This week's Sunday Script Club read by Andrew Niccol introduces us to the protagonist, Truman, through a two-way camera as described in the exposition so straight off the bat, the reader / audience know that this isn’t exactly straight up normal life. We are also let in on the fact that there are hidden camera’s in Truman’s house, watching him, whilst Truman himself is seemingly oblivious.
Two pages in and we are introduced to the picture-perfect suburbia of Seahaven, described by Niccol in the exposition as ‘idyllic suburban street of similarly picturesque homes’. We meet his wife, Meryl, who fits in nicely with the Seahaven story world, along with his neighbours who all seem friendly enough. What a nice place to live. But we’re not left to linger here for long before a real Donnie Darko moment occurs when a light falls from the sky. His neighbours disappear and he’s left to figure this one out for himself. The big question being: Where the hell did that light come from?
This screenplay relies on flashbacks in order to create the narrative drive, and in this instance, they work well. The first flashback is to when a young boy, Truman, 4, climbs rocks - only to be told not to. Is this the first hint that Truman almost figured the whole thing out at age 4? We go through the first act, with question upon question being thrown at us: Why does Truman steal the model’s nose from a magazine? Why does the vendor almost expect it? Who is Lauren Garland? Or Sylvia Garland? And what does Fiji have to do with anything? How does a child who wishes to become an explorer like his idol Magellan end up being an insurance salesman? Why do the two ferry workers know that Truman won’t get on the boat?
Truman’s character is depicted through actions. In fact, this entire screenplay is an excellent example of ‘show, don’t tell’ - the number one rule of screenwriting (perhaps). Most telling is when Truman doesn’t help the woman who is being dragged into the forest by two youths. Or perhaps when he defies his father, and later again his wife whilst mowing the lawn - he doesn’t mow the patch he’s missed. But gradually, piece by piece, through a mixture of flashbacks and present-day scenes, we are given answers to the majority of the questions.
Truman has a clearly defined goal from about P.17 onwards - he wants to go to Fiji - we’re not sure about why until later - he says it’s the exact opposite side of the world from Seahaven and as the audience / reader, we are lead to believe that this is the case until later on. We’re also introduced to a world outside Seahaven - ‘SOMEWHERE’. A bar somewhere. A living room somewhere. A kitchen somewhere. Where is somewhere? It’s subtle but it leaves the reader / audience curious. This screenplay brings out the curiosity - the puzzle-solver - the detective in even the most resistant reader, and I think that’s why it works so well.
We’re not entirely sure of the antagonist in this story until P.17 - it’s a simple scene - a couple of lines but that’s the first time we meet Christof. At this point, it’s still a big unknown until the start of the second act. Who is Christof? Where is he? This adds to the pile of unknowns, but Niccol brilliantly knocks these down, one by one.
On P.23, we have our inciting incident, or what I figure is the inciting incident - the moment which changes everything for Truman - where he sees whom he believes to be his father, dressed as a homeless man, and then dragged away by two strangers. This is the game-changing scene, this is where perception starts to shift for Truman.
By the beginning of Act Two (I’m guessing P.35), we already have answers about Fiji, about Lauren / Sylvia, about the reality of Truman’s existence. And we go into Act Two, as the pieces of this picture-perfect Seahaven begin to fall apart as Truman seeks out the truth behind all the oddities he’s noticing, from the empty school, to the radio taping running out and tuning into some odd station, as we the audience / reader is behind him, egging him on to seek out the truth.
It isn’t until P.37 that we discover Christof is in charge, and is in fact behind this whole lie - the background antagonist of the story. There’s this kind of cat and mouse game between Truman and Christof, as the antagonist regains control, and gives Truman the perception that he’s losing the plot (to Marlon - his childhood best friend and ally) when he revisits the school to find it packed with children.
It’s a battle between Truman and Cristof as they make moves to outsmart each other, catch each other out but we are led to think Truman is onto a winner as he boards the bus to Chicago. What on Earth are they going to do then? Niccol keeps one final, big reveal for both the audience / reader and Truman himself - he can’t leave Seahaven. Why?
This is when we unravel the last, and final layer of Andrew Niccol’s take on Plato’s Simile of the Cave, and we discover that Seahaven is in fact a made up set in Hollywood, and every single person in Seahaven is a cast member / extra on what we know as 'The Truman Show'.
What did you think of this week’s read? Are you a fan of flashbacks? What did you think of the hidden antagonist in the first act? Let me know over on Instagram (@SundayScriptClub).