized it as
a resistance to grand narratives and focused on the marginal,
the luminal and the fragmented, arguing against totalizing
systems of thought”.
Each one of us during our young and formative years has
felt the notion of being in a hyper real world. If one pursued
his journey through this path, he would end up as a
philosopher or a saint. If he does not heed his instincts, he
wound up being an ordinary human being living an ordinary
and mundane existence. If he found himself between these
two stages, he would dabble with films that speak about hyper
reality. What one perceives as real can be illusory and on the
other hand, what one believed to happen only in dreams can
be real. One thing that should be steered clear of is one’s
logical reasoning, because hyper reality has to be felt rather
than being taught .
Hyperreality in Films
In films dealing with the Hyperreality theme, there is a
jargon in the literary register termed “willing suspension of
disbelief”. When we watch a film, we do know that it is a story
that has been written by a writer or writers and that the
people who are appearing on the screen are mere actors who
have been paid to enact their respective roles in the film. But
we willingly suspend that truth from our consciousness. We do
that deliberately. But there are films where you need not take
offers to suspend the disbelief . Such films make viewers go
to the extent of believing that whatever unfolds in the film
must be real. Such films make you doubt the existence of a
filmmaker who made the film and you have to watch it or were
destined to watch. Such films make you believe that you are a
solipsist; that you are living in matrix; that you are God; that
the whole universe is an experiment lab for someone; that this
writing was not written by me but was already decided that
you should read this. View the below examples: from the film
named (MATRIX) the character Morpheus questions:
Morpheus: “Have you ever had a Dream, Neo, that you were
so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that
dream, Neo? How would you know the difference between the
dream world and the real world?” from the film (“MATRIX”).
“It is the real that has become our true utopia - but a utopia
that is no longer in the realm of the possible, that can only be
dreamt as one would dream of a lost object.” from Hyper
reality theorist Jean Baudrillard.
In his work Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard argues the
"imaginary world" of Disneyland magnetizes people inside and
has been presented as "imaginary" to make people believe
that all its surroundings are "real". He believes that the Los
Angeles area is not real; thus it is hyperreal. Disneyland is a set
of apparatuses which tries to bring imagination and fiction to
what is called "real". This concerns the American values and
way of life in a sense and "concealing the fact that the real is
no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle."
To express eloquently the idea of postmodernism, we are
living in an era where people are questioning everything in
order to find out the truth. This era is controlled by the various
Medias and social networks. We are in the control of
technology which we cannot realize in this virtual world,
everything is simulation. People are under surveillance of
machines and technology. Film is also a kind of technology
which is used to simulate the reality in this world. Films like
“Matrix”, “Blade Runner”, “The Truman Show”, “Vanilla Sky”,
“The Minority Report” and “Inception” display the idea of
hyper reality in a clear cut way .
Man, in the earlier stages of civilization had to deal with and
tackle many obstacles like natural disasters, hostile animals,
hunger and cold, it was the intelligence of the human mind
that helped to come up with solutions to counter such hurdles.
When he has no such issues to tackle, man begins to nurture
idle feelings which in return give birth to art forms. Arts have
for long been a way to channelize the brutal instincts in
humans. The most recent arrival in the art form is film, which
projects life in the most believable form. Psychologically
speaking, films are the most powerful medium in creating an
impact on human minds precisely because they are visual .
If we closely examine our society’s addiction to social media
companionship and 24*7 reality TV shows, the natural
question that arises is ‘how do these forced technologies
impact our reality and existence’?
The brilliant, visionary drama Truman Show puts forth this
question through the story of regular guy Truman Burbank.
Born on TV and legally adopted by an unseen genius producer,
Truman’s life is broadcasted 24 hour-a-day. Although
everything about Truman’s life is carefully crafted, the guy
caught in a life he can’t escape starts questioning the meaning
of his ‘reality’. Written by Andrew Niccol and directed by Peter
Weir, Truman Show is a work of geniuses. The movie is simple
narrative surface surprisingly withholds profound subtext. It
could be seen as a statement on the post-modern human life,
lived under the shadow of ever-changing technologies. It is an
enjoyable indictment of the media’s obsession to control and
neatly package reality. Eventually, it is also a celebration of
human spirit which desires to leaps over restrictive, invisible
boundaries. The rest of the paper focuses on the techniques
and themes in the film “The Truman Show”.
Power of media
Whatever happens in this world reaches every nook and
corner through media. Media can be any form like newspaper,
television news, film, etc. Media can create any sort of news
which is not true. In the book Introducing Baudrillard mentions
about the baudrillard perspective states that the gulf of war
and 9/11 are not real incidents that happened as the media
showed. Media make the audience or readers to believe to the
historical incidents they present. After the capitalism,
everything in this world became products because world
functions according to corporate society. But there is a kind of fake idea that everything functions according to customers.
Corporate manipulates customers through the medium of
media and makes them to buy their product. In this
postmodern age, finding truth is too difficult. Truth is in the
hand of media; whatever they try to circulate can be spread
Nowadays, the power of media is immeasurable; people
have become the product of media. The face of media is
changing day by day. The title of the film Truman show itself
projects the concept. The film is based on the show about a
boy who is adopted by a corporate channel.
Except the character named Truman others are actors. The
shows motto is to bring the happiest face of man without any
sort of trouble and bring out the real emotion from Truman
through reel world and the reel characters surrounded by him.
The director of the show is the controller for the activities of
the character Truman indirectly by controlling the other
characters. He wants Truman to live a life which is created by
him, a utopia where there are no miseries and sadness .
The director makes the 24*7 show because each and every
one who watches that show should feel to live the life of
Truman. Like in the film, these days in media, through serials,
reality shows, etc. they are manipulating the audience.
Especially, media in the name of reality show, which is created
and scripted by the creator to make the audience to believe
everything, is real. Truman can’t find what kind of life he is
living. He is like a puppet of that show’s creator. Likewise, the
people in the real world are puppets for media; everything
that is presented through the media is believed by them,
whereas the truth is that it is a world created by media.
Christof controls Truman mentally and physically in the show.
Whenever Truman tries to find the truth, the creator has other
plans and makes him engage with others. In a scene, he tries
to find Fiji Island, which is the place of his ex-girlfriend who has
warned him that he is in a trap and is being watched by others.
In that moment, the creator has forced Truman to concentrate
on his family issues and economy which may divert him
temporarily from the truth. As Baudrillard says, everything is
simulated in the world. In the film, Truman tries to find the
truth, but the truth there is not the absolute truth, but just
another perspective of life is happening outside the studio.
Studio is the stimulated version of utopia of real man’s desire.
When power comes to rule, everything is right according to
that power. In this virtual world, media take many forms to
control the world like the Christ of controls Truman in the
Truman show. ‘Everything believes to be true’ because
everything is the simulated truth of truth according to
Baudrillard. His Images about simulation fourth image explains
there is no truth in this world.
These three factors the film focuses on: fake, hyperreal
world of Truman; the outer ‘reality’ which is also a movie
universe; then the real ‘real’ – the one we are watching the
movie from. In reality, our virtues won’t always be rewarded
with a gift or something. In the universe of a movie, the
opposite happens. The ending can be analysed to show how
actual the reality outside ‘Truman’s world’ looks like. A happy
ending is seen to make the viewer to believe that Truman is
going to re-join with his lover on the outside. Millions of
viewers applaud this development. But we are only led to
believe that Truman has escaped into reality. It is the perfect
happy ending for casual viewers but one that’s thoughtprovoking
for others. All of us think that there is ‘true reality’
to be experienced outside our finite world. This ending may be
an indication of that. Similarly, in a consumerist society, we
can’t escape from the feeling that our world is hyperreal and
there is ‘reality’ outside it. Plato mentions this too: “that we
see physical universe as something that lacks meaning for the
‘forms’ and so we are convinced that meaning could be
derived from an alternate ‘reality’.
Matrix in the Truman show
From a cultural perspective, it can be discussed how the
media has ultimately gone out of control, concentrating only
on different schemes to create entertainment. “You never see
anything anyway. They always turn the camera and play
music”. Two security guards in the booth tell how they never
see Truman having sex and instead they cut to abstract images
like winds blowing. Although they know the lack of sex doesn’t
confirm to their perception of truth or reality the viewer’s stay
glued to the screen. It’s the way of showing how a creator
could overturn certain truths and yet has the power to keep up
our attention. The audience also jokes about the old American
TV shows (Still continues in Indian TV shows) in which
characters are like non-sexual beings. “Before we begin, I’d like
to thank you…” In this scene, Christ gives an interview to
television. The interviewer thanks him telling ‘how jealously
Christ guards his privacy’. This scene has a good political
perspective. It’s an ironic statement that shows how a man
who strips privacy of others (Truman) conceals himself from
the scrutiny of public. This is what happens in a dictatorship
regime where judgment and manipulation comes from the
top. Sylvia is a minor character in this film. What she says is
reasonable, but people are too involved with other more
interesting aspects of “The Truman Show” that they don’t
bother about her accusations .
Whether Truman will feel the outside world as the ‘real’ one
is left as an open ending, but one of the messages regarding
his escape is the importance of breaking out of a contrived
world. Everything in our pop culture-music, videos to movies
to news-manipulate our emotions and intelligence. It builds
layers of absurdity and false beliefs. The first step to escape
from such a false and hyper real world is self-realization. The
movie tells us to break the false, media-fabricated culture built
around us. The central irony of this idea is that the movie
‘Truman Show’ itself is a form of media; a form that wants us
to see manipulations of media by manipulating us with
interesting script and characters. So, the very final and vital
message we learn through good films like Truman Show is that
we should use them to widen our perception; not surrender to
it and allow it to manipulate us.
“In case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and
good night” – this catchphrase/dialogue and the way it is
filmed strengthens the whole ‘life as a TV show’ idea
perspective. Everyone in the scene seems so overly joyful with
no visible problems. But in reality, the situation won’t be such
a joyful one. People are worried and suffering from myriads of
problems around them. Truman doesn’t know about reality,
but the people watching the film know that they desire to live
a life like Truman’s, which in the first place is unreal and
“What about Atlantic City”….”Oh! You hate to gamble…….”
The above is a piece of conversation between Truman and his
wife Meryl. In this scene, Meryl, rejects Truman’s idea of
traveling, saying something that he would not like about the
place. The scene explains how in a limited social set-up (from
both economic and mental perspectives), we often seek ‘new’
experiences, even if we are sure that they may not be
“Why didn’t he just follow her to Fiji………” This is from
another scene in the film where two waitresses discuss why
Truman didn’t follow Sylvia to the Fiji islands. This scene shows
how people rationally pass on judgment on something they
are detached from, yet strongly relate to.
It’s the kind of judgment people won’t do in their own lives.
Truman: “It feels like the whole world revolves around me
somehow” Marlon:” It’s a lot of world for one man Truman”.
Marlon says this to reject Truman’s good reasons to find fault
with his reality. Truman is branded to be having paranoia or
delusions. In the present social media era, this dialogue could
be more related as everyone is caught in a private world,
thinking everything revolves around what they say or do. In
fact, doctors had come up with a term for this in modern
times: ‘The Truman show Delusion’ this term was coined in
2008 by brothers Joel and Ian Gold.
Camera as tool for hyperreality
Why is the plot/story line of “The Truman Show” perfect for
a movie than a book or any other art form? First and foremost,
the camera is an important mechanical tool for creating
hyperreality. Except for the final scene in the film, one shot is
repeatedly used in the film: a close-up shot using a fish-eye
lens (accompanied by a swish zoom). The fish-eye lens is
employed to represent that Truman is an image in a (old)
television screen. Majority of factors in a hyper-real world is
kind of a saleable product. Two things are sold to audiences
watching “The Truman Show”: the emotions and the products
placed around the principal actor. However, the images other
than close-up shots are focused; it can realize that he is real
although everything around him is fake. Another interesting
scene in the film comes when Truman is asked to take the ferry
to finish a job. When he reaches the aisle to board it, his fear
for drowning is stimulated. A camera beneath the water looks
up at him. The shot conveys two things: one it shows viewers
Truman’s fear of water/drowning and then focuses on how
viewers look at Truman’s world.
Symbols in films are like hidden message to the society; in
the naked eye, it does not mean anything, but if audiences see
deeply, the message will be available for them. In the film
Truman, there are many symbolic representations used to
create the experience of hyperreality to the audience. Truman
got confused with reality around him, he himself asks many
questions and as well as asked the same question to his wife,
who is an actor playing the role of Truman’s wife. He got
tensed and confused asking many questions to her; in reality,
in such a situation any one will give a logical answer to calm
the person. But she did an irrelevant action to the current
situation; she just took a coffee jar and with a smile replied:
“whenever you drink this coffee you feel refresh and it is 100%
percent natural”. Truman goes crazy after watching her
reaction for his question. This is the same scenario in our
reality that whenever watching shows in the television some
irrelevant things happen to make product adverting. This
scene made audience to feel the experience of hyperreal
because according to the film, the character Truman stands for
the audience, whatever he feels, the audience will feel the
same. From the perspective of camera angle, the main
character is always watched over from above; symbolizing that
he is being watched by a god-like identity. In the film, the
creator of the show is Christof. In a scene, the audience can
witness a rain which falls exclusively on Truman, suggesting
that he is in a different reality.
“Dead Poet’s Society” is arguably one of the films that must
be watched by every student of literature. A professor asks his
students to tear off a particular page from their text book. This
page contains an explanation on how to understand a
particular poem. What the professor wanted his pupils to do
was to perceive the poem on their own. You change the
numbers and substitute them. In the same formula, what
hyperreality films seek from their viewers is to perceive the
concept of life. They want them to come out of the age-old
definitions of life. They show them strikingly unorthodox
concepts about life and help them to conceive concepts on
their own. The world that we live in are based on the view on a
daily basis is made up of so many things. There are people like
politicians and other factors like the media, society, etc. which
have the power to influence the world and the thought
processes of its inhabitants. Hyperreality films help people to
think on their own. They make people wise. If people can
enjoy and interact with a film completely, it means that they
have started to contemplate. Like literature, films also convey
important lessons of life and reflect the world in which we live
in. “The Truman Show” teaches some lessons which reflect on
how the current era is controlled by the media. It shows that
we living in the hyperreal world cannot figure out what is true? The only way to get out of such a hyper real world is to reflect
deeply and realize the truth from our own minds instead.
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