This 40-page book is printed in-house and contains a detailed semiological commentary prepared with the general reader, students and teachers in mind. 

For those who would like to use it as a teaching and learning aid in a classroom situation the film has been segmented into ten sequences of 10 to 15 minutes duration.


(DVD Chapters 1/2/3: 9 mins) 
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?