Director Peter Weir creates “The Truman Show” as if you’re watching the show itself. Each camera angle, each iris shot pertains to a camera used in the Seahaven world. We’re just as much the outside world to this movie as the outside world in “The Truman Show” is to the 24-hours-a-day reality show being aired. In fact, “The Truman Show” brings up not only questions about the nature of reality television and its sometimes extremist zeal, but also about us, our lives, and our stances on religion.
In his interview with the host of TruTalk (a show devoted to rehashing the events that occurred on “The Truman Show” and at that point, it’s Truman’s father returning after a 22-year absence), Christof states that humankind accepts the reality of its world that it sees, that it experiences, that it becomes complacent toward. Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) doesn’t know that his entire world is nothing more than entertainment for billions around the world. He has no idea that the stagelight which falls from the “sky” on day 10,909 of his life is actually one of the stars in the fabricated Seahaven, which is not a typical soundstage. It’s a structure which can be seen from space and houses 221 floors, and Truman’s entire town. Truman accepts this life. He works as an insurance salesman. He’s married to Meryl (actress Hannah Gill, performed by Laura Linney), who does product placement plugs whenever the opportunity arises as that is the sole source of income for the entire empire. His best friend, Marlon (actor Louis Coltrane, played by Noah Emmerich) stocks vending machines and hits golf balls off the bridge with him. This is who he is.
The lives of those people watching Truman are no different. A balding man sits in the bathtub watching the show. The Truman Bar is devoted entirely to the show, with hats and other Truman Show paraphernalia on sale, its patrons crowded around watching Truman’s life unfold, as if to avoid their own. These people have accepted the reality of their world. Truman is their world. They don’t mind it because perhaps they’ll never be as famous or as unique as they think Truman is. He represents a life that isn’t their own. And they watch, for whatever reason they see in him, a reason they can’t bring into themselves. The only person who doesn’t accept this world is Sylvia (Natascha McElhone, who truly possesses the oft-sung about “Bette Davis Eyes”, and it’s no wonder Truman was haunted enough by them to search for her), who holds rallies and demands that Truman be freed from his televised prison. While the entire world watches Truman (and I’ll bet that through the program, through Christof’s slightly twisted vision, international tensions were averted, only those harbored in our imaginations while watching this, and a few Presidents became fans too), she vows angrily over the phone to Christof on TruTalk that Truman will learn the truth and he will leave his world.
As it so happens, it’s also a world that’s become rather careless in the execution of this daily produced life. Even as Peter Biziou’s cinematography continuously brightens a town I’d love to live in, Christof may not have been aware that his show was being run either by interns or people far less able to handle his vision, not loaded with his experience. As Truman slowly discovers that his world does have unusual cracks (the same red bicycle, a man with flowers, and a VW Beetle constantly circle his block, without change, even after he notices), Christof tries to control Truman’s curiosity as best he can, but the cracks become paths in which Truman can fully see and understand what he’s missed.
Right there is one of the film’s other important themes: religion. Christof created this world, but in fact, before he was able to rise to the position of “God” so to speak, Moses (Philip Baker Hall), the head of this entire operation but seemingly less powerful than Christof, led him through the desert before the funds came along. Then Christof ascended the mountain, needing no burning bush to do so, and took his position on a mighty throne. Truman’s world is perfect. Indeed, we like to think our own worlds are wonderful as well because whether or not our days are fruitful in our jobs, there’s usually some place or some evening activity or someone who keeps us sated. And therefore, we accept our station in life. But with Christof controlling Truman’s world, playing another God, how much of a part does religion play in our own lives in keeping us so sated that we accept the world as it is to us? When Truman’s in that boat, sailing along, Christof creates dangerous storms to try to turn Truman back to shore. How much does God affect us or how much do we believe He affects us (atheists reading this can skip this argument)?
If a bad car accident piles up six cars on a freeway and we narrowly miss it, what are we to think? First is overwhelming relief. We survived. But did it simply turn out that way, that split-second jerk of the wheel that kept us alive? Or was it some spirit all the way above in the universe who saw it fit to keep us alive for a purpose we do not yet know? This is part of what “The Truman Show” is. Not only is it an avenue for Jim Carrey to successfully transition his comedy into worthy dramatic skills, but also for us to wonder about our own world and how we live it. Do we live through blind or wary acceptance?
Through all these considerations of what “The Truman Show” might be saying, it’s one of the best mainstream films to make you really think while watching Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris, Philip Baker Hall, Paul Giamatti, Holland Taylor, and other talented actors wade their way through Andrew Niccol’s complex and rewarding script. Rewards also surface in Paramount’s new special edition DVD, which is not a double-dip at all. A double-dip is when Fox releases a single-disc edition of “Man on Fire” and then a couple months later, shoves the two-disc set out to consumers. The first Truman Show DVD was released in January 1999, when DVD technology was still in its infancy. It only contained two trailers and Paramount obviously gave it to the public because it was one of its most popular films of that decade. The company has now turned around and done proper justice to what came before. The same two trailers are a part of this new DVD, but are now joined by a two-part documentary which goes in-depth on so many levels. Screenwriter Andrew Niccol has no part in this documentary possibly because he might still be sore about the dealings back then (Paramount not taking a chance on a new director, Peter Weir rewriting huge chunks of what Niccol created), or simply busy at that time, directing Nicolas Cage in the upcoming “Lord of War”. Weir talks at length about how he broke down the script and started lightening the mood because he questions why people would watch a reality show that’s so dark and forbidding, as in Niccol’s original script. But what he, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, and Noah Emmerich reveal are new dimensions into the film, a new way to watch the movie. Weir wrote backstories for each character, telling of their lives before and during “The Truman Show”, and talks about Christof’s entire career, such as how he won an Oscar for a documentary on the homeless, in which he placed cameras in their living spaces to examine their lives. He goes on with this and Ed Harris, filmed outside somewhere, basically confirms this. Linney talks about her character, actress Hannah Gill and how she wheels and deals away from the camera, earning a bump in salary if she sleeps with Truman, or if a product placement of hers proves successful. Noah Emmerich’s dissection of actor Louis Coltrane is just as fascinating and it creates an entirely new experience for when you watch the movie.
Split into two parts, the documentary’s second part focuses on location scouting, and Weir is refreshingly honest about the troubles he had with the founder of Seaside, Florida, and how the man didn’t want any Hollywood production roaming around the town, but soon came to an amicable agreement. Even Jim Carrey’s archival interview back when the film was being promoted shows a side of him talking about the film that’s never shown on fluffy entertainment news shows. He’s respectfully complimentary of Peter Weir as Entertainment Tonight would expect, but talks about the town they filmed in, and how he felt about the role. 43 minutes becomes even more educated, paired with the 13-minute “Faux Finishing, the Visual Effects of The Truman Show”, which delves into the special effects from a production design and then computerized standpoint. New floors on buildings in Seaside could not be done, so the computer handled the construction and it looks real enough to where it can be accepted as part of the movie.
However, not all of the story is complete. The “Deleted/Extended” scenes reveal so much more. In the “Product Placement” set of scenes, Meryl gives Truman an exercise outfit which she claims keeps the blood flowing from the top to the bottom of the body. Truman puts it on, exercises in it, and then a couple is shown in their apartment trying out Truman’s wacky moves, dressed in his outfit. “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.” The old ladies watching the show have obviously accepted the reality of just sitting around watching Truman, but this exercising man and woman have taken acceptance to a strange level, which is also a magnifying glass in our society to those who may fanatically dress like Paris Hilton or some kind of famous rock star. Some Star Wars fans even take it to an unsettling extreme. Too many directors today explain unnecessarily why certain scenes were deleted. It just seems like ego or boasting even further about how great scenes in the movie were, when they were worse than week-old garbage. Peter Weir leaves the work alone and lets viewers figure out why scenes were cut and the most intriguing, “The Future Cast Meeting” was obviously excised because it would have repeated a later scene towards the end of the movie. The host of TruTalk is correct about Christof being jealously protective of his privacy and with his hand-held monitor, he speaks to the cast about the new love interest for Truman. They can only hear him, however. They can’t see him. Inflated ego or personal pleasure motivating him, he likes being the voice of God.
A photo gallery is the only link to on-set activities, and the same goes in the documentary, which uses photos to highlight the production. Cast, crew, and Peter Weir all together, it looked like quite a collaboration. The teaser and theatrical trailers, ported over from the first DVD are here too and are remarkably ingenious. The studio’s marketing team obviously put enormous thought and creativity to make curiosity bloom outside of just Jim Carrey starring in it. Two TV spots round out what winds up as another excellent offering. “The Truman Show” has finally received the treatment it has always required.
I was there at a movie theater when “The Truman Show” was released on June 5, 1998. That very weekend, actually. It was because of Jim Carrey that I bought my ticket, because I liked his work before. But I wish beyond any type of possible wish that I could see this again for the first time, just to remember what it was like, that first experience. Being a relatively neophyte movie buff, some of the subtleties were lost in favor of watching Jim Carrey in awe, having successfully made his transition into a new kind of respect. No doubt hardcore Jim Carrey fans who treasured the actor for his comedy were disappointed, but he wanted to be new again and he did it. The conceit of “The Truman Show” is only relevant the first time around as you’re not sure what’s happening as Truman’s world switches to the outside world to the world in the control room and back again. A trick is being performed. Since 1998, however, it has lasted. With the reality TV boom, it brings forth more thoughts as to whether our society could ever be this extreme, and with each viewing, its themes deepen. We are the world, but what kind of world are we?