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The Allegory of the Cave has many parallels with The Truman Show. Initially, Truman is trapped in his own "cave"; a film set or fictional island known as Seahaven. Truman's journey or ascension into the real world and into knowledge is similar to that of Plato's cave dweller. In this paper, I will discuss these similarities along with the very intent of both of these works whose purpose is for us to question our own reality. In his Allegory Plato shows us how a man ascends from the darkness of a cave to the light of the outside world. In this ascent Plato's man passes through four distinct stages of cognition: from imagination, to belief, understanding, and finally knowledge.
Imagination In this first stage of cognition, the cave dweller is shackled and can only see shadows of figures on the wall in front of him. His reality is based on his imagination of these figures. "To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images." Similarly, Truman's reality is based on this imaginary world where his parents, wife, and everyone else around him are hired actors. Early in the film Truman seems to be happy although he is already starting to imagine himself in Fiji which he points out is the furthest place from Seahaven.
Belief In the second stage, the cave dweller can now see the objects that previously only appeared to him as shadows. "Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?" Using his perception and common sense the cave dweller does realize that the objects are more real than the shadows he was accustomed to. However, his reality is now based on these objects vs. what is truly real. In Truman's second phase he starts to believe that something is wrong with his world based also on his perception and his common sense.
First, his father Kirk who had been written out of the show years earlier sneaks back onto the set. This sends Truman into a teenage flashback of his last moments with Lauren a girlfriend that had tried to tell him the truth before she was written off to Fiji. He also notices that the radio is following him around and people all around him are acting very strange. At this point he does not know what is wrong but he knows he is onto "something big" as he tells his "best friend" Marlon. Understanding Some might disagree at precisely which point Truman "sees the light" and begins to understand what is really happening. Like with Plato's cave dweller the process of understanding is a slow one.
"He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves... ." In the same way Truman's accent into understanding was a slow process. The scene where he notices that his wife is crossing her fingers in one of their wedding pictures is that crucial moment. From that point on we get the feeling that he has gone from assuming there was something wrong to knowing it. It is also at this point that Truman sets of on his quest to leave Seahaven and find true knowledge.
Knowledge Finally, Truman gains fully grounded knowledge. This happens at the very final scene when his ship the Santa Maria hits the wall and Crist of, the creator of the show, starts to talk to him. At that very instant Truman realizes that all of his assumptions about his world were true. From his last words we know that he will not return to Seahaven, much like that cave dweller that would not return to the cave. "I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner." Both the "Truman Show" and the Allegory were brought forth to bring to attention the question of reality and what defines it.
As a viewer it is easy to wonder if Truman himself can be real given that he was created in this false environment. I find myself pondering the existence of my own reality. Like Truman, our lives, especially here in the US, are manipulated daily by the media, with the advent of reality shows, web cameras, and shows like Taxicab Confessions - cameras are everywhere. It is becoming increasingly harder to distinguish what is real and what is not.
These two works can be used to complement each other and both lead to great philosophical questions.
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