The Truman Show & The Same Ol' Story (SPOILERS)
Many have heard my talk on how Disney subverts traditional fairy tales and turns them into movies glorifying rebellion against father figures in a revisionist attempt to glorify the original rebellion against God. One question I often get is, "Disney focuses a lot on young women/protagonists. Are there examples of male characters/protagonists doing the same?" The answer is a resounding yes. Because actually, the story of the rebellion in the garden, the very first "drama" in human history, has been told, retold, revised and subverted time and time again.
Here's but another example.
At the Stage & Story Conference, Dane Bundy's talk explored the concept of God as Dramatist-Director. But while Dane's talk honors the character of God and recognizes His omnibenevolent attributes, there's another movement out there that seeks to promote the opposite view. I recently re-watched The Truman Show, written by Andrew Niccol and directed by Peter Weir.
In the film, our hero, Truman Burbank (Jim Carey), was "adopted" from birth by a multimedia corporation, OmniCam. His whole life is a reality TV show, only Truman doesn't know it. He's the only person in the world who thinks it's all real. Truman's "mother," "wife," and "best friend" are all actors on an enormous dome shaped TV set designed to mimic a coastal town called Seahaven. This longest-running TV show has dominated international ratings for all 29.9 years of Truman's life. And behold it was very good...that is until Truman's true love, Sylvia, comes in to his life and reveals to him the truth: that his whole life is a TV show created by famous creator/producer/director, Christof.
Sylvia's love for Truman is such that she would sacrifice her own acting career to show him the truth. As an actress in Christof's own cast & crew, she decides to rebel against Christof first and proceeds to plant seeds of doubt in Truman's head about Seahaven and Christof. For her Promethean act, she is punished with banishment from Seahaven and worse, to unemployment it looks like.
Having lost her former glory as an actress, her rebellion against Christof continues as an activist...from her house...in her pajamas, and consists of calling into talk shows to argue with Christof. During her argument with Christof, he responds to her with, "The [real world]...is the sick place. Seahaven's the way the world should be." So will Truman mature and wake up to the reality that his life is a lie? Will he fight to find the only person who has truly ever loved him? Will he reject the false narratives forced upon him by Christof?
On the one hand, Truman can live in the perfect world of Seahaven, designed specifically for him; a world where all his needs are met, his safety guaranteed. But the tradeoff is that Truman is subject to the Director's ever present glare, his scrutinizing all-seeing cameras, his sovereign direction of all life (and even weather) in Seahaven.
And on the other hand, Truman can leave all complacent comfort behind and step into the real world full of sickness and imperfection. But at least he'll escape the tyrannical control of the Director.
We know what the filmmakers want us, the audience, to think: The "true man" Truman should prefer a true world. A world with all its illnesses and imperfections is scary, unpredictable, uncontrollable but at least it's real, it's honest and authentic, and only a courageous hero can brave the waves to get there.
But if that's what we think, then in the words of Admiral Ackbar, "It's a trap!"
Let's recap: A man, with an abundance of innocence, lives in a perfect environment created specifically for him by an all-seeing, all-knowing being who sovereignly directs the affairs of everybody from his abode in the sky. Then a character from the sovereign being's own domain leads the innocent man to rebel against his Sovereign resulting in the man leaving the perfect environment behind…
Doesn't that scenario sound awfully familiar? Sorry Hollywood, but you can't fool us. So you want us to believe that to be a True man, we have to throw Christ off, even if He created for us a Safe Haven in the past and will let us See Heaven in the future? How much more on-the-nose can you get?
The Truman Show is a revisionist retelling of Adam in the Garden. Except that in the original story, the all-knowing/all-seeing character was the good guy. The being who encouraged the man to rebel didn't do it out of love but out of hate. And the innocent man's decision to rebel was portrayed as utterly foolish, not heroic. And leaving the specially created paradise that He created was portrayed as tragic. In short, The Truman Show subverts Genesis 3, by using a storytelling technique called the Bent Story. Bent Stories portray good as evil, portrays evil as good; and in the end evil wins. Read Dane’s explanation of Bent Stories.
If we really think it's hellish to live in a perfect environment specially created for us by an omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, sovereign Being then can we really claim that we look back and yearn for the Safe Haven that was The Garden of Eden? Or can we really claim we look forward to See Heaven where God will reign over us absolutely and perfectly?
At this point, some might say, "well but Christof is an imperfect human while God is a perfect God." I would agree but for the fact that the filmmakers actually want to say Christof is the stand-in for, the representation of, the proxy for, and the symbol for God.
Was it just a coincidence they chose the name "Seahaven" with its related homophones? Why did they name the villain "Christof" and not "Buddhaof" or just simply "Jerry"? Because filmmaking is storytelling, and storytelling is the entertaining artful manipulation of symbols. They knew exactly which specific God they were attacking in their disguised critique of the biblical worldview.
Still not convinced the filmmakers intended to subvert our Christian symbols? Let's look at more of these "coincidences" then:
Aside from the aforementioned name of the "Director", Christof, and his god-like attribute of omniscience, he also has the power to direct the actions of all things and people in Seahaven.
Among Christof's powers, he:
-grants and takes away life (Truman's "father"),
-chooses Truman's wife for him ("Meryl")
-commands the storm ("turn up the wind"),
-controls the heavens ("cue the sun"),
-lives in the sky (the control room is in the moon), and
-speaks in deep, reverberating, stentorian tones from the sky replete with billowing clouds and light rays.
And when Truman ascends the Jacobian ladder up into the sky to ask the Director who he is, Christof answers Truman, "I'm The Creator (beat) of a TV show." That's right, there was a beat of a pause. The deliberate low camera angle looking up into the face of Christof and the deliberate high camera angle looking down on Truman. Go see the scene here on Youtube, note the imagery, listen to the music, notice the pause and intentional camera angles during the ensuing dialogue.
Real life actress, Laura Linney, plays the part of fake actress, "Hannah Gill," who further plays the part of fake wife "Meryl Burbank." When fake actress "Hannah Gill" is interviewed about how she could play the character of "Meryl Burbank", Hannah says:
The Truman Show is...a lifestyle. It's
a noble life. It is...a truly blessed life.
So she chooses to participate in a way of life from which she receives blessings. Who uses the language of being "blessed" in the context of our culture today?
It's clear the filmmakers want us viewers to recoil at the idea that there's somebody "up there" looking down watching our every move, that there is no privacy from this voyeuristic being, that all our decisions are scrutinized by this being's all-knowing judgmental eyes. You know who wants to hide their behavior from an all-seeing, justly judging God? Here's the first recorded instance of it:
And the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Yahweh God among the trees of the garden. And Yahweh God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" And he replied, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid because I am naked, so I hid myself." - Genesis 3:8b-10 LEB
Those who rebel against God hate having their sins exposed, recorded and archived for later judgment. Even those of us who have repented are ashamed of our sins and rely on Christ (the real hero) to cover over us during the great white throne judgement. But those who continue to rebel against God will continue to hate His all-seeing eye because it forever reminds them of the shame of "what the disobedient do in secret" (Eph 5:12b NIV).
Despite the eponymous title of the Truman Show, the filmmakers' critiques are not really against falsity as much as it is against being controlled. "Marlon" who played Truman's best friend explains to the TV show's "fans" that, "Nothing you see on this show is fake. It's merely controlled."
That theme is reinforced by the scarf button pin that Sylvia wears, "How's It Going To End?" She represents the unscripted, uncontrollable, unpredictable unknown. And that's why Truman hugs that scarf and sees that button at the moment he decides he's going to sail off into the chaotic sea.
And not just controlled, but controlled by a Dramatist-Director who is sadistic, manipulative, exploitative, abusive and, in short, evil. Not unlike the god that Richard Dawkins criticizes in his book, The God Delusion:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
But if the filmmakers were really "true-men," who examined their rebellious hearts honestly, they would realize they don't hate the Dramatist-Director because He is first an "unforgiving control-freak, etc.," but rather, it's the other way around. The Dramatist-Director is slandered as an "unforgiving control-freak, etc." because they first hate Him and are looking for excuses to malign His character. They've got it backwards. They're not atheists because God doesn't exist, rather they're Hate-theists because He does exist.
And that's really the crux of the issue. It's the age-old sinful yearning to not bend our knee, to not submit to God's sovereignty but to be our own little god; to learn about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil on our own terms and not on His terms. It's the on-going futile adolescent back-talk that will eventually be silenced when "every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord" (Isa 45:23, Rom 14:11, Phi 2:10).
Once Truman became suspicious, he began to notice patterns. Like how the exact same "lady on a red bike, followed by a man with flowers and a Volkswagen Beetle with a dented fender" keeps appearing at regular intervals around his house.
They're on a loop. They go around the block.
They come back. They go around again.
They just go round and round. Round and round.
That's right Truman, and you know what else is on a loop, going round, and round, and round every couple of years in Hollywood? Movies like yours that attempts to subvert Christian symbolism in a failed attempt to provide an excuse for what Adam and Eve did in the Garden; a desperate attempt to rationalize away the shame of rebelling against an all-good God. If guilty sinners need the psychological crutch of re-narrativizing their loss as gain, and to re-cast their foolishness as heroic, there's no finer industry to do that than the movie business. With a bigger budget, they can turn all kinds of fantasy into reality. Except that no amount of CGI can turn guilt into glory.
In the words of Truman's "sister" in an early draft of the screenplay, "Has it really taken you this long to invent a story to ease your conscience?"
Some movie critics have said that the movie is a warning against Christof's observation that, "We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented." They contend that the filmmakers are saying Truman must awaken to the fact that he's being indoctrinated into an artificial construct to force him to conform to another's worldview. He must fight this to be a true man.
Well, well, well, the irony! The filmmakers lack the self-awareness to realize that this is self-referential; and worse, it is self-refuting. This message can be turned right back against the filmmakers themselves: The Truman Show viewer can discern that the Paramount Pictures film, The Truman Show, is itself an artificial construct, a fake world with props and set dressing, shot on a Hollywood sound stage, with omnicameras, carefully crafted by Producers, Writers, Directors, and Actors to indoctrinate us, the viewing audience, to conform to their worldview.
So then let us be heroes! Let's not blindly accept the fake worldview forced on us by Hollywoodof! Let us realize that there was no better place to be than under God's providential care in the Garden. Let us remember that the One who truly loved us didn't plant doubts in our minds against the Father, rather, He modeled perfect obedience to the Father. Let us remember that being with Christ in Heaven under His all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful, all-good control; finally fully flourishing in all our human glory is our objective, not our obstacle.
Nice try Hollywood, but like so many of your attempts at adapting written material for the big screen, the book was better.
Author bio: JT Wynn is a businessman with a heart for the narrative arts and a mind for God. He is the past Chairman of the Board of Stand to Reason, an apologetics ministry based in Southern California. He helped co-found Stage & Story and is a former board member of the organization.