The Truman Show

The Truman Show
The Truman Show

I got The Truman Show for my Birthday – a film I’ve wanted to re-watch for a long while now. It is certainly a film that matures, at least so far as I was quite young when it was out (and I saw it only on TV later). There are many amazing bits of detail the film contains that you only see on a later showing, much like other films I enjoy watching again (The Usual Suspects for instance).

A Look Behind the Scenes…

Interestingly, watching the documentary footage of the making of the film, it certainly was surprising to realise and being told that reality TV was predated by the film. This is pretty telling, and curses for people not taking the advice of the film.

Christof the Director
Overseer Christof

Certainly it was also interesting hearing the way the director Peter Weir went about sorting the film – rewriting the script with author Andrew Niccol over a dozen revisions when they had to wait for Jim Carrey to be available, along with him writing entire backstories and notes for each character. The original draft was also set in New York in a sci-fi world, which certainly was something that I think wouldn’t have worked – the move to a “perfect little seaside town” was an amazing choice. Christof had a written backstory of doing at first homeless footage in a similar way (with hidden cameras), then suggesting to the TV network to do the first year of a babies life – which then bloomed when adding a mother, then a father, then extending it past the first year. It takes a certain kind of genius and absolute lack of morals to do that to a person. It’s quite amazingly evil – but not your common “killing things” evil, just a pretty amoral god of this one person, playing with him in this toyset town, “for his own good”.

Marlon, ever the professional
Professional Marlon
So when Truman dies...
...back to the single channel format right?

The characters are also surprisingly deep (after the initial viewings) – as it is, most are characters being played by actors being played by actors. Very meta, and certainly one of the cut scenes does show Marlon, Truman’s best friend, in a better light – he probably has actual friendship with Truman, but sadly has to do the script first. He’s possibly the most redeemable character, but possibly not strong enough to ever help Truman directly (although ever feeling guilty no doubt) – although the deleted scene does state from him, after the fact they still want an on-air conception and then will follow both “characters”, asking Christof “So when Truman dies we go back to the single channel format, right?” rather pointedly. It is in fact the only part of the deleted scene I’d have loved to see crop up somewhere, although the fact later on it is stated by Christof “He was born on Television wasn’t he?” when questioning him trying to kill Truman at sea. A very controlling character, who thinks he is above everyone, who eventually is fallen. It’s an amazing transformation.

Meryl breaking down
A shill to the end

Truman’s wife Meryl is pretty much a backstabbing bitch, lightly put – the real actor portraying her thought about the fact Meryl probably gets a bump in salary each time she promotes a product successfully or sleeps with Truman, so intentionally tries it at every opportunity – very creepy. Brilliantly played, the stances are all out of 50’s sales material, the looks are spot on too.

Seahaven - surrounded by water, with a circular horizon

Having a look at the deleted scenes I can see why they were cut – cut brilliantly that is – into a much better flowing film, with more left to the imagination (many were of Truman being more blatant in his suspicions, and showing him getting the boat to freedom much earlier in the film). Editing is another place where the film really shines. The special effects – from matt paintings on the dome wall, to the computer effects extending buildings up (seamlessly – it’s unnoticeable) and showing the “domed city” all adds amazing little details, like the panorama of the town having a very curved horizon and larger-then-life clouds almost “sticking” around the sky to match.

In The Perfect Medium

Truman becoming suspicious
Truman getting suspicious

It’s pretty much the most perfect way to show this particular story, especially with the angle of god complex, surveillance and TV viewer apathy. The way it cuts between items, and only reveals the god-like antagonist Christof late in the film late in the running time, wouldn’t work as well in TV, a book or a videogame. If it was a videogame, I’d think it would work being a Truman-like character, but be a vastly different, and perhaps more scary kind of entertainment – it is one thing to hope Truman realises, and another to play something that might well pull a fast one on the player entirely, given they already are playing in an artificial world it’s also a bit unfair too – but even if hints were given, it’d be pretty horrible to find out the world was fake, or only being able to suspect since at every turn you were rebuffed.

The film was set in the best time as well – before the major internet and mobile phone boom (which would, if added or not to Truman’s world, be hard to justify either way). It also had the technology of the many cameras, but no automation on them, since the entire control room is human-run. This is something, sadly, we can’t rely on today, and things like the Big Brother house are even automated for movement detection and so forth.

Peel back the Veneer…

Beneath all the wonder of Seahaven, several viewings do show the ridiculous horrible nature of it earlier and earlier on. It’s humorous to read Sea Haven’s leaving sign – “Are you sure you want to leave?” – very foreboding, and the way it is all scripted is just pretty freaky. Without being shown the introduction of the actors explaining what the show is about, viewers could at first be easily led into thinking it’s a perfectly normal life, of a sorts.

Clever radio camera shot
These shots are rare, and work really well

The choice of having enough “in camera views” – not too many, but enough, really helps to put the perspective of always watching Truman, watching him much more then the abstract view of most films. It’s very personal! You’re not honestly watching from an observer, since you’re almost one of the TV viewers yourself (which somewhat mirror your own reactions to the film, which is pretty freaky, although they are certainly show much more apathetic by the story, as if it is “the norm”).

“You never had a camera in my head!”

Wedding on the Big Screen
Viewers loved the fake marriage

That phrase is pretty much a cap on the way of the film. It applies to anything else too – but particularly, I think, videogames. However much I play videogames, the game never knows truly what I think or why I am doing something. All they can do is put surveillance and try and second guess. At least this works most of the time, but the player is always that bit of imperfect knowledge in the sea of absolute game-engine values and AI actors which the game has perfect control over. I think the Truman model be a good one to press onto some games though – those which railroad plots, do cutscene after cutscene or simply strap the player down to do their bidding.

Well, I had enough videogame references there I think, whew. It’s a great film to go back to anyway, and pretty much will I think stand out in the future since the film won’t date, so much as being a film set in a specific time. A film of it’s time for sure.

2 thoughts on “The Truman Show”

  1. You mentioned video games and the Truman show but not mention anything like The Sims, Civilization, or Sim City>

  2. That’d be the opposite way around 🙂

    Comparing such games to the film would need a whole different article, since none of them I think resemble really the nature of the film or its contents – similar, perhaps, but on an entirely different level (and from my perspective you’d want the player of such a videogame to be the protagonist in the Truman world, not the controller).

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