Peter Weir's 1998 film "The Truman Show" is rightfully considered a class act in filmmaking and storytelling. It chronicles the plight of Truman Burbank, an optimistic but naive middle class man, who's life also happens to be a television show. Unbeknownst to Truman, the world around him has been fully constructed. Everything from the sun (an extremely bright spotlight) to the people in his life (paid actors) has been manufactured to bring entertainment to TV audiences, while also keeping our titular character oblivious to his situation.
A huge amount has been written about the film, which explores the notion of free will, the existence of a creator, American consumerism, and the rise of reality TV. What I want to touch upon specifically, though, is Truman Burbank's desire to see the world. As a serial backpacker and advocate of travel, I believe "The Truman Show" to be one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) pro-traveling movies of all time.
From a young age, Truman has dreams of being an explorer. He wants to discover new lands, sail the oceans, and see the world. His elementary school teacher tries to quash his desire by telling him there are no places on Earth left to discover. However, the passion sticks with Truman well into adulthood, even after he has gotten married and bought a house.
A main plot point in the movie revolves around Truman's desire to go to Fiji ("You can't get any further away before you start coming back."). He tries convincing his wife, Meryl, that they can save up some money and go abroad for a long time. She immediately shoots down his ideas as childish, emphasizing life goals such as paying off their mortgage and having children. Nothing Truman says or does can convince her otherwise.
Later, Truman decides to take matters into his own hands by booking a flight to Fiji. The travel agent's office contains a comically large poster of an airplane being struck by lightning, with a slogan reading "It Can Happen to You!" Even the subliminal messaging around him tells him not to follow his dream.
The satire of "The Truman Show" serves to point out what sorts of barriers and messages we use to keep order within a consumerist society. Truman has a great job, a beautiful house, a loving wife, and a seemingly perfect neighborhood. Yet there is something deep inside struggling to come out. He has always had passions and goals, but life found a way to get in the way. I think many people can relate to such frustrations: of moving toward socially expected goals, while neglecting who they really are and what they really want.
In the film, travel serves as the poignant wake up call to Truman. As he maniacally attempt to drive himself and Meryl to Atlantic City, she asks him why he wants to go there. He responds: "Because I never have! That's why people go places, isn't it?" Although his endeavor to break free is thwarted several minutes later, the attempt sparks a sea change in Truman's behaviors and attitudes. Now that he has attempted to break out of his bubble, he can sense the possibility within grasp.
Travel can be scary yet liberating, because it forces us outside the world we have carefully constructed. Too often, people push off their dreams due to fear and uncertainty about what will happen. Yes, there are cases where one has too many responsibilities to attempt such a thing, but the case of Truman Burbank is not one of them. There is a massive conspiracy at hand trying to stop him, but that is not enough to hold him back. I can promise that the same conspiracy is not working against you.
If you have that desire and the ability to pursue it, go travel the world!
Be like Truman.
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write music and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.