The Truman Show Curriculum Guide Appendix:
“How's It Going to End?”: A Detailed Plot Summary of The Truman Show
By Laurel Clark
Truman Burbank is a mega-star, the main character in the longest running
television show ever produced. “The Truman Show” is a nonstop live broadcast that
generates revenues through product placement advertising, the semi-seamless appearance
of products within the show itself. In fact, the show has become its own product,
marketing Truman Bars, video collections of greatest hits, pillows, and, as the movie
viewers later learn, everything on the show. It is all for sale in catalogues worldwide and
yet Truman Burbank has not made a dime. Even more provocatively, he has no idea he is
being filmed. His emotions are real, but his world is not.


Truman Burbank is NICE. He is kind and generous to a fault—and the creators of
his life/show feel sure that this is because his world on Seahaven Island is how the world
should be. This is a dark judgment on America offered from within the film and an even
darker one on the excesses of “reality TV” from the perspective of one watching the film.
The social commentary does not stop there, however; by the end of this movie, many
questions are raised about the ethics and consequences of reality programming—both for
its stars and for its audiences.


Over 5,000 hidden cameras have been placed throughout Truman's daily routine
in the town of Seahaven, a charming seaside town on an island that is actually enclosed
within a giant dome. All day and all night he is filmed and broadcasted live on a channel
dedicated to his life, a fact that for the most part results in the film audience feeling as
though they are watching “The Truman Show” itself, rather than a film about a TV show.
When scenes of “Truman Show” viewers appear the film audience feels both empathy
and disgust for the adoring fans/voyeurs who watch enthralled from bars, bathtubs and
living rooms. Everyone from parking garage attendants to single moms is fascinated by
Truman's life. Many of them have watched Truman since before he was born, and some
even while he sleeps. Christof, the show's omnipotent creator, believes that it comforts
them.


The film opens on television broadcast day 10,909. Our affable hero Truman is
almost thirty years old and starting to feel like life is little stale. He tells his best friend
Marlon that he wants out, wants a change from his job, a trip off the island. Marlon
immediately tells him that he should be thankful for the great life he has. Meanwhile,
Marlon also plugs "his favorite" beer repeatedly. All his headshots are from the side, so
that the beer logo is always clearly visible to the TV (and film) audience even as he and
Truman hit golf balls off of a bridge to nowhere.


Truman is friendly to his neighbors (who stand out as nearly the only African
Americans in the entire film): each morning he greets them, "Good Morning! And in
case I don't see you, good afternoon, good evening and goodnight." He is kind to (though
secretly irritated with) his wife and mother. At work as an insurance salesman he appears
dedicated and trustworthy, although behind his desk he is "secretly" trying to create a
picture of his lost love, Lauren, from models in magazine ads. While the Truman he
presents to others is content, the audience (both on-screen and off!) sees him when he
believes that he is alone. The inside view (into his psyche?) is part of the show's draw,
and it becomes clear that he is unhappy and becoming more and more suspicious of those
around him.


In a flashback sequence, we learn that Lauren tried to tell him that he was being
filmed, but was quickly rounded up and removed before Truman grasped the full
meaning of her explanation. Her "father" appeared and explained that she was
schizophrenic and that their family was moving to Fiji. This incident explains Truman's
"mid-life crisis" desire to travel there. The other woman in Truman’s life, his wife
Meryl, is a peculiar vehicle for product placement and seems to be a combination of
fifties domesticity and girl next door although the film is clearly set in the present. In
fact, everything associated with Meryl is like this. The college flashback is not set in the
1980s or 1990s, when we might assume the Burbanks were in college together. Instead,
it appears that Truman and Meryl are dancing at an early 1960s sock hop. Meryl’s
nursing uniform is a throwback to earlier nurses with cute caps and pretty collars and her
clothing at home is typically June Cleaver-esque unless she is wearing lingerie. Truman's
"memories" as presented in such flashbacks are, of course, as manufactured as his
present. And yet the private Truman keeps a box of mementos—pictures of his Dad,
Lauren's sweater, and a map of Fiji—which seem to keep him grounded in an unexpected
way.


As he continuously ruminates about Lauren and her message, several slips in
production occur that add to Truman's growing paranoia. A set lighting device falls from
the sky dramatically landing feet away almost hitting Truman on the head. This is
immediately followed by a radio news broadcast warning that a plane has been dropping
its parts on Seahaven Island—suspicious because Truman recognized the object as a light
of some kind. Then Truman’s dead “father” reappears as a homeless vagrant (an odd
sight in Seahaven) and is violently captured and removed just as Truman recognizes him.
“Dad” supposedly fell overboard during a storm and drowned when Truman was young.
His father's death created Truman's insurmountable fear of water, which also serves as a
convenient way to keep Truman from ever trying to leave Seahaven. Truman also feels
guilty for cajoling his Dad to stay out at sea despite the impending storm. As he sits on
the beach remembering his Dad, a rainstorm starts and mysteriously only rains where
Truman is standing. It follows him from spot to spot before finally breaking open and
raining all over the Island. The next day the radio station in Truman's car becomes
scrambled and he hears the TV producers’ radio communications about his own
movements. He begins to realize that he is being followed and that the town is centered
on him, a theory he tests by stopping traffic. Next he enters a building that is not part of
his usual routine, and behind the elevator doors he gets a very provocative peek
backstage. He starts to misbehave in small ways, testing the town to see if they react
appropriately to a crazy man, which they do not.


Truman talks with Marlon about the strange things happening to him. Marlon
alludes to God, while mentioning how wonderful their hometown is. Then Truman tells
Marlon that he is going away for a while. That conversation is nearly immediately
followed by a session of reminiscing with Mom and Meryl about how great his/their life
in Seahaven has been. An increasingly suspicious Truman notices a fake-looking Mount
Rushmore as well as Meryl crossing her fingers in their wedding picture. Even his
favorite old movie, "Show Me the Way to Go Home," suspiciously appears on TV with
its sugary messages about home and friends. The next day he follows Meryl to work to
see if she is really a nurse; at the hospital he is blocked at every turn from viewing the
operating room.


Convinced that something is seriously wrong, Truman Burbank begins to
investigate his conspiracy theory further and he becomes increasingly angry and
sarcastic, especially with his wife and his best friend. He begins to notice the shameless
and weird product placements that Meryl manages to fit into their conversations. Unable
to escape by boat because of his fear of water, he visits the travel agency. Truman
manages to ignore the posters warning of the dangers of terrorists, diseases, wild animals,
street gangs, and plane crashes, but the travel agent informs him she cannot book him a
flight until the next month.


Determined to get out of town that day, Truman next gets on a bus for Chicago
but once he is aboard the driver breaks the transmission on purpose. As passengers
parade off we see a soldier and 2 nuns among the slice of America on the bus. Sitting in
his car in the driveway of his house, Truman notices that the people who pass his house
are on a continuous loop that never changes. Finally he tries to drive his car away,
threatening to take Meryl with him to Atlantic City or New Orleans. His path blocked by
instant traffic jams at every turn, he gets a little crazed. He eludes these traps and gets on
the road, only to stop at a bridge (over water). He shuts his eyes, puts his foot on the gas
and makes Meryl drive them across, bravely conquering his fears. Next they run into
fake forest fires and even a staged leak at Seahaven Nuclear Power station. At the road
block a cop Truman has never met knows his name, the last bit of evidence he needs to
be utterly convinced that something is very wrong. He makes a run for it, but is
"rescued" by men in white suits.


Back at home, Truman starts to get really angry (and somewhat violent) with
terrified Meryl, who breaks character and yells: "Do Something!!" Marlon shows up and
Meryl cries, "Oh Thank God! How can anyone expect me to carry on under these
conditions? Its unprofessional!"


“The Truman Show” is beginning to fall apart. In an attempt to undo the damage,
Christof writes the dead father back into the script, which is beginning to feel like a soap
opera. In an oh-so touching scene, Marlon brings back Truman's Dad as Christof feeds
him every line through an earpiece. The carefully produced reunion with his “father” is
high drama with the perfect TV shot of Truman crying. The film then cuts to Japanese
fans and misty-eyed little old ladies watching intently. The celebration in the production
room is interrupted by the film’s cut to Lauren, Truman's lost love, who calls in to harass
Christof during a congratulatory TV interview.


This interview with Christof two-thirds of the way through the movie provides the
film audience with the last few pieces of the puzzle. We learn that Truman was the very
first baby ever adopted by a corporation, a twist of fate due only to the fact the he was the
first one born of the possible six unwanted babies lined up for his "part". The enigmatic
creator of the Truman Show, Christof (i.e. Trumania’s god), believes that his creation is
not false in any way, but is simply a "controlled reality" which he gazes upon from the
"moon" in the dome. We also learn that several attempts have been made to blow the
show's cover by infiltrators (this includes Lauren and the “How will it end?” button that
she wore).


Truman begins "performing" when he suspects that he is looking into a camera,
pulling a not atypical funny spoof in the bathroom mirror but this time ending it with:
"That one's for free." Though acting as if all is back to normal, Truman is plotting.
Finally, Truman fools the production crew by setting up an elaborate scene, in which he
appears to fall asleep out of camera view. He disappears and, in desperation to locate
him, Christof cues the sunrise hours before it is due. When the production team
discovers him, Truman is sailing away. Ironically, they can't use the ferry to go after him
because there is not actually anyone who knows how to drive it, only actors. Christof
orders a slowly more violent storm at sea, a suspenseful sequence that makes for great
TV and nearly kills Truman. But Christof realizes that he cannot murder Truman on live
television. Truman triumphantly reaches the wall of the dome and—in a dramatic
standoff with Christof about reality and living—walks out of his "life" saying: "And in
case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight!" In the end, Truman
was performing not just for TV audiences but for his neighbors and friends, too (a
revelation about social expectations and living with which performance theorists would
heartily agree).


Truman disappears from “The Truman Show” on broadcast day 10913—five
television days or an hour and forty-two minutes of viewing time from The Truman
Show’s (the film’s) start.