Saturday, 24 July 2010

in case i don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening & goodnight


i just sat down and watched "the truman show" again tonight. it's one of my favourite ever films, one of those films that gives me something more every time i watch it. i'm not generally a jim carrey fan, and have given most of his comedic films a miss. but he is quite brilliant here, as is ed harris as the director.

i know the main themes of the film are around media manipulation, the lengths a society will go to for the purposes of entertainment and a dig at reality tv shows, with a whole heap of religious imagery thrown in. but to me, the relevance of this film is more to real life.

"the truman show" mirrors the lives of many people i've seen, particularly many asian people. possibly not so common among other cultures, but feel free to share if it sounds familiar. i see many parents who map out their childrens lives from a young age, directing them towards a safe career, choosing for them (or encouraging them to choose) a safe spouse with a very similar cultural background and similar values. they help the couple into a nice, safe suburban family home; the two of them have nice, safe jobs that provide the nice, safe middle class lifestyle.

it's a path that is chosen for children, and they are encouraged down it through the passing on of values such as: success = nice home, latest material possessions, and 2 or 3 kids (& please try to make sure at least one is a boy); familial responsibility and duty to parents; family traditions and cultural traditions.

and the thing is that it is all so well-intentioned, wrapped up in the utmost love and wanting the best for their kids. sometimes there's also a little bit of living vicariously eg i never got to be a doctor due to lack of opportunity, so i'm going to make sure my child becomes a doctor. and there's certainly a strong dash of power and control - the need to control and direct life towards a safe and happy future. and often a strong dose of self-sacrifice ie parents going without so that their children can have the best of everything. that last is a great tool for emotional blackmail down the track: "i gave up so much for you, so you could have this or that; how can you not do what i want/expect of you".

despite all of that, there is no maliciousness involved. these parents genuinely believe they are doing the right thing, and getting the right result for their children. it is exactly like christos, the director of the trueman show, who loves truman even as he directs and controls truman's life.

where it all unravels is about the age that truman is when the film starts. around 30, mabye a bit later, even up to 40. this child looks around at her or his life, and finds that it wasn't what they imagined their life to be like. it's a life of unfulfilled dreams, nice and successful but extremely bland and unsatisfying.

what then? how many have the courage to leave? i think there are a fair few that don't, who then go on to live vicariously through their own children, and who try to get some sense of power and control by directing their own children's lives.

then there are the ones who do walk away, but the cost is pretty high. broken relationships, hurt children and spouses, heartache, and a whole lot of painful soul-searching. that's the part of truman's life we never get to see. we're sort of left with the impression that he has escaped oppression and will live happily ever after with his true love. except that christos warns him that the world he's going into is as full of deception as the one he is leaving, and we (the audience) know that this is completely true.

i often wonder how truman's life on the outside would have gone, and would dearly love to see someone write that book. of course, if we extrapolate from the movie, truman is already famous and would no doubt earn heaps from interviews with various media and probably a best-selling book or two. he would definitely find his girlfriend and it no doubt would end up reasonably well.

and i think, in the end, it usually does end up well for the people that have the courage to walk away and build up a new life for themselves. even after all the heartache, there's that sense of personal freedom that is extremely precious, and the endless possibilities there for the taking (but only if you feel like it). the people close to you, who truly love you, they eventually learn to accept that they can't control and channel another person's life - but that is a difficult lesson to learn when they've spent a lifetime doing just that.

the thing is that a cage is cage, no matter how pretty you make it, and none of us can be truly happy living in a cage. that's the essential message i take from this film, and probably why i love it so much.


Anonymous said...

With all due respect

The only real cage in society are the twin evils of poverty and social injustice.

All of the other cages are just fevered intellectual masterbatory fantasies of ivory tower intellectuals determined not to be satisfied with life.

Again that is my opinion.

McFlock said...

that's a bit harsh, anonymous.

I agree that poverty and social injustice are cages, but if you're arguing socioeconomic determinism is the only way in which people get plugged into little boxes for their entire lives then I think you're overlooking human nature. Socialism is no good if it doesn't recognise the essential humanity of individuals - leads to all sorts of nastiness.

Bel said...

I love this film too.
For years I have baffled people by quoting out of context the line: "I AM THE CREATOR.... of a television show!!" Heeheheee

anonymous said...

I am quite offended by your generalisations about the Asian culture. Let them practice their own culture, who are you to criticise?

stargazer said...

yawn, anon. i'm a nz'er of south asian origin. if i'm "criticising" any culture, it's my own.

Anonymous said...

"yawn, anon. i'm a nz'er of south asian origin. if i'm "criticising" any culture, it's my own.'

That doesn't make it right. It's my culture too.

stargazer said...

look, i'm just discussing some issues that came to my mind. i mentioned in the post that they came to me out of a particular context but that they may equally apply to other cultures. in fact, the film dead poet's society comes to mind, which covers similar sorts of issues in a western context and i have no doubt that some of that may still be happening in some families today. if it's not your experience nor the experience of the people you know, that's fine. and if it is but you don't have a problem with it, feel free to say so.