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New Twists On An Old Theme

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New Twists on an Old Theme

It has been said that there are no new ideas, only old ones told in a new voice. This thought can be applied in many areas of life and art including the art of filmmaking. There are examples everywhere of classic stories or themes expressed in new formats. Sometimes these duplicates are blatant as in “The Wiz” following “The Wizard of Oz,” the numerous perspectives given to “Cinderella” and recreations such as the modern day telling of “Othello.” Sometimes, though, these older themes are not as obvious, especially when they represent complex thoughts first uttered centuries ago. With the focus in recent years on a return to the classics, it should not be surprising to find allusions to our more famous Greek philosophers represented in popular films and shows. Andy and Larry Wachowski’s movie “The Matrix” shows a strong resemblance in its central theme to that of Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave.”

In “The Allegory of the Cave,” Plato sets forth the idea that mankind is only living in an illusion of life, that the reality is beyond the scope of our own senses and can only be reached through the intellect. In the dialogue Plato presents, Socrates explains “here they [human beings] have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads.” In this vision, Socrates explains that the human beings are watching a giant screen on which marionettes and other things dance, but the humans can only see the shadows of these moving things. The actual colors and nature of these things cannot be perceived from such a perspective, but not having known anything else, Socrates argues that the humans don’t know there’s something to miss: “To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.” In addition, Socrates goes on to explain that when one of these individuals is released from the bonds that bind him, “he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows.” Even when facing the true reality, these individuals will strive to reject what they see, still preferring to believe that what they once knew is still real. However, Socrates continues the discussion by explaining that once this individual is forced to live in this newer light, the person will begin to understand their new perception as being the true reality by degrees: “… first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven.” From this acceptance, Socrates theorized that the person would be very reluctant to return to the cave and would instead take pity on those he had left behind him in the cave. If that person returned to help the others and could make himself accepted as such, Socrates indicates the people would have a tendency to idolize him, but having only been ahead of them in seeing the true reality, this leader would be reluctant to take on such a role. However, if the person had returned to their imprisonment within the cave before their sight was adjusted, they would instead be ridiculed, considered crazy by the inhabitants of the cave who had never left and held as an example for why no one should try venturing out of the cave.

“The Matrix,” produced in 1999, is far-distanced from Plato in the span of time, but its almost a perfect vision of these hypothetical events with a few very minor setting adjustments to place it in a more modern context, therefore making it more understandable to the everyday movie-watcher. In “The Matrix,” Neo takes the place of the unnamed individual of Plato’s allegory. Like him, Neo discovers from others that the reality he’s familiar with is nothing more than a shadow world. Not by coincidence, the majority of human beings are kept chained in caverns underground, forced to see nothing but what the malevolent computer-intelligence wants them to see, just as the people in the cave are chained to their chairs, heads held in such as way as to prevent them from looking to either side and focused only on the screen in front of them showing the shadows of the world they’re permitted to see. When Neo is awakened to the idea that the world he knows is not the real world, he struggles



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