I have 2 teen-aged boys, so one of my favorite experiences is to introduce them to the art that moved me during my life. One cannot live on Marvel movies alone, you know? Almost, but not quite. We’ve watched The Money Pit, Predator, Naked Gun, and Lord of the Rings, listened to Nevermind and The Joshua Tree, and the younger one has started to dip his toes into Kurt Vonnegut. They don’t always get it, but I certainly do. I remember why I loved these things and most of the time, love them even more with the benefit of the extra 10 (or 20 or 30) years on this spinning ball.
Saturday we watched The Truman Show. It’s about a guy who’s been the unwitting subject of a reality show since he was born, 24 hours a day, everything and everyone a production. Except for him. When Truman asks, “Was any of it real?” Christof (the creator) answers, “You were.” It’s beautiful and even more perfect today than it was in 1998, when it was released.
I thought then that it was a pretty sharp commentary on reality tv, like Running Man, a prophesy warning of the dangers of the path ahead of us. And maybe more importantly, a vehicle for Jim Carrey to explore something other than broad stretch-faced comedy. Both of those are still there, true, and very successful, but the film is bigger than that.
In Rogue One, a character named Chirrut says, “There is more than one sort of prison, Captain, I sense that you carry yours wherever you go.”
That describes so many of us. We decide what we are and are not capable of, live lives as if “it is what it is” and “they are what they are” and worse, “we are who we are.” We build the walls that define our limits, and never test them. It’s like Truman. When asked why he never questions this artifice, Christof answers, ” We accept the reality of the world that we are presented,” and there might not be a more accurate statement in the entire film. We accept a wide variety of settling simply because it’s been presented to us as reality. The dome that encircles Truman’s world isn’t unbreakable, it’s really fear – of water, or death, of the unknown – that keeps him inside.
I often think about my fear and the steel bars that make up my own cage. What are they and what would it mean if I were to tear them down? These 2 questions are absolutely vital to explore, and like this pretend town, very nearly impossible to notice until we do, then it’s all we see.
Maybe it’s time to stop accepting so much. Stop carrying our prisons around wherever we go. Stop settling. Stop relying on old habits that didn’t work then and don’t work now. And stop calling it reality.
Just because it happens to be true today doesn’t mean it’s true tomorrow. I’ve heard it said that we move, transform, start, leave, risk, jump only when the fear of staying the same outweighs the fear of change. Truman found that space, sailed that boat into the vicious mouth of his fear and walked through the door into a new reality. Yes, it was a reality that would be missing predictability and safety, but the old one was missing honesty, authenticity, love. It was missing the things that make life so wonderful. It was missing life. And as he chose life, I could no longer hold back my tears because it’s not just Truman, it’s you and me, too.
So now what?