What I aim to do with this rhetorical analysis is bring forth to the reader a deeply immersive look at the rhetorical concepts present in the film The Truman Show. It is important for a viewer to fully understand the underlying messages and subtle undertones in between the lines, so to speak. The Truman Show is one man’s life being played out in a closed environment for the entertainment of the outside world. Most important to note, Truman Burbank has no clue that his whole life has been little more than just a television program produced on a grand scale to produce the image of reality in a dome.
The Truman Show blends ethos, logos, and pathos together in a symphony of self-discovery and power over an adversary, whether physical or spiritual. It is one man’s journey from unknowing and subconscious subterfuge to self-awareness and vindication. There are certain arguments and concepts presented in The Truman Show that demand attentive analysis and explanation: free will or the illusion therein, a significant god complex, and opposition as an intangible antagonist.
Truman is a man imprisoned in his own life. As can be seen throughout the film, there several invisible boundaries that must never be crossed. A specific example is given when a young toddleresque Truman is climbing the rocks at the beach. If allowed to cross the top and to the other side, he would have found a very different environment that, contextually, would not fit in the beach area. It is a representation of one living without true purpose. He lives simply for the amusement of others globally. He lives out mostly real-world occurrences, but like most T.V. shows they render little to no crippling outcomes, save for the “death” of his father. Without any pain or misfortune, there’s no conflict. We define the heights of our highs by the depths of our lows. Conquering issues and rectifying mistakes made in the past gives the self worth and dignity we hunger for as humans.
Truman has the odd feeling that his life isn’t necessarily his own. It can be seen that his character understands on some subconscious level that there is some inherent error throughout his world. If everything was just given to us and nothing were ever earned, what’s the point? Life without purpose is living in a vacuum. Thomas Jefferson once wrote that the inalienable rights of man are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How can Truman have access to these rights in a snow globe?
Adopted by a corporation as an unwanted pregnancy, Truman has, since birth, been filmed and broadcast to the world. His surrounding environment has been scripted and crafted for the sole purpose of entrapment and confusion. A completely unique saga of events from birth to an eventual escape from the set, The Truman Show is beloved by all the viewers in the reality of the film. On one hand, the show is entertaining and stunning. On the other, some view Truman’s being kept in the dark about the true nature of his world as an evil theft of his liberty. Many have gone to great lengths to try to save him, but he eventually stumbles upon the truth when his fictional utopia can no longer support its foundation built on lies.
Christof, the creator and overseer of all things Truman, fancies himself a god among men. He has created a completely unique world in which Truman was born, will live, and evetually die. The name Christof itself bears a striking resemblance to the name Christ, which is an obvious symbol. Christ is the human incarnation of the Christian Lord on Earth. There isn’t a higher level of respect and credibility than being the messiah. This position of power has gained Christof a great amount of credibility, which is obvious when looking at the fact that he is allowed to keep a man, unbeknownst to Truman, in an encapsulated existence from the rest of the world. The ethos presented in Christof’s involvement is the beginning of Truman’s adventure down the rabbit hole. Specifically, the audience in the movie have surrendered this divine ability on human control to Christof and deemed it acceptable only because his credibility is gained through the weaving of an excellent narrative unlike anything else. The ethos belongs to Christof, it is his character, allowing him to be the god. Truman is the veritable Adam/Eve in Eden. When searching for self-awareness and knowledge outside of the Garden, his behavior is condemned by his God. Without Christof’s undying credibility, he would not be allowed to play God.
Within the same scope of thinking, Truman has a limited amount of choices he can make. This brings to light the true definition of free will and as to whether there is a true definition to be heard. When given the choices only to walk left or walk right with the absence of the ability to stay put, is choosing one of two inevitable ends really a choice empowered by free will? The logos presented in the film rests with the true nature of Truman’s free will, or lack thereof. In a scripted world of thespians and set pieces, all with a certain purpose in mind, how can an individual exist with free will? Truman has decisions thrust upon him and they are driven into him by the guilt he possesses from the death of his father. When Truman confronts his mother with a desire to shake up the status quo, to get out of his snow globe, he is tamed with the simple reminder that he is responsible for his father’s death. What’s so elegant and beautiful about the sinister nature of it all is that it’s hidden within the context of a cleverly crafted conversation. A simple, “I never blamed you, Truman,” brings subconsciously to the mind, “Does someone else blame him? Perhaps he blames himself?” Just as quickly as he rose up, he was struck down. It’s a blend of logos, a simple order of rhetoric that inspires new thought, and pathos, the emotion it inspires in Truman that brings him down.
There are also moves against his free will, both subtle and bold. For example, when he is trying to plan a trip to Fiji, the travel agency is plastered with posters warning of tragic plane crashes. The propaganda is an effective way to inspire fear and drive his “free will” in a scripted direction. At the conclusion of the film, Truman meets his biggest challenge yet with an artificial storm standing between him and freedom. This is symbolism born into reality as a true physical monster. Christof stages his final power move to destroy what remaining will Truman has of self discovery. With Truman’s triumph, he finally throws off his oppressive shackles and discovers free will.
This passionate fight for purpose and self-awareness is a grand tribute to pathos. Every member of the movie’s audience celebrated like crazy because Truman had finally achieved what he had been yearning to do since self-awareness. There was an especially strong emotional connection between the audience and Truman after he finally makes his wish come true. All people search endlessly for the meaning of their life, and Truman personified that quest by escaping his glamorous prison bubble despite all challenges, both physical and psychological, put forth against him.
John F. Kennedy once said, “Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” Truman Burbank is one man who, despite everything, topples over his obstacles and comes out victorious. Every life has meaning, no matter how small or significant. Truman drew the short straw from birth because his life was deemed unworthy of its own making. Man makes his own destiny, and when there is a will there is a way. Truman made these comments come to life on screen when conquered his fears that led to his freedom. First, one must discover his purpose. Then, a course of action must be charted. Once these prerequisites are satisfied, the efforts put forth and backed by courage will lead him to whatever victory he seeks. As long as there is a yearning for freedom and purpose, as long as the heart cries out for the inalienable rights taken from it, there will always be those who are willing to fight. Without that amount of sacrifice and courage, the world’s people will never create a destiny for themselves.
The way The Truman Show presents itself is incredibly effective for the audience both in the movie and out. In the movie, the audience is made up of all types of members of mainstream society that all react relatively similarly. They feel the ups and downs that Truman experiences as if they were living it themselves. Truman’s victories (finding his freedom) and his pains (the death of his father, his inability to find his mysterious love) are relatable to both sections of audiences, both fictional and real. An audience is given a true emotional and critically engaging film where the ethos, logos, and pathos become very connectable areas to the audience.
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