Truman Burbank, Neo Anderson and Rene Descartes

How does The Truman Show relate to our existence? JayBonci asked if we could be like Truman? Could it be that our world is not as we perceive it? Another movie that asks the same question is The Matrix. In The Matrix, Neo is confronted with the fact that his everything around him is just one computer-generated world.

In these movies, one fact is constant; despite the deceit and false perception of reality of the central character, their individuality stood out. Stripped away of all the facts, their individuality still was intact. Truman still was Truman at the end. Neo (although he learned how to fly) was basically still Neo. Christof even mentions this in The Truman Show, “While the world he inhabits is in some respect, counterfeit. There is nothing fake about Truman himself…” One particular fact that kind of stood out to me in The Matrix is that even Neo does not even use his real name (Thomas Anderson) and prefers to live under one he has made himself (Neo). Despite this, he was still Thomas Anderson.

This concept of perceived reality is the basis of Rene Descartes famous line. Descartes started doubting all the facts of his existence (i.e. his shirt is not blue, his house is not on a hill, etc. etc.). Just like Truman and Neo where everything that mattered as well as their plane of existence was not real, Descartes one by one stripped away all facts of his being. One thing that he cannot doubt or erase was the fact that he was still thinking. And since he cannot doubt this fact (or even stop it), he is aware of his individuality. We exist despite the reality/unreality around us. I think, therefore I am.

Truman Burbank and Thomas Anderson showed us that repressing or removing one’s world of existence will not repress or even remove his or her own individuality. That feel good feeling that I get from these movies is not because Truman “escaped” or that Neo is in control of the matrix, I feel good because I know that despite how bad or unreal a situation may get, I can survive it because I am who I am. And that no one can take that away from me.

I hate to quibble, but Descartes did not say anything about our idividuality or our concepts of ourselves at the level of his argument Jobert refers to. All Descartes claims to know is that he has a self, that there is some being in the universe whom he is. He knows this because he is thinking and perceiving, and to perceive himself thinking and perceiving, he must exist.

Another element Neo, Truman, and Descartes share in their stories is that of the Evil Genius. In Descartes' argument, God is not a deceiver, but in The Matrix and The Truman Show, the respective supreme forces are very pointedly deceiving Neo and Truman. Without the "God is not a deceiver" postulate, all Descartes knows is that he is. He doesn't know his history, his gender, what he looks like, his species, his age. Nothing. Only that somewhere in the universe, something is aware, and that he is that something.

Maybe when Neo took the blue pill, he was merely accessing another part of the Matrix, a special hidden level for people whose minds had become restless. We aren't necessarily who we are. We just are.

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