The Truman Journey

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Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is the star of the Truman Show. When Truman is a baby, Christof (Ed Harris) somehow buys him. He is placed in a fictional town, Seahaven, and surrounded with actors. Christof broadcasts every minute of Truman’s life. And Truman has no idea his friends and family are paid actors. So that’s terrifying.

Truman only begins to discover the truth when a lamp, labeled with the name of a star, falls from the artificial sky one day. After that he notices things, like everyone knows his name, he has never left Seahaven, and his wife will act like she’s in an infomercial and try to shill products. When the entire town turns against him, refusing to let him leave, Truman escapes the only way he can: by sailing across Seahaven’s body of water to the edge of the world. There he bumps into the horizon, finds an EXIT door, and escapes into the real world. It’s like Under the Dome, if Stephen King wasn’t a horror writer.

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Life celebrated a baby sold by its parent to television executives.

A couple things about this movie jump out at me.The audience has to be most of the planet, because the show’s overhead must be huge; Christof enclosed the entire town in an arcology dome, and has a weather control device (something most supervillains have to put on lay-a-way). The governments of the world must not exist, or are so corrupt that “money over everything” is official policy. And the cast, crew, and audience must absolutely believe that Truman has a good life, because it only takes one defector to ruin the show.

At the end of the movie, Christof tries to drown Truman, preferring a magnificent death to Truman’s escape. When Truman survives, Christof claims Truman brings people hope and inspiration. He even asks Truman to stay. Something Truman does provides the world with enough satisfaction to justify all this.

My first thought was nuclear apocalypse, because the world must be some twisted ruin for people to think Truman’s life is acceptable. It would also explain the dome; perhaps Christof has fenced off a healthy area of the planet and is selling dreams of what life used to be to a devastated population.

The audience doesn’t really fit the Mad Max marauder type, though. There are old people, fat security guards, and a nice bar. The world looks okay. But these people still watch Truman, each day, as he toils through life, despite the fact that they apparently have normal lives themselves. Reality television is a form of escapism too; most rely on a gimmick (The Biggest Loser) or the antics of people filmed in just the right way to make them seem terrible (literally any contest-style reality show). All Truman does is live a normal life.

Philip K. Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which became Blade Runner, which became the reason Ridley Scott still has a career. In the story, humans live on a ruined earth. Most of the animals are dead, so people try to raise personal livestock, or if they can’t afford it, “electric” simulacra. The protagonist, Deckard, has an electric sheep, and fears people will find out (it’s a social no-no). He takes a job to hunt down androids capable of nearly perfectly simulating human beings. They lack empathy, however, and a complicated test can reveal them.

It’s left out of the movie, but the book also shows that people are capable of “dialing” their emotions. Deckard avoids a fight with his wife by choosing a more pleasant mood. He also regularly logs into a simulation of a tormented figure rolling a stone eternally up a hill. Living with near-human androids has degraded human perception of reality, so they have to engage in something “real” to maintain their empathy and humanity. But, they are still living a lie, in denial of what humanity actually means.

The Truman Show serves the same purpose. Truman is the suffering saint; his lack of reality, and the life he suffers, makes the pale lives of the audience seem bright and real in comparison. No matter what their day was like, the audience can dial into Truman and adjust their emotions according to his life.

Truman’s world might be very close to ours, but it’s suffered something that makes engaging in life through Truman more acceptable than really living – he’s both sheep and shepherd, cared for by the audience and leading them through what life ought to be. And at the same time, he’s contemptible, because they can watch him poop and he doesn’t know.

I see two arguments about what happens after the ending. Truman abandons Seahaven, sails to freedom after nearly drowning in Christof’s artificial storm, and finds his world is truly false when he bumps into the “sky.” He leaves with his usual greeting: “In case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.”

Truman doesn’t curse or even seem to hate Christof. And the audience loves it. The ending is a montage of cheers and people flipping out. He’s provided their comfort for thirty years, and now Truman’s victory is the audience’s victory. As the chosen one, he led them through the hero’s journey to a heroic “ending.”

Truman is an artificially selected chosen one, however, not picked by fate. Christof had to know Truman would grow into a perfectly average (Jim Carrey-ish) adult, with no mental or physical problems, because anything else would have ruined his show. Truman’s revelations about his life, and by extension the audience’s lives, don’t have the same impact as a “real” chosen one. The audience watches him discover them, and they cheer like they’re watching football game.

The chosen one is an excuse for why “ONE MAN” can make a difference. Truman might not even be able to integrate into society, since he’s never actually lived in it, just in the television version. His life has as much to do with reality as Leave it to Beaver has to do with the actual 1950s.

We all wish (as the audience that watches Truman does) that we could be that one special person, chosen by destiny (or Ed Harris — close enough) to… do something. Other than be born, live as our birth and means dictate, then die. We need the chosen one myth, it keeps us from losing our minds in the vast, uncaring cosmos.

Truman shows that a chosen one is the avatar for the pointlessness of the audience’s lives, not a bringer of light and reason. Once he is gone, taking the inspiration and hope the audience relies on, we really only have two options: abandon the myth and try to find or make meaning in life, or, as the security guards say, “See what else is on.”

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Star Wars Saturday: Are Star Wars Characters Interesting?

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Here’s a post by Hannah Givens from January of 2014. Are Star Wars Characters Interesting? It stands out in my mind as one of the best posts I read during my first few months of blogging, and since most of you probably didn’t see it the first time around, you should give it a look. And here’s a nice Star Wars-themed video I found to go along with it.

The post touched off a conversation on Facebook that spilled back onto the comment thread and possibly onto twitter as well. (Given that this was 18 months ago, details are a little fuzzy.)

If I recall correctly, this conversation marks the point at which I started keeping up with Natacha Guyot and Rose Fischer — both of which are now friends and have contributed mightily to the blog in the last year. Talk about a stroke of good fortune.

Anyway, it’s a fabulous post. Give it a look!

Have Another!

The Star Wars trailer I posted yesterday was such a hit, I decided to post another one today 🙂

I’m a bit excited about this movie.

I’ll be back to the photoblogging next week, I hope.

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Collaborative Review

Ultron posterHannah and I thought it might be fun to do a review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron together, so you get two opinions for the price of one!

First we’d like to deal with Ultron, and the delightful portrayal by James Spader – it might only be his voice onscreen, but his presence was stamped all over the robotic villain.

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Mel: Ultron made for a highly entertaining supervillain. His crazy genius was in turn highly amusing and downright terrifying. His arrogance surpassed even Tony Stark’s, which makes sense, since Stark created him. Seeing a range of tonal and even facial expressions on a robot, has to be one of the funniest things I’ve seen – at least in a while. And that voice. When he spoke I paid attention, even when his grandiose statements made me groan! In the interests of being constructive, the only real criticism I have, is the rushed introduction to Ultron’s hatred of Tony and the other Avengers. In the space of a few seconds (yes I know he’s incredibly smart), he turns against his creator – without even having interacted with him. I connected the dots, but it would have been nice to see greater conflict in the beginning.

Hannah: Ultron was one of my favorites too! I thought his dialogue was very skillful — he mimics the sort of villain who has a grand (but misguided) scheme for making the world a better place, but he’s not that kind of villain. His plan didn’t make much sense, but that works… He’s a flawed program built from an alien weapon and Tony Stark’s fear. It all comes back to Tony as the movie’s villain, the self-proclaimed mad scientist whose creation is out of control. Yet he’s on the heroes’ side, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of structure before! That brings me to my VERY favorite part, though: The Vision. One of the (many) new characters added in this movie.

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Mel: I loved Vision too. This may have something to do with the fact I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with Jarvis! I loved that Vision incorporated his essence – that dry, unaffected sense of humour – love it! In relation to Ultron, I enjoyed the fact that, ultimately, Ultron is responsible for Vision’s creation. In a way, Vision is the balance – the positive effect of Tony’s creation and his evolution was thrilling to watch. The hammer moment was particularly clever, because it cut through all those questions about his morality – it also added to the overall humour. I enjoyed the twins, especially Wanda, but the person who really stood out for me was Hawkeye. He might not be a new character, but we certainly saw a new side to his character. I thoroughly enjoyed the way he became almost like the glue that held them all together.

So, Hannah, what are your thoughts? I know you’re dying to talk about Vision!

Hannah: They really did a good job of balancing so many characters! I thought Hawkeye’s development was a little implausible, but cool and creative all the same. And I definitely appreciated the moment he stopped Wanda from messing with his mind, after all the fuss about that in the first movie. But The Vision was absolutely my favorite part. He is so, so good. He’s perfect in the story, as the final form of what Tony was trying to create. I think Tony had in mind a more comprehensive system of defense, but what he really wanted was The Vision. Something insanely powerful and transcendentally good. Instead of having a flawed, weaponized beginning, Vision is created from a combination of good things, Jarvis foremost among them.

Cap

Funnily enough, I hardly know the Vision at all from the comics, so I can’t say much about how he’s the same or different. My main reference for how much I love him in the movie is actually Superman, or Captain America in the MCU. Lots of people don’t like “good” characters because they think they’re boring, but they don’t have to be. Cap is a good person, despite all the darkness he’s seen, without being naive and cutesy or boring. That’s what makes him inspiring, and it’s the same in a really good Superman story. Vision being so colorful is related to that. It’s okay for him to be a little more stylized and have a flowing golden cape because he’s symbolic in a way the other characters aren’t. I could go on about this forever, I really could. Of course, anything could happen now. Maybe his Ultron origins will come back to haunt him, or his alien point of view will cause him to act against the Avengers.

This whole movie seemed transitional, tying in to Loki’s staff and whatnot from the past and thematically connected to Iron Man 3, but mostly foreshadowing future events. How does this movie fit?

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Mel: Before I answer that question, I wanted to go back to your point about Hawkeye – the way he prevented Wanda from messing with his mind. This was a powerful scene for me (I think I may have done a mini fist pump) because his mind is one of his sharpest tools; his focus. Clint has a deep sense of honour and Loki took that away from him. In Age of Ultron we got to see who Hawkeye really is, and I think he helped to humanise the team in a way – to be their anchor. Anyway. On to the questions about where the movie fits.

The movie certainly set some of the groundwork for the transition into the next phase. It will be interesting to go forward with the current team. As it stands Thor has returned to Asgard, Hulk is goodness knows where (for the time being), Tony took a step back, and Hawkeye is hanging out at the ranch. So that leaves us with Cap, Black Widow, Falcon, War Machine, the Scarlet Witch and (happy dance), Vision! These additions still offer a powerhouse in terms of ability, and at the same time, a new dynamic. So, though I don’t see this team lasting very long, it will be fun to see where they take us, and how they fit into the next phase.

I think the destruction inadvertently caused by the Avengers in this movie, definitely set things up for Civil War. First we had the debacle in South Africa when Hulk lost control, and the obvious battle in Sokovia. If this isn’t the cause of the civil war, it’s certainly fuel for the fire. How do you think these storylines will fit into upcoming movies, like Civil War? Are you happy with the development of the characters so far?

Hulk Smash!

Hannah: The movie certainly highlighted destruction, so they may well be using that as a sticking point in Civil War. They make an effort to save civilians, but they can’t always be successful. For instance, Tony picked an empty building to throw Hulk through, but he didn’t do anything to protect all the people in the street when the building fell. So, I think it’ll be a worthwhile debate rather than a contrived conflict.

Age of Ultron did a good job of giving each character a little bit of attention, but not too much. It’s essentially a character-driven movie, a very simple plotline serving as a vehicle for little bits of character development. I see it as almost a cutoff point, tying up dangling threads so they can have standalone movies and then come back. We’ve basically set up “intervening events” rather than “the next Avengers movie.” A smart way to do it.

Mel: I couldn’t agree with you more about the character-driven plot. It was one of my favourite elements; the unity within the team. We’ve come to expect the humour, but this time there was a level of cohesion we haven’t seen before. I wish I could give you a favourite quote, because there are many great examples, but I’m having a hard time deciding! Certainly the running joke about Cap’s language highlighted their camaraderie, and the way they now work together (especially Cap and Thor), was just wonderful.

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We could talk about the visual effects all day, because they were truly magnificent. I’ll just talk about my favourites. I absolutely loved Veronica (Tony’s Hulk buster!), especially when she sent in reinforcements. I particularly enjoyed the opening scene, not least because it set things up in terms of how seamlessly the team work together. I loved Natasha’s ‘Can someone take care of that bunker’ – cue Hulk! And then, of course, there is the scene where the Avengers unite (including Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch) – taking out Ultron’s robot army and basically kicking ass!

What about you Hannah? Which scenes stood out to you? Do you have a favourite quote?

Hannah: I think the answer to that is, “I need to see this movie again!”

While the plot is simple, the characters are complex, and there’s plenty more to say. Leave your Age of Ultron reactions in the comments!