One of my most emotional moments in cinematic history—the one that brings shivers down my spine and tears to my eyes—probably doesn’t even conjure up the slightest reaction in most people. I realize that poetry, songs, and movie scenes have far more to do with the season in life and the experiences that emotionally connect us with this poetry, songs, or scenes, over the quality of the art itself. For example, the song “I Wanna Kiss You All Over,” the piece of crap by Exile in 1978, is, objectively speaking, shit, on (then) vinyl. Yet whenever I hear this song it takes me back to one of my first kisses and I squeal with delight like a child whenever I hear it.
Such is the case with the movie The Truman Show—the story of a man, unknowingly living inside a large sound studio thinking that is his reality, only to eventually find out, through an arduous series of circumstances, he had been lied to his whole life and what he thought was real, never was—it was all in a phony and fake, albeit quite large and elaborate, movie set.
It is this moment, when Truman reaches out and touches the far outer wall after journeying across the “ocean” of the studio, when he has his epiphany of truth and looks of sadness, surprise, relief, happiness, and mystery all converge on his face at once.
I then weep. I can’t help it.
I am pretty consistent with my belief that whenever we have a strong emotional reaction to something it is time to look inward and ask why. Some inner force drives our guttural, emotional responses to things and, with a little honest, self-introspection we can usually identify the source.
I once heard a preacher man use Truman’s experience to exemplify how this world is a lie and we need to discover the truth of the wall; as if touching the wall is like finding Jesus. However, I can easily see how such an analogy could work the opposite way as well—as in Jesus has been duping your ass this whole time and now you found the truth as you waded through the Christian bullshit.
As I consider my emotional reaction, it had nothing to do with finding faith nor losing it. My reaction had far more to do with the victory found in constant seeking and self-discovery; perhaps touching on that universal archetype in all of us that scratches the itch of the constant craving of seeking, knowing, journeying to new levels of truth and knowledge. That humbling process that surrenders us to the mysteries of the universe, rendering us both significant and insignificant, as we simultaneously find and lose.
After Truman touches the wall and heaves a sigh, he begins punching at the wall, trying to tear it down as he is locked inside that reality: The quest of the human spirit.
This is when I weep the hardest.
That struggle in all of us to know the unknown, to break free from all that binds and restricts, to seek the truth. I realize my entire life is epitomized in that moment. I fight, I struggle, and I want to tear down all that keeps me from knowing and keeps me in a type of protected infancy. I yearn for constant discovery and growing clarity of life and the universe.
Truman then weeps realizing he had been living a lie. And the greatest lie we ever could believe? Thinking we know. Truth? We don’t know shit.
This was not the end of Truman’s journey; it was just the beginning. We can all start to really live life when we realize we don’t know shit.
I suppose if I was having an epiphany around the same time this movie came out it would be this: We really don’t know shit. That is a tough pill to swallow yet when you finally digest it, it is the most liberating position in life.
I frequently tell my classes that your education begins once you realize how much you DON’T know.
Was this scene great art? I don’t know enough about film making to tell you. What I do know is that it touched me as I was attempting to break down some walls of my own, on my own road of self-discovery and truth. And what have I found since I first viewed this movie?
I haven’t found shit…and I have never been happier.