During the making of "The Truman Show," director Peter Weir spent a great deal of time thinking about two boxes -- the television set and personal computer -- that serve as our technological umbilical cords and feed our insatiable desire to know, or at least to see.
This flow of information and images, says Weir, becomes the de facto extension of education, which was meant to be the salvation of mankind. "The idea that by getting enough information, somehow it will all work out," he says, "By knowing, somehow, your life will be enriched, or you'll be more secure, or you'll be better off. ... I don't get that reasoning. How do you know the information you're getting is accurate?"
Sydney-born Peter Weir, 53, first made his name as part of what was then enthusiastically dubbed "the Australian new wave" in 1974 with "The Cars That Ate Paris," followed by "Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)," "The Last Wave (1977)" and "Gallipoli" (1981). His subsequent work in Hollywood has ranged from the serious ("The Mosquito Coast") to the frothy ("Green Card"), but he's also directed two films that are defining examples of their respective genres: 1985's "Witness" and 1989's "Dead Poet's Society."
In "The Truman Show," Weir introduces Christof, the proverbial man behind the curtain, a media mogul who takes the power of television to new extremes. Within Weir's film lies Christof's "The Truman Show," a long-running, hugely popular, 24-hour soap opera beamed around the world which chronicles the life of 30-year-old insurance salesman Truman Burbank in all its glorious minutiae. Truman's entire life has been an elaborate construct. His hometown of Seahaven is a massive enclosed set, and everyone he's ever encountered -- family, friends, strangers -- is an actor. Truman was literally raised by television.
One of the questions Weir began to ask himself when he first received the screenplay written by Andrew Niccol was about the global audience for "The Truman Show."
"They must be looking, I reasoned, at a way of life that was very different from the way of life that most people were living in the outside world," says Weir. "Even though this was set slightly in the future, I'm just presuming that things are going to get worse. In the difficult lives and polluted cities around the world, they would enjoy watching a sort of ideal community."
Christof may be the controlling deity of Seahaven, says Weir, "but I don't think Christof thinks of himself as God. ... What makes him scary is that he has a plan for us, really, which also includes making a vast sum of money, but I think he really sees himself as an artist "
In order to "produce" the television show within a film, he had to think like Christof. The process was a slightly schizophrenic experience for Weir. "Sometimes, I wasn't quite sure who I was on the set, because I would find myself saying, ‘Oh, no, Christof would never accept that.'"
"The Truman Show" spent a year in preproduction due to Carrey's previous commitments. The delay allowed Weir to revise and refine the script with Niccol, a process that resulted in a more socially complex film. "I think I was looking forward to the challenge of this film," says Weir, "because more than ordinarily, I knew this film had to hit the bull's eye. It couldn't be a near miss. You weren't going to get any applause for trying because it would just be a ghastly wreck if it didn't come off. ... Because it's complex it has to appear effortless."
The film also perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the post-Princess Diana culture still obsessed with attaining and maintaining celebrities, conscious perhaps of the machinations of the media circus but unable (or unwilling) to acknowledge complicity, as consumers, in this vicious cycle. "The Truman Show" touches largely on the loss of differentiation between the real and the unreal in many instances in our society and particularly children. "The question's really unanswered, as yet, about how extensive that damage may be," says Weir.