Boyhood vs. The Truman Show

Boyhood(2014) and The Truman Show(1998) have more in common than you’d think. For Boyhood, the appeal and popularity of Richard Linklater’s film, to a large part, goes to the length of time it took to film. Twelve years shooting the life of a boy growing up is a first in film-making. It was a daring idea. After all, though the story centered around the coming-of-age of Mason, the audience observed the aging process of the entire cast. That kind of commitment is remarkable. Stop-go-stop-go with a project and you risk fracturing cohesion and mood. Years rolling by alter a personality. Opinions change as anger and happiness come and go. We all feel the effects of time. Do you remember how you felt twelve years ago? Most likely what was important to you back then has altered, and your passions have waned or have grown into a new dimension. Writer/director Richard Linklater, then, took a true risk convincing a diverse cast to stay the course. I suspect the reason he succeeded was because he made the plane as he flew it.  Was this a reality film? Linklater set up a situation, threw in the characters, and filmed the reactions. I wonder if Linklater knew how he’d end his story when he began filming in 2002? I bet he had no idea, and this is what made his experiment unique.

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Directed by Peter Weir and written by Andrew Niccol, in The Truman Show, we are the audience who watches Truman being watched by another audience. In the format of a reality-show, unbeknownst to Truman a community contained under a dome agreed to play a role next to Truman for the rest of their lives. The soap opera became reality. Over time the television audience watches the cast age. The drama of life happens and Truman’s reactions become the story. A play-within-a-play adds complexity to a story; we watch the reactions of the film audience reacting to Truman. Who watches us?

Truman faces his maker and experiences an awakening. To me, it’s a better coming-of-age story than Boyhood. The Truman Show featured better cinematography and solid acting by the ensemble cast.

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With Boyhood, I found myself less engaged. It lacked a purpose so I felt bored, too, because the central character, Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, acted as well as Hayden Christensen did as Anakin Skywalker. The scene between gathered eighth graders and seniors drinking it up and talking trash was painful to watch. It was just plain bad acting. Thank goodness for the adults. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke acted just fine. Sad ending for them, no? They had their shot at life and arrived at the finish line disillusioned and emasculated.

What I did like about Boyhood was illustrating social history in America from  2002 to 2013. This is one of the first films which chronicles the first chunk of time of the 21st century. What fun to witness the evolution of technology in such a short time such as computers, phones, video games. Yes, to Harry Potter, the music, and the saga of Super Woman who did it all with no help from males. Add in the political climate between Bush and Obama; soldiers returning from Iraq; the rise and bust of the housing market, and the educational pressures for teenagers to get into college. How about our society’s obsession to text? Linklater created an interesting social timeline and threw in some satire for those in the present tense. Baby-boomers have no voice in this film.

Personally, I have seen The Truman Show a few times and find it far more entertaining. The philosophical questions posed about what is real, the religious imagery, and Truman’s coming-of-age is more interesting to me than Mason’s.

But that’s me. What about you?

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52 thoughts on “Boyhood vs. The Truman Show

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  1. I didn’t love Boyhood as much as everyone seemed to. The first half was great, but the second dragged. Didn’t like the ending either. The Truman Show was great. I’m trying to think of any other film that could be analysed in a similar fashion. Ed TV?

  2. I had a very opposite experience. I liked Truman but it never has been a movie that has stuck with me. Glad I saw it but it’s never one I feel the need to revisit.

    On the other hand Boyhood has had a huge effect on me. I was so hooked and for me the film definitely had purpose. I loved how it made me reflect on the effects of my decisions as a father. It also had me have a greater appreciation for what my children face. And then there is the realization that time flies by and every moment with our kids and family is precious. It genuinely effected me in so many ways.

    1. Hi Keith, I’m glad you could jump in and go along with the eyes of a father. Ethan Hawke started off as a pretty crappy father but grew into a reliable dad who was there for his kids. His role gave balance to the otherwise negative step-dads who were jerks. I could relate to Juliette’s character as single mom going back to school and trying to hold it all together. We shall have to disagree regarding the greatness of The Truman Show. I’m glad you defended Boyhood. Obviously, many many people agree with you. 🙂

      1. You’re so right about Juliette. Some have said she is the real emotional centerpiece of the film.

        In fairness maybe I do need to revisit Truman. I did enjoy it but it hasn’t stuck with me. Maybe a rewatch will open it up more to me.

        1. It’s easy to pan Jim Carrey as ridiculous, but he did do a few dark comedies that are worthy of watching. This is one. It’s rated PG which is remarkable and truly ask a lot of philosophical questions that had me thinking years later. Also, I appreciated the cinematography and the ensemble cast is all wonderful. Do try it again! 🙂

          1. Will do. And as a bit of confessional, I was one of those that bought into Jim Carrey’s idiotic brand of humor. I had a lot of fun with several of his movies.

          2. While we are confessing, I fell for The Mask and Pet Detective (the backward pink tutu mental hospital scene was brilliant. I even loved him in Batman as The Riddler.)

  3. Fascinating read Cindy. I hadn’t considered the links between the two before. I think The Truman Show is a magnificent film, and perhaps one that hasn’t quite been given its dues over the years. It can be interpreted in so many ways. Is it really about the process of filmmaking, with Ed Harris as director? Is it about God? Is it about Hollywood child stars growing up in the media spotlight? Is it about America and its relationship with the rest of the world? Maybe some or all of these things? (This is making me want to rewatch if ASAP!) It definitely tapped into the reality TV zeitgeist and I think without the ideas of reality TV it’s perhaps less likely that Linklater would have made Boyhood (but who knows for sure?!) Boyhood’s a movie I really loved. I think it’s about everything – about life – and that’s what makes it so special. As soon as I saw it I knew it’d be one of those films I’d want to watch over and over again. I don’t really have a problem with Ellar Coltrane’s acting – I thought he was pretty good throughout in all honesty and I was sold on the character – but I agree the scene you mention was one of the weaker moments.

    1. Howdy Stu–thank you so much for the comment! Truman Show is everything–dark comedy, satire, drama, coming-of-age, mind-bender, philosophical–and just love Ed Harris playing God with his creation. Boyhood does the same thing–encapsulate genres into an epic. I guess why it pales in comparison, for me, it suggests rather than play out any thing. For example, the drama. So you have these step-father jerks (a stereotype) who kind of abuse Mason but you never see enough to know how it affects Mason and Mason throughout the film is too stoic, too wooden. He doesn’t react at all to much of anything, good or bad that happens to him. Still, the film was a grand experiment that worked for many people.

  4. Excellent post Cindy. I would never have looked at these two in the same light but it can see the angle you’re coming from. It’s actually a really tough one to call for me. I really admired Boyhood’s achievements over the 12 years but it did come across as dull at times. Truman is a solid film overall, though. In terms of entertainment I’d choose Truman but in terms of filmmaking achievements it’d be Boyhood. I’m afraid I’ll have to sit on the fence a little. 😉

    1. Hi Mark. You sit there as along as you like 😉
      With Boyhood I found myself distracted and looking at the cast counting the wrinkles surfacing and the voice changing and growth spurt of Mason. In the in he whined too much and I just couldn’t stop thinking about Hayden Christensen’s whining as Anakan Skywalker. For me, when you compare the two stories, The Truman show wins.

  5. I haven’t seen Boyhood yet but I LOVE The Truman Show. I agree the acting & cinematography of Truman Show are superb, I miss Ed Harris, he’s so good in this film despite being the *villain* of the story. I really hope I’d like Boyhood as some people have said it’s boring and honestly, the idea of seeing a boy growing up on screen for 3 hrs long doesn’t really appeal to me.

      1. I don’t mind long movies, but the premise of this one sounds like it could be a drag. Well I’ll check it out eventually, simply out of curiosity.

        Btw, I just did a guest post of a film I think you might like. It stars Jeremy Irons 😉

  6. This is a very interesting analysis + Compare and Contrast, of two, somewhat, films of Realism. I doubt Linklater could have even envisioned the finalé of BOYHOOD. I’ll agree that acting wise, there was nothing exceptional about Ellar Coltrane, other than the fact the kid grows up in front of us. True, the adults were great, especially Patricia Arquette. I love this movie, and watched with great difficulty, up in the air (in Flight). And I like the fact it chronicles the early 21st century, as it happens.
    Of course the fact you’ve mentioned THE TRUMAN SHOW being a better movie, I can neither agree nor disagree, for I haven’t seen the Jim Carey movie. But I’d love to, even more now.
    But for the time being Linklater has brought out a very unique movie, which he made, as it happened. BOYHOOD deserves credit for being an exceptional movie in that sense, and the best I’ve seen from last years releases, so far.

  7. I loved the Truman Show, and agree, it really encapsulated a great deal of talent, craft and storytelling. I’ve not seen Boyhood, specifically because I’ve personally heard too many disappointing reviews. I’m sure I’ll watch it at some point, and I do admire the massive commitment to the project everyone contributed, and the gamble taken with the film, I’m just not motivated to rush out and view it yet. I do think it deserves to be seen though. I enjoy when film breaks new boundaries.
    Cheers, Cindy

  8. I really enjoy your compare and contrast posts and on this one I’d have to say that The Truman Show stands as superior to Boyhood in almost every.
    This is less an insult to Boyhood than a compliment to The Truman Show. Peter Weir’s film was amazingly prescient about reality TV, but it may be even more relevant nowadays, in that it plays on our culture’s desire to document every moment of our lives on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. There’s a bizarre fascination with recording the minutiae of daily life that pervades our culture at the moment, and The Truman Show taps into that in a fascinating way.

    1. Thanks, Paul 🙂 I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m quite nervous about our addiction with computers and virtual realities. I know blogging is an off-shoot to our virtual identity.

  9. While I see what you are saying (and it is interesting to think about), I am not sure it is fair to judge them against one another. Each filmmaker had drastically different goals, and I feel that both of them accomplished theirs admirably. I am distracted by Jim Carrey’s performance (I do not like him) in “The Truman Show,” but this isn’t Peter Weir’s fault. (Oddly, I adore “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and I am not distracted by Carrey in that film.]

    At the end of the day; a film is successful when it achieves the filmmaker’s goal. Whether or not a viewer can appreciate it or not is another story. For pure entertainment, I would recommend “The Truman Show” over “Boyhood” though.

    1. Hi! Glad you added your two cents. Yes, the two had different goals, but what was similar for me was the role the audience played in the two films. I felt that Boyhood was a reality film and I felt as an audience, we watched Mason grow up knowing the premise before we walked into the movie theater. Therefore, there’s a distraction (for me) that occurred. I found myself more in tune with the changes before my eyes (the aging, the years rolling by) than a story unfolding. It’s that similar aspect between the two films which had me pitting one to the other.

  10. OMG! The Mason/Skywalker comparison is incredible! I really loved The Truman Show…and I really hated Boyhood, so we’re on the same wavelength here.

  11. That IS fascinating, how the director pulled off Boyhood, managed to keep his crew intact all those years. Yes, so much has happened in our history in those ten years. As greatly as I dislike J Carrey, I thought the Truman Show was profound and rich. Would be interesting to see how I process it in a second viewing.

  12. Congrats!! Cindy. This post has brought out a really interesting debate. I enjoyed reading all the comments. Pre and post my own comment above.
    I love ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ too, besides not being a great fan of Carrey myself. But am keen on checking out ‘The Truman Show’ as well.
    So far Boyhood is grrrrrreeeeeatt 🙂 .

  13. I started out with you on your comparison but then your harshness on Boyhood is totally over the top. Comparing Ellar to Hayden is absurd. I dont know how you can write that with a straight face. It lowered my opinion of your whole argument by being so extreme.
    I love both but Boyhood had a much more bold impact on my life, made me really think about the smaller moments that mean a lot. Truman Show was about the bigger concepts of God, agency, mortality. So in the end disagree with your thesis but thanks for sharing

    1. Hi there, and thanks for your comments, even if we disagree. My intent was to show how the two films are similar by focusing on the role the audience played with both films. That’s what struck me about the two; the audience had a role and that uniqueness had me connecting the dots. I certainly don’t hate Boyhood, but the lack of a plot compared to Truman Show gave me reason to prefer the entertainment value of Truman Show more. With regards to Ellar, I’m glad he moved you but I didn’t think his acting was very good and still think, straight face and all, other than watching him physically change, his performance as an actor was sub-par. We agree to disagree, and I’m happy you stopped by to provide your opinion. 🙂

      1. Thanks for your response. It seems like most movies require the audience to have a role? What I compare Boyhood too is Hoop Dreams. Both movies are about life and the moments that make up a life. I think that is a great plot. Another thing I’d compare it to is the Up series which also are about life. It’s like the old quote “cinema is too rich a medium to be left to the storytellers”. Some movies tell stories, some are art, some inspire and others help you think about your life. Some are philosophic allegories like Truman Show.

        I don’t mind if you didnt care for Ellar. Just seemed like comparing him to Hayden, one of the worst ever, was harsh. I thought he did a good job. The only part which didnt work as well for me was the high school romance felt a little too mature, more like college.

        I get what you are saying and thanks for writing it. It’s just frustrating because I feel like so many missed what makes Boyhood special. It’s a film about life and not an entertainment. Oh well.

  14. Hi again. You bring up fine points–many critics and moviegoers around the world thought the world of Boyhood. The message of it, the beauty is similar to writing, I think. There are character-driven novels and plot-driven novels. I tend to enjoy (well, I like both together) plot driven stories. Boyhood is character-driven. And the moments that make up a life. I just think those moments were underdeveloped. Just skimmed and then moved along to the next moment but I never knew how the moment affected Mason. I didn’t know what Mason learned or how he resolved the conflict at hand. I never knew how he felt about much until the ending when he was off to college.

  15. The Truman show is one of the best films I’ve seen, It’s postmodern, yet unique. It’s a beautiful screenplay, incredibly acted and only enhanced by a phenomenonal Philip Glass score. I always find my self comparing The Truman show and Network though, and even more recently Nightcrawler

    1. Hi Joe! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. The Truman Show was ahead of its time, or prophetic. It sure stands test of time and in spite of the apparent silliness of it, it’s dark and deep. Cheers for mentioning the Philip Glass score. I listen to him as an artist a lot–I love his piano work. What a cool idea to compare it to Network! I have been stalling watching Nightcrawler, I know, I know, stupid of me. Now I will and think about the Truman Show. 🙂

      1. Although he recycles many of his old songs from mishima and and Reggios Quatsi trilogy, some of the original pieces such as Truman Sleeps and Father Kolbes preaching are beautiful. Yeh I definitely see similarlys between Ed Harris and Faye Dunaways character, also I see parallels between the spectators who take pleasure through their tv screens, perhaps I am stretching too far with Nightcrawler though.

  16. Cindy, this is a very interesting discussion. I’ve watched both films but for the life of me I don’t understand how all your commentators remember so much about each film. Boyhood was interesting and the idea novel, but everything else so forgettable that I have no other recollections. The Truman Show was brilliant. It was the first time that I saw a film and was consciously aware that I was seeing something completely original, with no precedent.

  17. Wow, really interesting read! I haven’t seen the Truman show in a loooong time, and Boyhood didn’t wow me as much as it did some others. I think I’ll have to watch the Truman Show again! Even now it seems like a really cool plot

    1. Hello Jordan! It really stands the test of time. The religious imagery and philosophical questions like “What is real?” give it complexity which I admire. It’s also a dark comedy and the cast is wonderful. Hope you see it again soon. Thanks for commenting 🙂

      1. You have definetely stired my interest into seeing it again. 2004… I must have been a teenager when this film was released. I’ll see an entirely different film second time around!!

        Definetely gonna rewatch it, again, great post. Glad I found your site! I found it via Tom’s DSB community post 🙂

        1. Welcome aboard! I will go check out your blog, too. Thanks to Tom 🙂 There’s so many films when I was dazed and confused and too naive to appreciate films. Now when I re-watch them 10,15, 20 years later, I have a fresh set of eyes and greater perspective.

          1. Yep. Exactly! That is what I love about film. Five years ago, Requiem For A Dream did nothing for me at all.
            Now?
            Its almost like a horror film! As one’s personality changes, so does their perspective of most movies. IMO anyways 😉

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