Friday, December 14, 2012

The Truman Show and Fleeing a Good Deal

In Peter Weir's 1998 film The Truman Show, Jim Carrey plays Truman, a man who unwittingly lives inside a giant television studio, his life broadcast to the world in the highest rated show of all time. His family, friends, neighbors...everyone in his life is a paid actor. As the film opens, Truman begins to suspect that there is something false about his surroundings. In the film's climax, Truman sets off to leave the island on which he lives, finally getting to speak to the show's creator (Ed Harris' Cristof), at the climactic moment:

Note the perceptible pause when Cristof tells Truman that he "is the creator...of a television show." We are clearly meant to think of Cristof as God. Cristof tries to tell Truman that the world "out there" is no different than the world to which he's grown accustomed, but the audience knows the difference: inside the studio, Truman isn't "free" in any real sense. His psyche has been manipulated to make him fear water, his potential mate and best friend are chosen for him, even the advertisements he sees and the radio he listen to are designed to have a particular desired effect on him. He is steered.

Outside, the audience believes that, at least, he will be able to make his own decisions. This is why they cheer so raucously when he makes his courageous decision to leave the world that has been constructed for him and go it on his own.

We feel the same way as the audience, which is why we "leave" (i.e. disbelieve in) a God who is controlling (i.e. constraining our free will) and embrace a God who supposedly gives us our freedom. But look at what Truman is leaving!

"In my world, you have nothing to fear. I know you better than you know yourself. It's okay...I understand. I've been watching you your whole life. I was watching when you were born, I was watching when you took your first step. I watched you on your first day of school...when you lost your first belong here. With me."

Throw away the specific details of the plot, and you begin to see: when we throw off the shackles of a "controlling" God, we are running away from a loving deity who has watched over and cared for us for our entire lives, who creates a place in which we belong, he calls us "okay" and understands us, and promises us a life without fear! And yet we still celebrate our striving for freedom! We are sure that we can do better, if only we are allowed to exercise our freedom!

But Cristof is right. The world out there (in freedomland) is just as controlling, just as enslaving, as our God, and yet not at all caring. Worse, outside of our "controlling" God, we are expected to save ourselves; to live lives worthy of eternal glory. Inside, we have been chosen -- a world has been created just for us -- to be part of God's life, and family, forever. 

The film ends soon after the above clip, but anyone who has lived here, outside the studio, for even a few minutes can easily imagine Truman running almost immediately back into Cristof's waiting arms and comforting embrace, like the prodigal son realizing that a controlling but loving father is infinitely preferable to the "freedoms" of a pigsty and bean pods. 

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