Photo: Paramount Pictures
Jim Carrey has been in a lot of movies. From popular comedy films like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber to campier but still somehow distinct missteps like Batman Forever and How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Carrey’s career has certainly taken him to all sorts of whacky places. It’s likely because of this variety of roles that Carrey has performed in that his greatest performance is often forgotten. In case you were wondering, that would be his role as Truman Burbank, the star of The Truman Show.
The Truman Show was released in 1998, two whole decades ago. For those who have never seen the movie, it’s recommended that you do before reading on because there will be heavy spoilers from this point forward. Plus the movie is excellent so having it spoiled would be a bummer. For those who need a refresher or don’t care though, the film can briefly be summed up as a man named Truman (played by Jim Carrey) going on about his daily life blissfully unaware that everything he experiences and everyone he meets is actually part of an elaborate and experimental reality television show, and has been ever since Truman was a child. Even the sky in the distance is nothing but a detailed backdrop and over the course of the film, Truman discovers this and decides that he needs to escape to the real world in order to see what life is actually like when it isn’t being scripted for him.
This role sees Carrey in his peak acting form. Truman is charming and sweet, he’s funny yet genuine and he runs the whole range from naive to suspicious and then enlightened, exhausted, and finally triumphant over the course of the 107 minute movie. Carrey’s acting chops are put to the test here, and if there was ever proof that he can do more than just comedy, this is it. Truman’s discovery of the nature of his world is unnerving and likewise his struggle to persevere through a storm to reach the limits of the show’s artificial world can only be described as heart-wrenching. Even though Truman is experiencing something that no one reading this article ever will, his plight is nevertheless wholly relatable and it is all due to Carrey’s performance. When Carrey cries, the audience can’t be blamed for crying with him, and that’s a testament to what went into his dramatic and emotional conveyance.
So how snubbed has Carrey been for this performance? For one, many people don’t even remember this movie, and that’s criminal. Beyond that though, he’s only the fourth person ever to win a Golden Globe for a movie and then not even be nominated for for an Oscar, and it happened for this movie. The Truman Show never got enough credit for how special it really was and Carrey similarly never got the recognition he deserved for bringing its lovable hero to life.
Why might this be? For one, Carrey being known as a “zany comic” who did stuff that was off-the-wall like The Mask might have made people turn away from the idea of him playing a more serious role right off the bat. In addition, the concept of a show like The Truman Show existing seemed foreign to people at release because actual reality television itself wasn’t so prominent back then as it eventually became. Lastly, with so much time passing since release, it seems that Carrey’s goofier roles have continued to paint his reputation leaving the more sincere Truman in the dust.
This is all, of course, somewhat disheartening. It’s not all bad, though. Carrey’s role as Truman has not been completely forgotten and the movie has attained something of a cult following, as evidenced by the existence of this very article. The role also earned Carrey sincere apologies from film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who had previously written him off as someone who would never be able to have a legitimate acting career. Perhaps most heartwarmingly though, Carrey found himself a true friend because of the role. He has described fellow Truman Show actor Noah Emmerich as his best friend on and off the set. Since Emmerich’s character was one of the few people in the movie that actually cared about Truman as a person, it seems as if life has imitated art in this case. In a world that can seem as fake as that of The Truman Show, perhaps something so genuine is more important than superficial recognition.
But that doesn’t mean that Carrey doesn’t deserve that, too.