The Truman Show

The Truman Show

Film poster. On the side of the building is a large screen, showing a man laying his head on a pillow, eyes closed and smiling. Digital text above and below the screen state "LIVE" and "DAY 10,909", with the film's title right below it. Text at the top of the image includes the sole starring credit and text at the bottom includes the film's tagline and credits.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Peter Weir
Produced by
Written by Andrew Niccol
Music by Philip Glass
Cinematography Peter Biziou
Edited by
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • June 1, 1998 (1998-06-01) (Los Angeles)
  • June 5, 1998 (1998-06-05) (United States)
Running time
103 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $60 million[2]
Box office $264.1 million[3]

The Truman Show is a 1998 American satirical comedy-drama film directed by Peter Weir, produced by Scott Rudin, Andrew Niccol, Edward S. Feldman, and Adam Schroeder, and written by Niccol.

The film stars Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, an unwanted baby raised by a corporation inside a simulated television show revolving around his life, until he discovers it and decides to escape; additional roles are provided by Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone, Holland Taylor, and Ed Harris.

The Truman Show was originally a spec script by Niccol, inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone called "Special Service".[4] Unlike the finished product, it was more of a science-fiction thriller, with the story set in New York City. Scott Rudin purchased the script, and set up production at Paramount Pictures. Brian De Palma was to direct before Weir signed as director, making the film for $60 million—$20 million less than the original estimate. Niccol rewrote the script while the crew was waiting for Carrey to sign. The majority of filming took place at Seaside, Florida, a master-planned community located in the Florida Panhandle.

The film was a financial success and debuted to critical acclaim, and earned numerous nominations at the 71st Academy Awards, 56th Golden Globe Awards, 52nd British Academy Film Awards and The Saturn Awards. The Truman Show has been analyzed as a thesis on Christianity, metaphilosophy, simulated reality, existentialism and reality television.


As told through interviews and footage through the film, Truman Burbank is the unsuspecting star of The Truman Show, a reality television program which is broadcast live around the clock and across the globe. His entire life has taken place within a giant arcological dome in Hollywood, fashioned to create the seaside town of Seahaven, Florida, and equipped with thousands of cameras to monitor all aspects of Truman's life. All of Seahaven's residents are actors. Creator and executive producer Christof wants to capture Truman's real emotion and human behavior.

The producers have discouraged Truman from wanting to travel beyond Seahaven by instilling him with aquaphobia through the "death" of his TV father in a boating accident, and by constantly broadcasting and printing messages of the dangers of travelling. Despite Christof's control, Truman manages to act in unexpected ways. During his college years, Truman was set to fall in love and marry co-student Meryl, but fell in love with another actress, Sylvia. Sylvia managed to bring Truman out of the sight of cameras long enough to warn him that his reality is fake before she was taken away and off-set, with her "father" claiming they are traveling to Fiji. While Truman went on to marry Meryl, he continues to fantasize about Sylvia, using scraps from magazines to recreate her face in secret, and seeks travel to Fiji. Outside of the show, Sylvia has become part of a "Free Truman" campaign that demands the end of the show.

The film begins during the thirtieth year of the show. During the day, Truman notices strange occurrences that all seem centered on him (a falling spotlight, rain that only falls on him). Truman spots a disheveled man and recognizes him as his father, who had snuck back into the set, but the actors quickly drag the man away. Despite efforts by Meryl and Truman's best friend Marlon to reassure Truman, Truman becomes even more suspicious about his life. One day, he takes Meryl by surprise by going on an impromptu road trip, but their way is blocked by apparent emergencies created by Christof. Meryl begins to break down from the stress, and during an argument with Truman, breaks character and is later taken off the show. Truman, depressed and confused, is consoled by Marlon, and Christof uses the opportunity to re-introduce Truman's father to the show proper, hoping to bring Truman back to some emotional stability.

Truman seems to recover, but the next day, the producers find Truman sleeping in his basement. Marlon is sent to check on Truman, only to find he has disappeared through a makeshift tunnel. Marlon breaks character, and Christof orders the first transmission cut of the show's history while a city-wide search for Truman is launched. Audiences around the world are drawn to this sudden change. Truman is found sailing out of Seahaven, having conquered his fear of water, and Christof resumes the broadcast as he sends a man-made lightning storm to try to capsize the boat. Network executives fear that Truman may die on live television, but Truman manages to persist. Realizing he cannot dissuade Truman any further, Christof ends the storm.

Truman continues to sail until his boat punctures the wall of the dome, to his surprise, and finds an exit door. Christof, speaking directly to Truman through a speaker system, tries to convince him to stay by stating that there is "no more truth" out in the real world and that by staying in his artificial world, he would have nothing to fear. Truman considers this, then states: "In case I don't see you... good afternoon, good evening, and good night," previously his unwitting catch-phase, takes a bow, and leaves. Sylvia races to go meet Truman while audiences celebrate. Christof's supervisors end the show for the last time, much to Christof's dismay, as audiences now start looking for something else to watch.



Andrew Niccol completed a one-page film treatment titled The Malcolm Show in May 1991.[11] The original draft was more in tone of a science fiction thriller, with the story set in New York City.[9] Niccol stated, "I think everyone questions the authenticity of their lives at certain points. It's like when kids ask if they're adopted."[12] In the fall of 1993,[13] producer Scott Rudin purchased the script for slightly over $1 million.[14] Paramount Pictures instantly agreed to distribute. Part of the deal called for Niccol to have his directing debut, though Paramount felt the estimated $80 million budget would be too high for him.[15] In addition, Paramount wanted to go with an A-list director, paying Niccol extra money "to step aside". Brian De Palma was under negotiations to direct before he left United Talent Agency in March 1994.[13] Directors who were considered after De Palma's departure included Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Barry Sonnenfeld and Steven Spielberg before Peter Weir signed on in early 1995,[5] following a recommendation of Niccol.[12] Bryan Singer wanted to direct but Paramount decided to go with the more experienced Weir.[16]

Paramount was cautious about The Truman Show which they dubbed "the most expensive art film ever made" because of its $60 million budget. They wanted the film to be funnier and less dramatic.[5] Weir also shared this vision, feeling that Niccol's script was too dark, and declaring "where he [Niccol] had it depressing, I could make it light. It could convince audiences they could watch a show in this scope 24/7." Niccol wrote sixteen drafts of the script before Weir considered the script ready for filming. Later on in 1995, Jim Carrey signed to star,[9] but because of commitments with The Cable Guy and Liar Liar, he would not be ready to start filming for at least another year.[5] Weir felt Carrey was perfect for the role and opted to wait for another year rather than recast the role.[9] Niccol rewrote the script twelve times,[5] while Weir created a fictionalized book about the show's history. He envisioned backstories for the characters and encouraged actors to do the same.[9]

Weir scouted locations in Eastern Florida but was unsatisfied with the landscapes. Sound stages at Universal Studios were reserved for the story's setting of Seahaven before Weir's wife introduced him to Seaside, Florida, a "master-planned community" located in the Florida Panhandle. Pre-production offices were immediately opened in Seaside, where the majority of filming took place. Other scenes were shot at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, California.[8] Norman Rockwell paintings and 1960s postcards were used as inspiration for the film's design.[17][18] Weir, Peter Biziou and Dennis Gassner researched surveillance techniques for certain shots.[17]

The overall look was influenced by television images, particularly commercials: Many shots have characters leaning into the lens with their eyeballs wide open, and the interior scenes are heavily lit, because Weir wanted to remind viewers that "in this world, everything was for sale".[17] Those involved in visual effects work found the film somewhat difficult to make, because 1997 was the year many visual effects companies were trying to convert to computer-generated imagery.[18] CGI was used to create the upper halves of some of the larger buildings in the film's downtown set. Craig Barron, one of the effects supervisors, said that these digital models did not have to look as detailed and weathered as they normally would in a film because of the artificial look of the entire town, although they did imitate slight blemishes found in the physical buildings.[19]



Religious analogy

Benson Y. Parkinson of the Association for Mormon Letters noted that Christof represented Jesus as an "off-Christ" ("Christ-off") or Antichrist, comparing the megalomaniacal Hollywood producer to Lucifer.[20] The conversation between Truman and Marlon at the bridge can be compared to one between Moses and God in the Book of Exodus.[21]

In C.S. Lewis and Narnia for Dummies by Rich Wagner, Christof is compared with Screwtape, the eponymous character of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.[22]


"This was a dangerous film to make because it couldn't happen. How ironic."

Director Peter Weir on The Truman Show predicting the rise of reality television[8]

In 2008, Popular Mechanics named The Truman Show as one of the 10 most prophetic science fiction films. Journalist Erik Sofge argued that the story reflects the falseness of reality television. "Truman simply lives, and the show's popularity is its straightforward voyeurism. And, like Big Brother, Survivor, and every other reality show on the air, none of his environment is actually real." He deemed it an eerie coincidence that Big Brother made its debut a year after the film's release, and he also compared the film to the 2003 program The Joe Schmo Show: "Unlike Truman, Matt Gould could see the cameras, but all of the other contestants were paid actors, playing the part of various reality-show stereotypes. While Matt eventually got all of the prizes in the rigged contest, the show's central running joke was in the same existential ballpark as The Truman Show."[23] Weir declared, "There has always been this question: Is the audience getting dumber? Or are we filmmakers patronizing them? Is this what they want? Or is this what we're giving them? But the public went to my film in large numbers. And that has to be encouraging."[12]

Ronald Bishop's paper in the Journal of Communication Enquiry suggests The Truman Show showcased the power of the media. Truman's life inspires audiences around the world, meaning their lives are controlled by his. Bishop commented, "In the end, the power of the media is affirmed rather than challenged. In the spirit of Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony, these films and television programs co-opt our enchantment (and disenchantment) with the media and sell it back to us."[24]

Simone Knox, in her essay "Reading The Truman Show inside out" argues that the film itself tries to blur the objective perspective and the show-within-the-film. Knox also draws a floor plan of the camera angles of the first scene.[25]

Psychological and psychoanalytic interpretation

An essay published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis analyzed Truman as

[A] prototypical adolescent at the beginning of the movie. He feels trapped into a familial and social world to which he tries to conform while being unable to entirely identify with it, believing that he has no other choice (other than through the fantasy of fleeing to a far-way island). Eventually, Truman gains sufficient awareness of his condition to "leave home"—developing a more mature and authentic identity as a man, leaving his child-self behind and becoming a True-man.[26]


Parallels can be drawn from Thomas More's 1516 book Utopia, in which More describes an island with only one entrance and only one exit. Only those who belonged to this island knew how to navigate their way through the treacherous openings safely and unharmed. This situation is similar to The Truman Show because there are limited entryways into the world that Truman knows. Truman does not belong to this utopia into which he has been implanted, and childhood trauma rendered him frightened of the prospect of ever leaving this small community. Utopian models of the past tended to be full of like-minded individuals who shared much in common, comparable to More's Utopia and real-life groups such as the Shakers and the Oneida Community.[27] It is clear that the people in Truman's world are like-minded in their common effort to keep him oblivious to reality. The suburban "picket fence" appearance of the show's set is reminiscent of the "American Dream" of the 1950s. The "American Dream" concept in Truman's world serves as an attempt to keep him happy and ignorant.[27]


The film's theatrical release date was originally set for August 8, 1997, but Paramount Pictures pushed it back to the subsequent summer.[28] NBC purchased broadcast rights in December 1997, roughly eight months before the film's release.[29] In March 2000, Turner Broadcasting System purchased the rights and now often airs the film on TBS.[30]


The Truman Show received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 94%, based on 125 reviews, with an average rating of 8.4/10, with the site's critical consensus reading, "A funny, tender, and thought-provoking film, The Truman Show is all the more noteworthy for its remarkably prescient vision of runaway celebrity culture and a nation with an insatiable thirst for the private details of ordinary lives."[31] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 90 out of 100, based on 30 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[32]

Giving the film a perfect four star score, Roger Ebert compared it to Forrest Gump, claiming that the film had a right balance of comedy and drama. He was also impressed with Jim Carrey's dramatic performance.[33] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The Truman Show is emotionally involving without losing the ability to raise sharp satiric questions as well as get numerous laughs. The rare film that is disturbing despite working beautifully within standard industry norms."[34] He would name it the best movie of 1998.[35] In June 2010, Entertainment Weekly named Truman one of the 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years.[36]

James Berardinelli liked the film's approach of "not being the casual summer blockbuster with special effects", and he likened Carrey's "[charismatic], understated and effective" performance to those of Tom Hanks and James Stewart.[37] Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader wrote, "Undeniably provocative and reasonably entertaining, The Truman Show is one of those high-concept movies whose concept is both clever and dumb."[38] Tom Meek of Film Threat said the film was not funny enough but still found "something rewarding in its quirky demeanor".[39]


At the 71st Academy Awards, The Truman Show was nominated for three awards but did not win in any category. Peter Weir received the nomination for Best Director, while Ed Harris was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Andrew Niccol was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.[40] Many believed Carrey would be nominated for Best Actor, as well as the film itself for Best Picture, but both were not.[5] In addition, The Truman Show earned nominations at the Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Weir for Best Director – Motion Picture and Niccol for (Screenplay).[41] Jim Carrey and Ed Harris both won Golden Globes as Best Actor – Drama and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, as did Burkhard Dallwitz and Philip Glass for Best Original Score.

At the 52nd British Academy Film Awards, Weir (Direction), Niccol (Original Screenplay) and Dennis Gassner (Production Design) received awards. In addition, the film was nominated for Best Film and Best Visual Effects. Harris was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and Peter Biziou was nominated for Best Cinematography.[42] The Truman Show was a success at The Saturn Awards, where it won the Best Fantasy Film and the Best Writing (Niccol). Carrey (Best Actor), Harris (Best Supporting Actor) and Weir (Direction) also received nominations.[43] Finally, the film won speculative fiction's Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.[44]

Award Category Subject Result
ASCAP Film and Television Awards Top Box Office Film Burkhard Dallwitz Won
Top Box Office Films Philip Glass Won
71st Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Ed Harris Nominated
Best Director Peter Weir Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Andrew Niccol Nominated
American Comedy Awards Funniest Actor Jim Carrey Nominated
Australasian Performing Right Association Best Film Score Burkhard Dallwitz Nominated
Australian Film Institute Best Foreign Film Peter Weir Nominated
Blockbuster Entertainment Awards Best Supporting Actor – Drama Ed Harris Won
Best Actor – Drama Jim Carrey Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Drama Laura Linney Nominated
Bogey Awards Bogey Award Won
52nd British Academy Film Awards Best Production Dennis Gassner Won
Best Screenplay Andrew Niccol Won
David Lean Award for Direction Peter Weir Won
Best Cinematography Peter Biziou Nominated
Best Film Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Ed Harris Nominated
Best Special Effects Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers Best Cinematography Peter Biziou Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Best Film Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Score Burkhard Dallwitz Won
Best Actor Jim Carrey Nominated
Best Director Peter Weir Nominated
Best Picture Nominated
Best Screenplay Andrew Niccol Nominated
Costume Designers Guild Excellence in Costume Design Marilyn Matthews Nominated
Directors Guild of America Best Director in Motion Picture Peter Weir Nominated
Empire Awards Best Film Nominated
European Film Awards Screen International Award Peter Weir Won
Film Critics Circle of Australia Best Foreign Film Won
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards 1998 Best Director Peter Weir Won
Fotogramas de Plata Best Foreign Film Won
56th Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Jim Carrey Won
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Ed Harris Won
Best Original Score Philip Glass and Burkhard Dallwitz Won
Best Director Peter Weir Nominated
Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Screenplay Andrew Niccol Nominated
3rd Golden Satellite Awards Best Art Direction Dennis Gassner Won
Hugo Award Best Presentation Peter Weir Won
International Monitor Awards Theatrical Release Won
Nastro d'Argento Best Male Dubbing Roberto Pedicini (Jim Carrey) Won
Best Foreign Director Peter Weir Nominated
1999 Kids' Choice Awards Best Movie Actor Jim Carrey Nominated
London Critics Circle Film Awards Director of the Year Peter Weir Won
Screenwriter of the Year Andrew Niccol Won
Film of the Year Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards 1998 Best Production Design Dennis Gassner Nominated
1999 MTV Movie Awards Best Male Performance Jim Carrey Won
Best Movie Nominated
Motion Picture Sound Editors Best Sound Editing Nominated
MovieGuide Award Grace Award Jim Carrey Won
National Board of Review Awards 1998 Best Supporting Actor Ed Harris Won
Online Film Critics Society Awards 1998 Best Screenplay Andrew Niccol Won
Best Director Peter Weir Nominated
Best Film Nominated
Best Editing Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Ed Harris Nominated
Robert Festival Best American Film Won
25th Saturn Awards Best Fantasy Film Won
Best Writer Andrew Niccol Won
Best Actor Jim Carrey Nominated
Best Director Peter Weir Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Ed Harris Nominated
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards 1998 Best Supporting Actor Ed Harris Won
Best Director Peter Weir Nominated
Valladolid International Film Festival Golden Spike Peter Weir Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards 1998 Best Original Screenplay Andrew Niccol Nominated
20th Youth in Film Awards Best Family Feature Nominated

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

The Truman Show delusion

Joel Gold, a psychiatrist at the Bellevue Hospital Center, revealed that by 2008, he had met five patients with schizophrenia (and heard of another twelve) who believed their lives were reality television shows. Gold named the syndrome "The Truman Show delusion" after the film and attributed the delusion to a world that had become hungry for publicity.

Gold stated that some patients were rendered happy by their disease, while "others were tormented". One traveled to New York to check whether the World Trade Center had actually fallen—believing the 9/11 attacks to be an elaborate plot twist in his personal storyline. Another came to climb the Statue of Liberty, believing that he would be reunited with his high-school girlfriend at the top and finally be released from the show.[46]

In August 2008, the British Journal of Psychiatry reported similar cases in the United Kingdom.[47] The delusion has informally been referred to as "Truman syndrome", according to an Associated Press story from 2008.[48]

After hearing about the condition, writer of The Truman Show Andrew Niccol said: "You know you've made it when you have a disease named after you."[49]

See also

Other works
Terms and concepts


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  2. "The Truman Show (1998) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  3. "The Truman Show (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  4. Steinberg, Don (September 23, 2011). "Films Inspired by Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone" – Snapshot". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Svetkey, Benjamin (1998-06-05). "The Truman Pro". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2008-03-16.
  6. Weinraub, Bernard (1998-05-21). "Director Tries a Fantasy As He Questions Reality". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-01.
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  13. 1 2 Fleming, Michael (1994-03-10). "SNL's Farley crashes filmdom". 'Variety. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
  14. Fleming, Michael (1994-02-18). "TriStar acquires female bounty hunter project". 'Variety. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
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  17. 1 2 3 Rudolph, Eric (June 1998). "This is Your Life". American Cinematographer. Retrieved 2008-04-01.
  18. 1 2 Faux Finishing, the Visual Effects of The Truman Show (DVD). Paramount Pictures. 2005.
  19. Rickitt, Richard (2000). Special Effects: The History and Technique. Billboard Books. pp. 207–208. ISBN 0-8230-7733-0.
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  22. Wagner, Richard (2005). "C.S. Lewis and Narnia for Dummies": 179.
  23. Sofge, Erik (2008-03-28). "The 10 Most Prophetic Sci-Fi Movies Ever". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 2008-03-31.
  24. Bishop, R. (2000). "Good Afternoon, Good Evening, and Good Night: The Truman Show as Media Criticism". Journal of Communication Inquiry. 24 (1): 6–18. doi:10.1177/0196859900024001002.
  25. Knox, Simone (2010). "Reading 'The Truman Show' inside out". Film Criticism. 35 (1).
  26. Brearley, Michael; Sabbadini, Andrea (2008). "The Truman Show : How's it going to end?". The International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 89 (2): 433–40. doi:10.1111/j.1745-8315.2008.00030.x. PMID 18405297. hair space character in |title= at position 16 (help)
  27. 1 2 Beuka, Robert. SuburbiaNation: Reading Suburban Landscape in Twentieth Century American Fiction and Film. 1st ed. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004. ix-284.
  28. Hindes, Andrew (1997-04-10). "Speed 2 shifted in sked scramble". Variety. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
  29. Hontz, Jenny (1997-12-18). "Peacock buys Par pic pack". Variety. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
  30. "Turner Broadcasting Acquires Runaway Bride, Deep Impact, The Truman Show, Forrest Gump and Others in Film Deal With Paramount". Business Wire. 2000-03-06.
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  33. Ebert, Roger (1998-06-05). "The Truman Show". Retrieved 2008-03-21.
  34. Turna, Kenneth (1998-06-05). "The Truman Show". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2008-03-17. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
  35. Turan, Kenneth (1998-12-27). "'Truman Show' Was Definitely the One to Watch". Los Angeles Times.
  36. Adam B. Vary (June 1, 2010). "The 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years: Here's our full list!". Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  37. Berardinelli, James (1998-06-05). "The Truman Show". ReelViews. Retrieved 2008-03-21. External link in |publisher= (help)
  38. Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "The Audience Is Us". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2014-10-27.
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  41. "Golden Globes: 1999". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
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  44. "Hugo Awards: 1999". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-03-22.
  45. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
  46. Jesse, Ellison (2008-08-02). "When Life Is Like a TV Show". Newsweek. Retrieved 2008-08-20.
  47. Fusar-Poli, P.; Howes, O.; Valmaggia, L.; McGuire, P. (2008). "'Truman' signs and vulnerability to psychosis". The British Journal of Psychiatry. 193 (2): 168. doi:10.1192/bjp.193.2.168. PMID 18670010.
  48. Kershaw, Sarah (2008-08-27). "Look Closely, Doctor: See the Camera?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
  49. "NZ filmmaker adds to medical lexicon". 3 News NZ. March 20, 2013.
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