An unseen sight from The Truman Show

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I kvetched recently about one little line of dialog hitting me in a painful way from the 1993 hi, The Fugitive. It was one sign of the on-the-go work that changed the script to the film we know… But one line irked me.

What’s inspired this write up doesn’t irk me in the filmmaking sense as-so-much the curious viewer who is into the movie and the lead character. This isn’t a flaw, but it’s a gargantuan scene that never is seen by the viewers during the build-up to the climax and finale of 1998’s The Truman Show.

Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank was counter to Carrey as pop culture and the entertainment industry knew him, counter to what made him famous. While The Truman Show is by no means a drama, it’s also not an over-the-top comedy a-la In Living Color, The Mask or Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The whole film, Truman Show, is a play on reality television: An entire life filmed (unknowingly) for millions of viewers around the world. “On the air…. Unaware” was the tag line tied to the film around the time of release.

I’m not going to re-tell the story too much – if you’re here, you probably already know it full damned well. So let me jump to that climactic build-up stuff and key in on what’s unseen:

You know how things are going in the wrong direction late in the film – a confrontation between Truman and his wife Meryl (played by Laura Linney) leads to a break-up (oh, and a upset declaration by character-breaking Hannah Gil – the woman who plays Meryl). Truman is thought to be sleeping an awfully long nap in an odd position when his “best friend” Marlon comes over to check on him (an operation put together by director Christof)… That’s when it’s discovered Truman has disappeared/escaped.

“Cut transmission!” Christof declares, and pandemonium ensues.

Cameras are scanned by the control room film crew, every actor and extra on the Sea Haven set  are deployed in search parties. Why would he go and where he would go are pretty clear by way of the story told in the movie. In short essence, he wanted out and he had a driving reason named Sylvia.

Director Christof (played  by Ed Harris), who thinks of himself as a father figure and yet comes off like a deity while overseeing Truman’s life in Sea Haven and the direction of his world, gets frustrated with the lingering question on Truman’s whereabouts and everyone’s difficulties suffered through the search. He orders a grand little action on the Sea Haven soundstage to help in the quest for the missing star:

“Cue the sun.”

The middle of the night turns into daylight… And how did Truman Burbank react???

The “cast” of the show visibly react to the sunlight, so you know there’s a physical reaction to things because everyone is affected. But it’s grander than that, isn’t it? While everyone in the town of Sea Haven knows they’re on a set, Truman Burbank doesn’t. In fact, it plays out at the climactic finale when Burbank’s ship crashes into a wall of the soundstage:

(note: The crash event isn’t part of this clip and the reaction I note is the lead in moments as Truman discovers things)

So how does Truman react to the sun? I can’t tell you and you want to know what’s a positive film making aspect of that? It’s consistency in the world of Sea Haven and on the set of the show. No, this isn’t pointed at Christof; this is pointed at Peter Weir who helmed The Truman Show. See, one consistency that can be taken that I’m trying to key in on here is camera work. I don’t mean director-of-photography stuff, I mean camera-in-known-location-of-character stuff that plays out time and time again. Mind you, in the first video clip presented here, Marlon driving to Truman’s house is filmed… You can take that as a bone-to-pick part of the film or accept it because – hey! Viewers have to be introduced to the fact Truman’s best friend is about to crash things at the house!

Direction – Christof, the in-Sea Haven world – doesn’t have a clue (yet) Truman was sailing in the middle of the night. Of course they don’t show Truman Burbank’s reaction to the sudden sunrise!

The climax is Truman’s escape attempt and you hear it from the character himself that he’s aware someone has direct control of the world around him (as that sunrise further proved) and he’s damned well done with it. Christoff ordered a little weather milieu around Truman’s ship in attempt to scare him back to port and that set the stage for the indirect confrontation that showed he knows something:

Is that the best you can do? […] You’re gonna have to…kill me!!

The unseen moment on the ship is likely next to nothing but not quite nothing. In simplicity, it could be the same sunlight reaction that you see from the rest of the crew – and determination emboldened in Truman.

Then again, I’m not Peter Weir. I’m not the script writing team and I’m not Jim Carrey. It’s just a moment, however brief, that further gives proof to Truman Burbank that he isn’t in the natural world… He’s in a place where things revolve around him, while keeping him contained – for the sake of entertainment and broadcast ratings.

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