Film

Why There Should Never, Ever Be a Sequel to 'The Truman Show'

Jim Carrey as Truman (© 1998 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.) (IMDB)

Why won't fans let Jim Carrey's Truman be free?

As we mark the 20th anniversary of the release of Peter Weir's social and media satire, The Truman Show, its relevance to America's media landscape, then and now, seems obvious. The story of a man who discovers his world is an elaborately constructed television show comes across, inevitably, as a prophetic satire of the reality programming that dominated television during its release in 1998.

Looking at this movie today, it's interesting to consider The Truman Show in light of Hollywood's unprecedented franchise-based proliferation of sequels, reboots, and remakes, a phenomenon that has been called "peak sequel". Whereas many sequels feel forced, not least all the Marvel and DC superhero films that dominate the market, it would make sense for a follow-up to The Truman Show to explore what an older Truman has done after he escapes from the artificial world that broadcast his life. This very topic has been the object of impassioned online speculation, with one writer declaring, "I demand there be a sequel." Nor would the long gap between the original film and now be an obstacle. After all, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, Independence Day, and even Blade Runner have all seen recent revivals after long periods of cinematic dormancy.

That The Truman Show does not have a sequel, even though it could justify one, holds significance. Looking back on The Truman Show casts fresh light on what's wrong with peak sequel. In turn, today's glut of sequels makes it all the more apparent why The Truman Show is so special. It's not just that film titles ending in numbers are unoriginal, constitute a brazen cash grab, or cheapen the closure of the original film. What The Truman Show highlights uniquely well is how peak sequel robs us of the freedom to interpret movie endings for ourselves and imagine what the characters do next.

Indeed, it's not hard to imagine several ways a sequel to The Truman Show could go. What if an ambitious young journalist seeks out the reclusive Truman, who has been constantly traveling, trying to outmaneuver paparazzi and evade publicity for the last 20 years? What begins as a quest for a big scoop could turn into a budding friendship. The journalist helps the aging Truman, who has hardened into a disheveled misanthrope, overcome his understandable trust issues and connect with people and places in the real world. More open to the world, now, Truman decides to open a boating tourism service in the Fiji islands, the remote destination he is perennially obsessed with in The Truman Show. (This premise would, like the Blade Runner sequel, also allow there to be a younger main character.)

(IMDB)

But maybe it would go another way. What if Truman more quickly embraces his fame in the real world? Maybe he takes a huge book deal and goes on the public speaking circuit. He discovers a way of adapting his playful personality to deliberate performances and public appearances. Meanwhile, the show's original creator, Christof, has repurposed the expensive, island-sized set into both an actual gated community and a museum of the defunct show, complete with guided tours, house rentals, and of course, gift shops. Christof is unable to make amends with Truman, but Truman eventually reaches an uneasy rapprochement with the actors who pretended to be his loved ones his whole life. Truman eventually finds happiness in a variety of endeavors: he hosts his own travel show where he visits fans of the show around the world; he becomes a UN goodwill ambassador; he sets up a phenomenally successful charitable foundation. And he finally retires to a quiet estate in, yes, Fiji.

Others have mused that Truman might happily travel the world with Sylvia (an extra expelled from the show for trying to disclose its true nature to Truman), he struggles with depression, or even returns in defeat to the show, as Christof predicted Truman would.

These are all juicy brainstorms. But as tempting as these possibilities are, there are far more compelling reasons why such a sequel to The Truman Show would, and should, never happen. Yes, it's an unwritten rule that artistically ambitious dramas aren't supposed to have sequels like lighthearted action films. But The Truman Show stands even more pointedly against franchisement because the film is fundamentally about media consumption. Today, any franchise famous enough to be broadly recognizable must continue. The moviemakers have to find a way to keep it going, or else they are leaving money on the table.

Accordingly, The Truman Show would be the ultimate continuously running franchise, since it would theoretically last for an entire human lifespan. We see the show's viewers wearing hats and buttons that coyly say, "How's it going to end?" In fact, the franchise would not necessarily end with Truman's death. It could continue in the life of Truman's child, and so on and so on, forever. So when Truman triumphantly walks out of a stage door on the edge of his constructed world, he is ending the franchise. He emphatically refuses the obligatory continuation that is so pervasive today, an in-world stand reinforced in our world by the refusal of a sequel.

(IMDB)

Further, Truman's sequel-less triumph has a very specific thematic importance. In a recent Vanity Fair feature on the film's 20th anniversary, star Jim Carrey says: "'That's what I see as the ultimate lesson of The Truman Show—when that false life is given up, when what everybody else wants from you and of you is given up, then you walk into the everything. You become the everything. There's no limitations anymore.'" We should take this idea further by virtue of the film's reflexive self-awareness, which lends itself to formal parallels between the film's world and our world. When The Truman Show ends, the lack of a sequel makes the actual viewers participate in the fictional Truman's liberation. That's the whole point: we don't get to watch him anymore. Not having a sequel to The Truman Show is a sign of artistic and moral integrity. By leaving the rest of Truman's life up to our imagination, Truman is truly free.

IMDB

The film's last shot, strangely ironic and poignant at the same time, helps enable such an interpretation. We have just seen Truman's glorious exit and the ecstatic reactions of viewers around the world who cheer Truman's heroic victory over the forces that would constrain him. And yet, the last image we see is two security guards lazily watching the static after the transmission stops, and one of them says to the other, "So, you want to see what else is on?" This dismissive reaction satirically undercuts the magnitude of Truman's triumph. But in another way, it supports it. The guards' short attention spans suggest that Truman's viewership will be equally ready to simply move on to the next media spectacle. Truman will drop off the cultural radar, free to pursue his own interests.

(IMDB)

Maybe this optimistic take on The Truman Show is naïve. As commentator Emily Chambers has pointed out, Truman would be instantly super-famous and quite unprepared for the real world. Truman would always have cameras following him. The only difference would be that, in the outside world, Truman would know it. So it turns out that the reason a sequel to The Truman Show is so easy to imagine is the same reason that Truman's post-show life would inevitably continue to deny him the autonomy he seeks. The mundane life Truman had in his show would be impossible. Truman would never really be free to live a normal life away from his unchosen fame.

But phooey on all that. I choose to imagine, against all reason, that by celebrating The Truman Show's lack of a sequel, I'm letting the fictional Truman be truly free. By not having a sequel, Truman's life is forever in a state of potential; he possesses a freedom to live out his own life that he would otherwise not have plausibly had. So against the persuasive notion that Truman would be troubled, unhappy, and stressed, I like to think that instead he's sitting in a fictional private estate in Fiji somewhere, watching sunsets on the beach with Sylvia. You might imagine something different—that's the beauty of it.

The Truman Show thus stands as a useful contrast between what the broader phenomenon of sequels imposes on viewers, often against their preferences, and a single narrative of what happens next. It would be nice if today's filmmakers took inspiration from The Truman Show and took to heart how valuable, how fertile for the public's imagination, a stand alone film's existence can be. Just leave it to the audience to enjoy The Truman Show and its noble, quixotic dreams of freedom.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.