Extract from Teacher's Commentary: 

SEQUENCE 1
Doppelganger Special
Let the film roll until Truman walks back through the ferry turnstile

This is a film about a television show called The Truman Show. It is a reality television show approaching its thirtieth anniversary and stars Truman Burbank. Over a period of six days, as a result of various mishaps in the show’s production and slips by certain actors, Truman travels from a point at which he is trapped and totally unaware of the true nature of his world, to the stage at which he begins to suspect that all is not as it seems. He comes, finally, to a full awareness of that world and this prompts him to break free of it. This journey of self-knowledge provides the basis for the narrative structure of the film. It has three movements:

SEQUENCE 1, 2 and 3

Truman is unaware
Days 10909 and 10910
DVD chapters 1-7

SEQUENCE 4, 5, 6 and 7

He begins to 'see'
Days 10911 and 10912
DVD chapters 8-16

SEQUENCE 8, 9 and 10

He escapes
Days 10913 and 10914
DVD chapters 17-23

The film opens with a man speaking directly into the camera. This is something we have come to expect from television news programmes, documentaries, talk shows etc. Characters in films and television dramas, however, avoid eye contact with the camera in order to maintain the illusion of reality. The convention is that the camera is capturing reality for the viewer unbeknownst to the participants in the action. This man, Christof, looks his audience in the eye and tells us that we are fed up with phoney emotions, pyrotechnics and special effects. He speaks to us and for us. He comes across as sincere and caring. He speaks calmly and makes no rash claims. He tells us that there is nothing fake about Truman himself. The show does not follow a script. Christof is not interested in great art, history or tragedy, as Shakespeare was. He is intent on presenting reality to his audience.

As the signature tune of the television show starts up we get a shot of the star of that show, Truman Burbank. The screen is lined and, as the camera pulls back, we realise that we are, in fact, watching a television monitor. The word LIVE appears at the bottom right-hand side of the screen. This lined, grainy image will be used again and again in the film to remind us, the film audience, that we are watching a film about a television show. It is as well for us at this point to refer to the credits at the end of the film. There we see the cast displayed under the headings “Truman’s World”, “Christof’s World” and “The Viewers”. It is important to keep these different worlds in mind as we go through the film. We are the film audience. We see all that the television audience sees, and more.

Truman lives in a world that has television cameras placed strategically around it. In this scene there is one in the back of Truman’s bathroom cabinet. He stares straight into the camera letting the viewers know that he is unaware of its presence. We are watching the introduction to The Truman Show. The cast of the show is introduced to us over the next series of shots. We get the name of the character in the show and that character’s name in ‘real life’ i.e. Christof’s world. At the end of the film we will get the name of each actor in our world, our reality. As we, the film audience, get to know these characters we will see that they have other functions in the show over and above acting. The only character in the show who is ‘real’ is Truman.

As the credits roll and the music builds, Truman plays out a little fantasy for himself about mountaineers who have run into problems. He insists that the other members of his team use him as a source of food should the need arise. He orders his colleagues to eat him if they have to. Thus is set in place the first of many examples of dramatic irony. Irony has to do with the interplay of appearance and reality, and dramatic irony occurs when the audience has been give more information than a character about what is going on in the story. Here Truman pretends to be sacrificing himself for his team. The reality of the television show is that this is precisely what is happening as Truman unwittingly offers his entire life, twenty four hours a day, for his television audience to feed on. We, the film audience, are made aware of this. Some of the viewers leave the show on all night as an antidote to the harshness of their real lives. This film is a satire that looks at both the producers and consumers of media products. (When this film was made in 1998 reality television was not nearly as popular as it is now.)

Truman’s wife appears on the screen. In Truman’s world her name is Meryl and in Christof’s world she is Hannah Gill. (At the end of the film we, the film audience, will be informed that her name is Laura Linney.) She gives the audience her opinion that the show is her whole life. It is a “... truly blessed life”. The combination of the name Christof and the use of the word blessed triggers associations, in the minds of western viewers, with religion, God and Jesus. This line of imagery will recur extensively later in the story.

Truman’s best friend, Marlon, is next to appear and he repeats the woolly, mushy sentimental logic of Meryl. Nothing is fake in this show; it is merely “controlled”. This notion of control will be very important in the film as it progresses. The function of those around Truman is not simply to act out the roles that have been assigned to them but to act as controlling agents on Truman when he expresses opinions or sentiments that might endanger the life of the show. On this particular day in its life The Truman Show is being introduced by a short documentary that takes the television audience behind the scenes and lets them hear the opinion of those involved in the show. The film’s director, Peter Weir, referred to this opening for his film as a ‘mockumentary’. It is very much in the style of the ‘Making of ....’ genre of television programmes that we have become accustomed to as part of the marketing of modern films.

As Truman gives his desperate commands to his team he is enclosed by the frame of the bathroom door. This image is itself framed by the outlines of the cabinet door. This is the beginning of the recurring imagery of Truman being enclosed and captured, trapped in a world that controls him utterly. An example of the controls being exerted on him comes in the form of Meryl’s voice putting an end to the fantasy and bringing him back to the reality of his situation - it’s time for work in day 10909 of the show’s run!

Christof is credited as the creator of the show. This is a term used of the Christian God who created the world and mankind. This imagery of God the Father and God the Son will surface again in the final movement of the film as Truman makes his break for freedom.

Truman is framed in his doorway by an observer camera as he greets his neighbours across the street. We, the film audience, are made aware of the continual surveillance of Truman’s actions by the spy-cams which show the action framed by an oval lens. When we see the neighbours from Truman’s point of view they look like charming people. The next-door neighbour is called Spencer and his dog’s name is Pluto. Spencer carries a bin as he greets Truman. We cut to a hand held camera as Truman walks to his car. The dog is photographed in a similar way as he pesters Truman. These two shots have been taken by cameras hidden in the props - in Spencer’s bin and possibly in Truman’s ring. Truman is not impressed by the attentions of Pluto and takes little comfort from Spencer’s words that the dog won’t harm him. The gardens and houses of the neighbourhood are maintained impeccably. Each garden is enclosed by a neat picket fence.

This picture of peace and harmony is shattered by the crashing to earth of a lamp that has the word Sirius written on it. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky seen from the earth. Truman is puzzled by the appearance of the broken lamp. We are aware of the spy-cams that are located in the fence posts as he examines it. Puzzled as he is, Truman carries on with his drive to work and gives more attention to his hair than he does to the radio announcer who is broadcasting an explanation for the incident involving the lamp - it came from an over-flying jet. Truman is photographed by a spy-cam located in the car’s dashboard.

Mozart’s playful Rondo alla Turca comes over the soundtrack as we see the bright, lively town square. The place is clean and orderly. Everybody is going about the business of the day. The customer at the kiosk asks for Dog Fancy - an ironic title in the light of Truman’s recent encounter with Pluto! The magazine rack on the right-hand side of the vendor holds titles like Child and Modern Dad. Truman asks for the morning paper and a fashion magazine “... for the wife!” The square is bustling with people who all seem friendly and pleasant. Truman seems very happy to be part of the community. Again he is presented to us, the film audience, photographed by the oval frame of a spy-cam.

Two members of this community, a set of twins, stop to chat to Truman. They appear to be very friendly indeed as they crowd him, patting his shoulder and talking about the insurance policy they are going to buy from him. It is only when a hand is put on Truman’s shoulder for the second time that we, the film audience, might realise that there is method in their madness: they are positioning Truman in such a way that the television audience will be able to get a full view of the poster for Kaiser Chickens! This kind of product placement will recur in the story. (Product placement is a term from advertising that refers to the positioning of a product so that it will be seen by potential consumers. In recent years it has taken on another aspect in film production: producers place products in their films so that they are associated with stars. This is a valuable source of revenue and helps with the financing of the production. The most glaring example of this might be the innumerable placements of the FedEx logo in Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks.) Ironically, the chickens advertised are free range. Their situation resembles that of Truman himself: trapped and controlled but free to range about the area that has been designed for them. Truman doesn’t know it, but these twins are actors. They have a double life; their life outside the show and their roles in the show. This makes his use of the word ‘doppelganger’ ironic indeed [German = Double goer]. The action of the film will be driven by Truman’s growing awareness of the true nature of the double-dealing in the world that surrounds him.

When he reaches his office building, Truman says he is in no hurry to get to work and lets others through the revolving door ahead of him. Then we cut to him at his desk and he is asking directory enquiries for a telephone number in Fiji. Furtively he gives two names: Lauren Garland and then Sylvia Garland. This strikes us as very strange behaviour. We have been given no information that would lead us to expect this kind of thing from Truman. Very often in a narrative an enigma will be set up and the solving of this enigma becomes the engine that drives the plot and maintains the interest of the audience. Such is the case here. The headline in the local paper refers to Seahaven as the ideal place to live. Truman evinces little interest although his colleague seems delighted with the news. There is also a hint in his facial expression that he is in some way interested in finding out what Truman is up to. Truman’s behaviour becomes doubly puzzling when he tears out parts of the fashion magazine he has just purchased.

Another colleague, Lawrence, comes to Truman with an assignment on Harbour Island. Truman makes the excuse that he has to go to see his dentist, but his efforts are unconvincing. Lawrence threatens Truman with the review that is soon to take place in the office. We cut back to Truman and see in the mise en scéne, the setting, that there are bars outside the office windows. Furthermore, the camera is placed in such a way that we are made aware of the partitions on either side of Truman’s desk. The glass on three sides of him is rendered in such a way that it is not transparent. All of these details give us the impression of Truman being hemmed in and trapped. We can see the nameplate on Truman’s desk and are reminded that his second name is Burbank. This is also the name of the area in Hollywood where the major television production companies are situated. It is an indication that the film is a satire and has chosen television as its subject. There are a number of spherical objects on the desk as well. This is the beginning of a motif that runs through the film and refers to the world that Truman lives in. It will culminate in a reference to Christopher Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria, and Truman’s journey to a new world.

Walking to the ferry ticket-office, Truman is again presented to us in the oval frame of a spy-cam. We can see another such image from inside the cashier’s booth. Truman notes that the ferry is still waiting as if he was hoping that it would be gone. The sense of surveillance is increased when the blinds automatically open as Truman heads down the gang-plank towards the ferry. Truman hesitates at the turnstile and we are puzzled as to what is going on in his mind, just as we were with the phone calls and the magazine pictures. A spy-cam in the woodwork of the boardwalk shows him leaning on a post for support. The sight of the boat seems to be upsetting him. This is reinforced by the single base note on the musical score.

So Truman walks back through the turnstile telling the ferryman to go on without him and the sequence ends leaving us with many questions about what motivates him. What is behind his phone call about Fiji? Why is he rendered incapable at the sight of the half sunk boat?

Extract from Student's Guide: 

STAGE ONE

SEQUENCE 1
Doppelganger Special
Let the film roll until Truman walks back through the ferry turnstile

What is the first line of dialogue in the film? To whom is the man speaking? For whom is he speaking? What are we tired of in his opinion? What is your first impression of this man? What has he to say about Truman himself? How does he sum up his opinion of his television programme? What reference is made to Shakespeare? What does the man mean?

Freeze the frame when Truman’s face appears. How does the screen look at first? What causes the distortion in the picture quality? Where is the camera placed? What room is Truman in? What words are on the screen? What are his first words? What is the first credit that appears? When does the music start up? What has Truman to say about the mountain? What is the next credit? What is happening here?

What kind of a television show is Christof introducing? What does Christof say of ‘some viewers’?

Who is the third character to be introduced? What is her name in the show? What is her real name according to the credits? What has she to say about the show? Does it make sense? What kind of a life does she have on the Truman Show?

What does Truman say about ‘an alternate source of food’? What kind of an imagination has he?

Who appears next? What is his name in the show? What has he to say about the show? Does it make sense to you? What have we been viewing up to this point in the film?

What kind of a scenario is Truman imagining as he looks into the mirror of his bathroom cabinet? Why does he put an end to his fantasy? How has Truman been framed for the audience in the opening scene?

What day is it in the show? How is Truman filmed as he steps outside? What has he to say to his neighbours as he heads off to work? What is the name of his next door neighbour and his dog? Are these neighbours nice people? Describe the houses and gardens on his street. How is Truman photographed as he walks to his car? ... as he starts to get into his car? How does he respond to the dog?

How does Truman react to the lamp that falls from the sky? What label is on the broken lamp? How is Truman filmed in his car? What is the explanation on the radio for the lamp? Does Truman pay much attention to the news? What concerns him more?

What kind of music is playing as we see the shot of the busy town square? What is the man at the newsagent’s kiosk asking for? What does Truman request? Why does he want the fashion magazine? What do you make of the shot of Truman as he crosses the busy square?

What is your impression of the identical twins who stop Truman? Why does one of them put his hand on Truman’s arm? What is in the poster behind Truman in the next shot? Why does one of the twins put his hand on Truman’s shoulder? What insurance does Truman offer to the twins? What is a ‘doppelganger’? In the light of the interviews that opened the film, what is the irony in Truman’s use of this word? Is Truman aware of this irony?

Why does Truman let the two men in through the door ahead of him?

When we cut to him at his desk what is Truman asking the telephone operator for? What is the headline in the local paper? What enquiry has Truman regarding Lauren Garland? What does he do with the fashion magazine? Are his actions making any sense to you?

What job has Lawrence for Truman? Why can Truman not take the job on Harbour Island? Does he sound convincing? How does Lawrence get Truman to take the job? What benefits go with this assignment according to Lawrence? Freeze the frame after Lawrence leaves. How is Truman framed? What is Truman’s last name? Find out what you can about this name?

What do you make of the shot of Truman as he goes to get his ticket from the Harbour Island ferry? What comment does he make about the ferry? How is he photographed here? Have you noticed any other such shot earlier? What happens to the venetian blinds as he heads to the ferry? How does he behave as he gets to the turnstile? Is his behaviour making sense to you? What do you make of the low angle shot as he makes his way along the boardwalk? How does he react to the sight of the boat? How does the soundtrack add to the effect of this scene? What is going on here?

What puzzles, or enigmas are we left with about Truman at the end of this sequence?
STAGE TWO
Re-reading in a prescribed mode
ORDINARY & HIGHER LEVELS - COMPARATIVE MODES:
SOCIAL SETTING/CULTURAL CONTEXT

This mode refers to the world of the text:
- what kind of people live in this world?
- what sense of place is built up and how is this achieved?
- in what period of history is it set (time)?
To re-read the film in this mode you should choose a number of key moments - scenes or sequences that feature the world that the characters live in. You need to examine the power structures, attitude and values, rituals and customs of the people who inhabit this world - the ethos of their society. There are two worlds presented to us in this film: Truman’s world and the world of Christof and his show’s viewers. You will need to bear them both in mind as you re-examine sequences from the film in this mode. The ‘making of’ documentary that opens the film draws the attention of the film audience to the dual role that the characters in Truman’s world are performing. We get their ‘real’ name (the name they go by in Christof’s world) and the name of the character they play (in Truman’s world).

* Try to build up a picture of the society these people live in by asking your self what we learn about them under various headings, e.g. values, manners, morals, lifestyle, occupation, home-life, etc.

* Make a list of the characters you would regard as honest and genuine and those you would see as selfish. Is there a difference in people when they move from Christof’s world to Truman’s?

* Make a selection of three to five key moments or groups of scenes, that highlight features of the world these people live in.

* Consult the notes you wrote in your Response Journal for the scenes you have chosen.

* Now answer all the questions in Stage One that relate to the social setting/cultural context in these scenes.

* People:
Look at the people in Christof’s world under two headings: those who produce the show (the studio people and the actors) and those who consume the show (the viewers). For each key moment ask yourself questions like:
Who has power in this world? How is this power used?
What values do the people of this world see as important?
How do the people in this world behave towards each other?
Do all the people in this world act in the same way?
What quality of life have the characters in this world?
What kind of entertainment have they?
Is there such a thing as freedom in this world? How real is it?
What is the attitude of the people in this world to Truman?

* Place:
Treat each of the two worlds in the film separately.
(i) What are the main features of Truman’s world? What kind of houses do people live in here? What kind of names are on the streets here? What settings do we see here? Who has power here?
(ii) What are the main features of Christof’s world? List the settings we see here? (Don’t forget the viewers.)
Are there differences between the two worlds?

* Time:
In the key moments you have chosen what indications are there of the period in which the action is set? Christof’s world is your main reference point for this aspect of the mode. Do you get a sense of it being in the past, the present, or the future? Does the artificial world created by Christof have a feeling of the past about?

* Repetition:
A director may repeat actions, camera angles, music etc. for a number of reasons. What examples of repetition can you spot in the sequences you have chosen? What is the director’s purpose in such repetition? What effect has it on the audience?

* Imagery:
How is the mise en scène - costume, camera, dialogue and editing used to get the world of the film across to us?
How are we, the film audience, positioned by the camerawork, lighting and sound to view the people of this world?
Do aspects of the setting work on a symbolic level in this sequence?
Do any of the props take on a symbolic role in this scene?
How is the lighting used in this scene?