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Flashback!: The Climactic Scene of The Truman Show

August 21st, 2008 · 6 Comments

To this day, I can’t believe that The Truman Show didn’t get a 1998 Best Picture nomination. I mean, really. Elizabeth is good, but it is not a better movie. It certainly doesn’t feature one of the most powerful scenes in recent movie history. And The Truman Show does.

But if you haven’t seen the movie–or haven’t seen it in several years–you may want to check it out before you mosey past the jump.

The scene I’m talking about is essentially the end of the film: In almost complete silence, the long, pointed prow of Truman’s boat slides into view, rocking gently on fake-ocean waves. We can see it’s about to pierce the “sky,” which is actually just blue patches and white clouds painted onto canvas. And then, sure enough, the boat tears a hole in the world.

That’s the most important moment in the movie. It’s the moment Truman pushes through the false barriers that have limited his life. Before he goes, he even has a chat with Kristof, who speaks to him over a massive loudspeaker. Essentially, Truman talks to his god–the creator of his limited reality–then chooses to leave him behind. He walks up a flight of cloud stairs and steps into a completely black doorway. We can’t see anything on the the other side. Neither can he. But he leaves. He leaves.

One remarkable thing about this scene is its continuing silence. Other than voices and the faint lapping of water, there’s almost no sound. For a movie that has spent ninety minutes assaulting us with the noise of fake reality–commercial jingles, whirring cameras, a blaring soundtrack–this is an incredible expression of peace.

The scene stages a rite of passage that many of us have experienced: The moment when we break loose from an old way of thinking.

In our own lives, when we stop believing a powerful lie, we hurl ourselves into a type of void. We see that the world we’ve been living in isn’t so big, but we don’t know what new world will replace it. Still, we step into an unknown realm of new options, and if we’re lucky, we feel liberated.

I liken this scene in The Truman Show to my own realization in college that I didn’t have to stay in my improv comedy group. That sounds silly now, but I let that group define me. I thought it held everything that made me valuable–my friends, my sense of humor, my notoriety on campus–and so I let it shape my world. At the end of my sophomore year, I wasn’t enjoying myself anymore, but I thought I was powerless to do anything about it. If the improv group made me unhappy, then I was just going to be unhappy… because there was no life without the group.

Until I realized that the improv group wasn’t so big. I could tear a hole in the side of it. I  I could figure out who I was without it.

I’ve had other moments like that–moments when I’ve realized that things don’t have to stay the same. And every time I remember I have the power to create change, I feel quiet relief.

The end of The Truman Show captures my experience completely. I think about it every time I feel empowered to make a huge adjustment in my life.

Tags: Flashback! · Movies

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lisa // Aug 21, 2008 at 9:35 am

    This is so true. Even reading this (at the office, don’t tell!) with a thousand things going on, reading about that moment in the movie took me back to how I felt watching it. It DOES make you examine your own life. And that is great when you go into watching a movie without expecting anything other than some laughs.
    Great post!

  • 2 Darion // Aug 28, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    That last scene is also very breathtaking. For one brief, indescribable, excruciating moment, Truman finds himself overcome with emotion as he not only realizes that his world, his life was all predefined and that he knew it wasn’t real. It wasn’t the fact that he suddenly came upon this realization. When the fake sun’s light radiated towards Truman and he was told that he was on a TV show that gave hope to the world. It wasn’t a moment of revelation for him, it was that final, “Ah hah!! I knew it!!” moment. Sometimes life is the same for us all.

  • 3 cko // Aug 30, 2008 at 12:20 am

    Hi, Mark! Beautiful piece on an absolutely amazing scene. When I first saw the film, I was in tears by this point. Oddly, most of the audience laughed when the boat ran into the “sky.”

    My (now ex) boyfriend and I went three days in a row to see the film. I saw it the other day on cable, and it still holds the same magic.

    Really love your writing. I first found you because of your articles on Reaper, which still stand out as among the best I’ve read. And, as part of a small but passionate fanbase, I’ve read a lot. I’m linking those at a board we set up, Reaper DMV; hope that’s ok! If you want to see, it’s at the site above. Let us know if you visit!

  • 4 Melle // Jan 16, 2009 at 3:10 am

    Hey Mark, wow – I came across your site looking for this image, and can’t believe you, and so many other people, got the movie. I’m in Australia and I can’t recall anybody agreeing with me about its meaning. Unless I’ve forgotten one or two people agreeing, everyone I’ve ever spoken to about it thought it was about celebrities being watched all the time. Maybe this is why CKO found the audience laughing when the boat hit the sky – they simply didn’t get what it was all about. A shame – a very powerful movie (one of my faves), and lost on almost everybody (and probably those that need it most!)

  • 5 Mark Blankenship // Jan 16, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Thanks, Melle. I wish The Truman Show had been more appreciated come Oscar season, but I feel like in general people had a people thorough experience of it. (Or at least the critics I remember reading did.)

    I’m glad the movie touched you, and I’m glad you found this site!

  • 6 Thereisnospoon // Feb 5, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    That was an amazing scene that still plays vividly in my head. It made me think about my own life and what walls of illusion there may be for me to find and break through. I did also notice that I was not amongst those who laughed when Truman’s sailboat pierced his world. That was a very powerful scene indeed. Since then I have come to realize that so much of what we see around us is an illusion. We are “tied down” by our careers, our mortgage and our car loans. Like Truman we were born into this illusion that tells us that this is the way things should be and that you are very small and that there is nothing you can do about it. Kristof, “the creator… of a television program that brings joy to millions of people all over the world” sums up the human condition when he says: “We accept the reality with which we are presented” I did not know that this scene had the same effect on others as it did on me. Thanks for your poignant review.

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