It was a film which eerily predicted the modern world of mass surveillance and social media, where millions document their daily lives on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok.
The Truman Show, released 25 years ago today, starred Jim Carrey as the eponymous Truman Burbank, whose entire life was a fiction designed to entertain millions around the world.
The film, which was directed by Peter Weir and written by Andrew Niccol, grossed more than $264million worldwide and garnered three Academy Award nominations for best supporting actor, original screenplay and director.
But it also ended up giving its name to a psychological delusion, where patients – of whom there have been hundreds – believe they, like Truman, are the subjects of a TV show.
One sufferer killed his father and sister in the belief they were broadcasting his life to the world as part of a game show, another allegedly assaulted a toddler and his mother while thinking he ‘had to get out of the Truman Show’.
Released 25 years ago today, The Truman Show told the story of a small-town insurance salesman whose every move was being watched by millions around the world. Above: Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank
In the film, Truman’s every move from the moment of his birth has been documented by 5,000 cameras placed throughout his hometown of Seahaven Island, which is in fact a giant TV studio.
Everyone in Seahaven, including his wife Meryl – played by Laura Linney – is an actor.
As his life as an insurance salesman unfolds on screens 24 hours a day, a loyal viewership of 1.5billion people watch around the world.
In what becomes his catchphrase, he joyfully tells his friends and neighbours: ‘In case I don’t see you: good afternoon, good evening and goodnight.’
Truman eventually comes to suspect that his life is a fiction after a series of clues emerge, including the moment a lighting rig falls from the ‘sky’.
He decides to flee the invented world, much to the anger of the show’s creator Christof, who is played by Ed Harris.
In the film, Truman’s every move from birth has been documented by 5,000 cameras placed throughout his hometown of Seahaven Island, which is in fact a giant TV studio. Everyone in Seahaven, including his wife Meryl – played by Laura Linney (left) – is an actor
As his life as an insurance salesman unfolds on screens 24 hours a day, a loyal viewership of 1.5billion people watch around the world
Truman eventually comes to suspect that his life is a fiction after a series of clues emerge, including the moment a lighting rig falls from the ‘sky’
Jim Carrey is seen as Truman Burbank as he waves to neighbours in his hometown
When the film was released, reality television was in its infancy. The hugely successful Big Brother, originally a Dutch creation, premiered in 1999.
The show saw ordinary people share a house for several weeks as television cameras documented their every move.
From then on, the reality genre would become a worldwide phenomenon, with shows like The Only Way is Essex and Keeping Up with the Kardashians proving hugely popular.
The Truman Show also effectively foresaw both the mass surveillance and widespread social media use of the modern world.
With the former, millions of CCTV cameras keep a careful watch on ordinary citizens in Britain and elsewhere.
In the latter, millions document every detail of their lives on the likes of Instagram and TikTok.
And whilst the film was released towards the end of the 20th century, its premise harked back thousands of years to Greek philosopher Plato’s Allegory of the cave.
In that Plato depicted a group of people who had spent all their lives chained to the wall of a cave.
The shadows they see projected on to the wall from objects passing in front of a fire end up being given names.
And, although not a reflection of reality, the shadows are real to them.
Christof evokes this sense when he says: ‘We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.’
Truman Syndrome was initially named and documented by sibling experts Dr Joel Gold and his brother Ian.
It often affects successful people, who can end up believing they are being filmed at all times and that the world in front of them is not real.
In 2009, Australian man Anthony Waterlow killed his father and sister because he believed they were broadcasting his life to the world as part of a game show to either murder him or convince him to kill himself.
When he was examined by a psychologist, he specifically mentioned The Truman Show.
Truman decides to flee the invented world, much to the anger of the show’s creator Christof (above), who is played by Ed Harris
Laura Linney is seen portraying Truman’s wife Meryl as she shows her husband a potato peeler she’s just bought, at the same time advertising it to millions
Truman suspects his world is a fiction and ends up breaking free from the fantasy world
Truman’s best friend Louis Coltrane, played by Noah Emmerich, is also an actor
And in 2007, psychiatrist William Johns III allegedly assaulted a 2-year-old and his mother in New York City after he left his home in Florida because he ‘had to get out of the Truman Show’ that he believed was filming him in his home town.
The condition was named and documented by expert Dr Joel Gold and his brother Ian.
In an article in the journal Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, they described it as: ‘…a novel delusion, primarily persecutory in form, in which the patient believes that he is being filmed, and that the films are being broadcast for the entertainment of others.
‘We describe a series of patients who presented with a delusional system according to which they were the subjects of something akin to a reality television show…’
They examined the lives of five patients who believed they were at the center of a secret TV show.
One patient walked into a federal building in New York City and demanded to see ‘the director’.
He said he had to come to Manhattan because he believed the 2001 World Trade Center attacks had been faked for the TV show being filmed around him.
The man said he had to see for himself whether the twin towers were still standing. If they weren’t, he said, it would be final proof that he was the unwilling star of a reality TV program.
Another was convinced his every move was secretly being filmed for a TV contest.
A third believed that everything – the news, his psychiatrists, the drugs they prescribed – was part of a fake stage-set world in which he was the involuntary star.
In August 2008, another journal article told how a 26-year-old postman ‘had a sense the world was slightly unreal, as if he was the eponymous hero’ in The Truman Show.
The reviews for the film itself were largely positive.
Writing in the Daily Mail in 1998, Christopher Tookey said: ‘The film works well as a surrealistic nightmare, along the lines of TV series The Prisoner, or the horror classic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.
Carrey is seen as Truman alongside his wife and ‘mother’, who is played by Holland Taylor
The show is broadcast 24 hours a day, so viewers can even tune in to see Truman sleeping
‘It is convincing as a nightmare of celebrity, of how the world might be if it really revolved around you and no one behaved normally in your presence.’
Famed US critic Roger Ebert, who gave the film four stars, added: ‘I enjoyed “The Truman Show” on its levels of comedy and drama; I liked Truman in the same way I liked Forrest Gump–because he was a good man, honest, and easy to sympathize with.
‘But the underlying ideas made the movie more than just entertainment.
‘Like “Gattaca,” the previous film written by Niccol, it brings into focus the new values that technology is forcing on humanity.
‘Because we can engineer genetics, because we can telecast real lives–of course we must, right? But are these good things to do?
‘The irony is, the people who will finally answer that question will be the very ones produced by the process.’