This week, a friend of mine posted about watching the 1998 film The Truman Show, in which Jim Carrey plays the unwitting star of a 24/7 reality TV show that follows his every move. Slowly, Truman becomes aware that he’s living a simulated life, among actors, on a massive set controlled by producers. But until then, he has complete trust in his own (false) privacy.
I thought back to my one viewing of the movie, as a 13-year-old kid, when I was floored by the paranoia of the concept. And then, as a 37-year-old man, it struck me: If The Truman Show is partly a meditation on how we behave when we think nobody is watching us, why didn’t they address the matter of Truman jerking off? After all, he’s been raised in captivity since birth, and he surely discovered self-pleasure at some point. It must have been pretty awkward.
As you can see, I’m not the first to ask this question. The consensus seems to be that the show would treat such an episode as they did Truman having sex with his wife, Meryl: “They always turn the camera, and play music, and… you know, the wind blows in and the curtains move, and you don’t see anything,” as one viewer in the film complains. Yet rubbing one out alone hardly calls for the Hollywood atmospherics of “lovemaking.” Perhaps they’d have a faster, harder cut away from the action, to something like dead air or an ambient view. In the shooting draft of the script — which writer Andrew Niccol revised a dozen times — the show’s creator, Christof, says that there are no cameras in the bathrooms, so that you never see Truman on the toilet.
But! A lack of direct surveillance doesn’t imply disinterest on the producers’ part. An earlier version of the screenplay, tonally darker and closer to a sci-fi episode of The Twilight Zone, does address the wanking. After learning that Truman has failed to perform sexually with his wife the previous night, Christof asks another producer, “He didn’t masturbate?” She replies: “Not for the last two months.” This exchange was likely cut to keep the audience from getting hung up on a particularly invasive element of round-the-clock voyeurism. To me, however, it’s bracingly honest, which gives it a satirical bite. Why can’t we acknowledge that Truman whacks it?
Demanding recut movies is all the rage these days, and I suppose this campaign is one that falls to me. Paramount must alter The Truman Show so that it confronts masturbation head-on, in order to satisfy our gross curiosity. It’s a detail that immediately makes the story more plausible and, frankly, more like the reality TV we came to enjoy in the decades after.
Prescience and poignancy — isn’t that what we liked about this existential fable? Let’s not hide from delicate topics and leave fans to debate Truman canon on message boards. People are ready to know what happened when he beat his meat. Like the man himself, let us sail into the unknown with courage. Laugh, cry or gasp in shock, we are sure to be moved all over again.