Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Have you ever questioned reality or contemplated your existence? Well, so have Lego figurines, men in space, and people trapped in a computer program. While they might have more reason to do so, the initiator of the existential crisis was nonother than a construction worker puppeteered by a tube of glue. The inspiration for this cinematic gold (96% on Rotten Tomatoes)?! Greek classical philosopher Plato.
The Allegory of the Cave reloves around the story of prisoners trapped in a cave since birth. The prisoners are chained facing a stone wall while a fire burns behind them. People walk with animals and objects between the fire and the prisoners, thus the prisoners can only see the shadows on the wall. They believe reality outside of the cave is comprised of the shadows that control their current life. Suddenly, one prisoner breaks free and leaves the cave. He is blinded as his eyes are not accustomed to the sun. The man is able to realize the reality he knew is not actually was true. He goes around the town learning about the people and objects and slowly adjusts to the sun--he gradually gains more knowledge about the true reality. He returns to the cave to tell the other prisoners about reality outside of the cave. The prisoners become hostile as they refuse to believe their truth is wrong.
The Allegory of the Cave's Cinematic Relevance
As a staple technique for the screenwriters, the allegro is used to form the basis of plots for popular movies and media to show the progression of character. Plato explained that reality cannot be fully grasped by the senses, but must be experienced through knowledge. The allegory explores the dynamics of pushing boundaries of preconceived notions of reality to find infinite knowledge. This allows screenwriters to develop characters such as Emmett in The Lego Movie, Neo in The Matrix, and Cooper in Interstellar.
The Lego Movie
In Chris Miller’s The Lego Movie, the Lego people believe they live in their own world and control their own actions. The main character and figurine Emmett first believes that he is a prophet--the “Special”--who will prevent President Business from gluing their world. Emmett then finds out that they are toys being controlled by a boy when the boy has to change their dialogue after his father’s discovery of the figurines.
Emmett learns there are humans in the world that have created their universe. His newfound perception of their existence replaced his old beliefs with knowledge. This journey outside his Lego world allows him to inform the antagonist, President Business, that he no longer has to be the evil character because everyone has the capabilities to be the “Special” and he can change his negative view of the world.
In The Matrix, the main character Neo is imprisoned in a computer program controlled by the Matrix; he is unaware that this reality is false. Neo begins to question his world and realizes he has been a slave. Neo explored the dynamics of his preconceived perspective on his perception of reality to access greater knowledge of the reality of the program. He learns that the world was destroyed at the end of the 20th century.
Neo accepts the revealed truth about himself and has a new perspective on the “reality” of the program that imprisoned his mind, discovering the true reality lied outside the Matrix. As he continues to question what is real--even the chairs around him--Neo learns all his senses were false and created by artificial intelligence. Once he surpasses the perceived limitations of knowledge, he is able to translate the information into limitless physical abilities and manipulate the Matrix.
In Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, the earth is dying and corrupt and people have no recollection of an outside option. As a result, astronaut Cooper has to escape earth and traverse the galaxy in search of a new planet. His journey brings him to a black hole where he is able to travel to another realm, and he gains knowledge about the vast universe and a world outside of earth. He is able to report back his findings in order to save the humans on earth.
While Plato continues to influence our media today, let's continue to ask questions about "reality." Artists often find themselves questioning the nature of perception. I leave you with a challenge, because if a little bright yellow character can fight against super glue in one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces of any child's movie collection, so can you! Be open to new perspectives; ignorance is a fool itself. Who or what is acting as your puppeteer? How do we break free? How do we depict our own reality in our art to impact others?