In Book VII of The Republic, Plato tells a story entitled "The Allegory Of The Cave." He begins the story by describing a dark underground cave where a group of people are sitting in one long row with their backs to the cave's entrance. Chained to their chairs from an early age, all the humans can see is the distant cave wall in from of them. Their view of reality is soley based upon this limited view of the cave which but is a poor copy of the real world.
In addition to the chained people, there are other people in the cave. Plato refers to them as the puppet-handlers and they are the ones holding those in the cave captive. (It is important to realize that the prisoners do not realize this--in fact, the prisoners do not even realize that they are being held captive since this existence is all they have ever known.) Walking behind the prisoners, the puppet-handlers hold up various objects found in the real world. Due to a fire that is burning the mouth of the cave, the prisoners are able to see the objects and each other only as distorted, flickering shadows on the cavern wall in front of them.
Unfortunately, the prisoners can not see the actual objects or the puppet-makers because they are unable to turn their heads. From childhood, "...their legs and necks [have been] in bonds so that they are fixed, seeing only [what is] in front of them.... As Plato goes on to later explain, "the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images."
The movie, "The Matrix," parallels Platos's Allegory Of The Cave in a number of ways. Similar to the prisoners of the cave, the humans trapped in the matrix (the cave) only see what the machines (the modern day puppet-handlers) want them to see. They are tricked into believing that what they hear in the cave and see before them is the true reality that exists. Furthermore, they accept what their senses are telling them and they believe that what they are experiencing is all that really exists--nothing more.
However, Neo is forced to face a painful truth when he is removed from the pod that has kept him trapped in the virtual reality of the matrix.
Neo discovers that what he has been presented with his entire life is only reflections, or merely shadows of the truth. This theme is carried throughout the movie as we see ...
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...yone to take them out of the cave. They would fight to stay in the cave because it is the only world they have ever known and it is where they feel safe. In "The Matrix," Cypher kills several people in his quest to go back to the matrix (the cave).
Morpheus tells Neo the same thing in regard to the humans still plugged or trapped in the world of the matrix. "You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged [forced out of the matrix--the cave]. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it."
Society's Role In Our Lives
In conclusion, Plato's story of the cave brings up many philosophical points and most importantly, addresses the issue of society's role in our lives. To some degree, we are all influenced by the thoughts and actions of others; however, at the same time, we have the ability to question, draw our own conclusions, and ultimately make our own choices.
As Trinity tell Neo, "The Matrix can not tell you who you are." By being courageous enough to turn around and take the red pill, we, just like Neo and the Freed Man, are making the first step towards personal independence.
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