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.