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The Truman Show (1998) and The Matrix (1999)

Happily for me, almost all great movies are based on some written work or, at least, have a tangential relationship to some kind of book.  So if I want to comment on them, I can just review the text.  But two movies that I've seen recently really tap into the themes I've been expounding upon in these pages and, to the best of my knowledge, they are original, not derived from other sources, so I'll review the movies themselves.  They are The Truman Show and The Matrix.  Now, at first glance, these two movies may not seem to have that much in common.  However, they share the same central theme and it is one which I have been arguing forms the very core of American Literature--the choice of freedom over security.

Truman Burbank leads perhaps the most secure existence imaginable.  He is truly the center of his own universe.  Everything in town revolves around him.  Unwittingly the star of the show, a multimillion dollar empire has been built up around his life and it is unimaginable that the powers that be would allow anything to endanger their investment.  But Truman feels an inchoate longing to be free.  The safety and security that he enjoys is not fulfilling and so he eventually decides to leave his cocoon-like environment even though there are enormous risks involved.

The Matrix, which is in so many other ways a truly cutting edge film, likewise is structured around this fundamental American ethos.   Life in the Matrix doesn't seem so bad.  It's not really much different than our own lives (assuming, of course, that we are not all part of the Matrix already).  In fact, assume a little benevolence on the part of the computers, and there is no reason that it should not be idyllic.  But Morpheus and Trinity and the rest are willing to engage in a seemingly suicidal rebellion against this utopia.  Why?  Because, it is not free.  It is an existence that is dictated by machines and is not a function of human free will.

The heroes in both of these movies are expressing the idea that, more than any other, informs the American experience.  It is the belief that freedom, even with all of the inherent risks, is favorable to a restrictive security.  As always, the form that this expression takes is an attempt to escape from the secure environment, the repressive system. The ultimate destination is really a secondary consideration.  What is important is the movement away from the established society and towards the free terrain.  We see this theme played out in The Last of the Mohicans, Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (read Orrin's review), many Westerns, most hard-boiled private eye novels, The Brave Cowboy (read Orrin's review), Cool Hand Luke (read Orrin's review), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (read Orrin's review) and All the Pretty Horses (read Orrin's review); just to name a few of the best examples.  It is truly the most enduring theme in our literature, which is entirely appropriate since it is the enduring theme of our history.  It is heartening to see that these two popular movies, different as they may be, depend upon this quintessentially American aspiration--to be free.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

8 (2 movies reviewed)
    -The Truman Show (Official Site)
    -ETEXT: movie screenplay
    -The Truman Show (1998) (IMDb)
    -Mr. Showbiz Movie Guide: The Truman Show
    -REVIEW: (Charles Taylor, Salon)
    -REVIEW: (The flickfilosopher)
    -REVIEW: (Carlo, About Film)
    -REVIEW : of The Truman Show (Peter T. Chattaway, ChristianWeek)
    -WEBRING: Bomis: The Truman Show Ring
    -ESSAY: The Meaning of the Truman Show (transparencynow)
    -ESSAY : Reality flops : Who screwed up "Big Brother"? Everyone. (Bill Wyman, Salon)