Allegory of the Cave vs. Inception
Inception, a film produced by Christopher Nolan, is a 2010 science fiction thriller. Inception was credited for its originality, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. This award is presented to the most unique script that is not grounded on other material published. It sounded too good to be true. How did Nolan come up with his screenplay? It can be argued that most people admired the work for its ingenuity, considering the fact that it has a lot in common with “Allegory of the Cave” by Plato. The two works share similar aspects in their themes and their symbols.
Before analyzing the parable and the film, let us discuss their symbols. In the “Allegory of the Cave” by Plato the cave represents the obscurity and the ignorance the prisoners have on the reality. The word choice used to depict the cave as an “underground den” in the allegory implies darkness and confusion (Plato). In the movie Inception, the dreams themselves signify chaos. The people who enter the dream in a state of unawareness are confined to this false reality. On the other hand in Plato’s work, the sun assumes the role of enlightenment by allowing the hostages to realize the separation between the true and false in reality. This is portrayed as Socrates explains: “Last of all he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of it in the water, but will see it in its own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate it as it is” (Plato). The meaning of Socrates’ words symbolizes the finding of the truth from each individual’s inside impersonating the sun as the truth itself. Plato uses this metaphor of the sun to compare it to the ultimate form, also known as the form of the good. The sun’s role is to cast light on everything in the world, just as the form of good brings people to view all forms in the world. In the same manner, the totem in the film serves in the same role as the sun because it is the only thing that can tell if a person is dreaming or not. Thus, the information which derives from the totem becomes the equivalent to that coming from the sun from Plato’s opera.
Plato writes his philosophical dialogue of the “Allegory of the Cave” from political philosophy based on metaphysics, which examines the nature of reality. The central theme found is the separation of true reality from false reality. He uses the metaphor of the prisoners in the cave to portray the misperception affecting the human beings in their recognition of the reality. The prisoner’s reality is limited by their perception of the images of the puppets and their belief that those are the true creatures. For them that is reality. Understanding the concepts of the shadows on the wall, would change their entire reality. The dreams used in Inception play a similar role to the shadows as they promote the existence of a false reality for those experiencing them. These people will only be confronted with their true reality when they are awake.
The prisoners, in the parable, reach enlightenment when they separate true reality from false reality. When the slave is liberated he is exposed to his true reality being able to discern his false knowledge. In Inception, the way they reach enlightenment is by waking up from the dream. That is where “The Allegory of the Cave” and Inception differ. In the movie, the characters reach enlightenment once they wake up, yet they keep going back to the dreams. That’s where the theme of confusion arises.
The theme of confusion to what true reality is, is identified in both the movie and the allegory due to inception of ideas. In “Allegory of the Cave” “a low wall built along the way, like the screen marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets”. The prisoners are being injected the idea of the puppeteers, thus “to them…the truth would literally be nothing but the shadows of the images” (Plato). Socrates asks, “will [the prisoner] not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are true than the objects which are now shown to him?”(Plato). The use of this rhetorical question further explains that it is human nature to defend your beliefs. Therefore some people wish to remain in darkness because it is easier. Similarly, Inception reached its title because throughout the movie it is evident that the ideas of the dreams are incepted. The character of Mal is unable to differentiate the true reality and the dreams leading her to a confused state. She did not recognize when she had awaken from her dream. In addition, Cobb continues to go back and forth from reality to dream even though he can discern the difference. He is like the prisoner who “…look towards the fire light, 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 in the shadows”(Plato). This supports Plato’s theory that it is human nature to avoid confronting the challenges of the truth.
Without a doubt, it is clear that Nolan obtained his concepts for his screenplay, Inception, from Plato’s work “The Allegory of the Cave.” The two works confront similar thematic plots. For instance, they both touch upon the idea of enlightenment and natural reality versus deceitful reality. However, they use different symbols to represent the concepts engraved such as knowledge and reality allowing for the originality of the later work: Inception. The motive of Inception might be copied from Plato’s classic but the playwright was able to consolidate characters and analogies that permit for a unique representation of this old theory.