Saturday, April 25, 2009

Film as a Rorschach Test

One of the great things about art is that meaning is in the eye of the beholder. Regardless of what the author, producer, actor, artist or director intended, the messages we glean from their work are the result of our own unique experiences, personality and world view. Just as one person staring at an ink blot can see a butterfly, another person can be just as certain it's a waterfall.

Last night I watched the latter portion of a movie I have seen before, The Truman Show (1998). With the advent of the Internet Movie Database (IMBd), I have developed a routine in which, after viewing a film, I go on the web to IMBd to read about the film just watched. Sometimes, as in this case, I also do a more general web search to learn what others thought of the movie.

In case you're unfamiliar with The Truman Show, here's a brief synopsis from IMBd:
The film is set mostly in a town wholly dedicated to a continually running television show. All of the people present in the town are actors or film crew except protagonist Truman Burbank, who is unaware that he lives in a constructed reality filmed for the entertainment of those outside. Central characters simulate friendship or familial relations to Truman.

Truman was chosen out of five unwanted babies to be a TV star, whereupon film producer Christof ordered built a gigantic studio to encapsulate Seahaven, the artificial town in which Truman lives, believing himself to be part of a genuine neighborhood. The enclosed studio allowed the producers, directors and crew to control every aspect of Truman's environment, including the weather.

To prevent Truman from trying to escape and discover the truth underlying his artificial world, his father is "killed" in a staged boating incident so as to make Truman afraid of water. Because Seahaven appears to be an island, this fear removes Truman's every chance of escape. Despite Truman's staged relationship with his wife Meryl, he desires to meet and court the scene-extra called Sylvia, who is removed from the cast by the producers while trying to explain to Truman the true nature of his life. In the thirtieth year of his life, Truman begins to realize the unrealistic routine of his world and tries to escape Seahaven.

Along his path to truth and escape, Truman encounters obstacles placed in his way, including choreographed traffic jams, the inability to arrange any trips, sudden breakdowns of transport, a non-existent nuclear meltdown, and an artificially created hurricane on the "ocean". He finally reaches the edge of the constructed reality and exits via a door in the wall, cheered on by an audience of millions (including Sylvia). Christof finally talks to Truman from the clouds. He tries to convince Truman to stay. Truman, however, says "In case I don't see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night." He bows to his audience and steps into the real world through the door.
I was astonished to find out that many Christians found this film to be an allegory for Jesus and the cross with Truman playing the role of the Jewish carpenter. Needless to say, I came away from the movie with quite a different analysis!

For me, the message of the film was quite the opposite. This false facade of a world represented religion which Truman tries desperately to break free of. The institution of religion always tries to instill a particular worldview on each of us and each and every moment -- whether it genuinely fits or not -- must be viewed through a small lens external to ourselves.

In one scene during Truman's school years, he announces to his class that he wants to be an explorer -- to explore the world. His teacher immediately pulls down a world map and says something like, "You're too late. Everything has already been explored!"

That reminded me of the questioning religious believer. Queries generally are not welcomed and ready-made stock answers are thrust forward to discourage any manner of exploration. You have everything you need right here, we're told. Why look anywhere else?

At the end of the film (a YouTube montage is below), Truman discovers the boundaries of his "fake world". Though frightened and confused, Truman is determined to find a way to go beyond the facade and out into the unknown. He triumphantly leaves behind a world that has been defined for him by others to experience the real world with a new consciousness.

When each of us leaves behind the vestiges of artifical beliefs -- religion -- we too encounter the world with a new consciousness. We move beyond made up descriptions to the vital essence of being.


  1. . . how True Man . . is there anywhere to go without deception?

  2. Thanks for the response on my site. That was the question I was asking.

    I will keep following your blog, so perhaps we will get to know one another better.

  3. Brad,
    Going is what brings deception. When we stay in the now and being, there is nothing that can deceive.

    I will continue to follow yours too. Time will tell. :)


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