Could The Matrix Be Considered A Modern Retelling of Plato's Allegory of The Cave?

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Answered by: Alexandra, An Expert in the Religion, Thought and Philosophy Category
Plato's writings on philosophy arguably lay the foundation for all of Western philosophy. As well as for his own doctrines and teachings, Plato has left a mark on history by being the only Ancient Greek figure to leave behind a comprehensive account of the philosophies of Socrates, his tutor.

Perhaps his most influential work, after 'The Republic', is Plato's Allegory of The Cave - a fable championing free thought and the challenging of society's teaching. The story begins with a number of prisoners chained to the wall of a cave, a large fire behind them. From these chains they can see only the cave wall directly in front of them, unable to turn their heads to any degree. Passing in and out of their sight are a series of shadows, projected onto the wall by people carrying objects between the prisoners and the aforementioned fire. As such, due to their limited knowledge, the prisoners see the shadows pass on the wall in front of them and assume that that is all there is to reality.

From here, the story goes that one prisoner is, one day, freed of his chains and ventures up and out of the cave to the real world. Upon his exit, the former prisoner is blinded by the brighter light of the sun and astounded at the discovery of three-dimensional objects, and the subsequent realisation that what he saw while in the cave was merely a shadow of reality. The freedman has reached the real world - the World of Forms - and beheld its revelation. There are further steps to the allegory which also pertain to the title of this article, however, due to the word limit, they are not included.

From this summary, then, it is clear that 'The Matrix' shares at least some underlying themes with Plato's Allegory of The Cave -- the idea of breaking free from a false, constructed reality to find true freedom somewhere else and the idea of its being a difficult, painful journey. 'The Matrix' 's depiction of the enslavement of humanity by machines matches the Platonic ideology of our material world, its leaders, and the social conventions and traditions they encourage, keeping us, as philosophers, from being free. In this way, the concept of free thought is key to both pieces of media and underlines the concept of being trapped twice; once by authority and once by ignorance.

As such, the similar themes and underlying message of the two create an undoubtable link and it is clear that the film, like an innumerable number of work created in the last two millennia, drew inspiration from The Allegory of the Cave. As far as it goes regarding 'The Matrix' being a modern retelling of the analogy, however, is a slightly different matter.

The specificities of the warning inherent to each tale are necessarily different, due to the different ages of their creation. Both regard a danger from society as the most damaging for human freedom, however, in 'The Matrix' the focus is heavily on technology, and how it could lead to an horrific dystopia. The Cave, on the other hand, sees the current (contemporary) place of society to be a near-dystopia in itself, with the focus, as such, on how to rectify this. In short, 'The Matrix' tells a story to avoid us reaching a situation of a severe lack of freedom while Plato's Allegory tells us that we are already in such a situation.

Moreover, I would say that a more apt comparison of the two pieces would be to refer to 'The Matrix' as an allegory to The Allegory of the Cave. That is, it is a way to more easily understand a story that has become more distanced from our experiences with time. Instead of the more physical threat of humanity being enslaved by its robotic creation, Plato's Allegory speaks of the danger of a stagnation of knowledge and intellectual exploration, which could lead us to an enslavement of tradition.

'The Matrix' is among countless works influenced by the most famous Platonic tale of allegory but it is, perhaps, unique in its own effect on modern and popular culture, and the way it re-sparked a debate that has run for millennia. I think to simplify it to merely a modern retelling of the pivotal text, however, is to undermine this somewhat, especially by way of ignoring the specific effects unique to its medium as a piece of cinema.

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