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Description Table of Contents Author s Bio. Summary Movies hold a mirror up to us, portraying the complexities of human reality through their characters and stories. Key Features: In addition to covering thinkers one would expect in an introduction to ethics e. Slaves, supermen and authentic selves: Existentialist ethics Nietzsche Kierkegaard Twentieth-century existentialism: Sartre et al. Request an e-inspection copy. Share this Title. There are some striking parallelshere.

Indeed, if anything, the cinema improves on the cave as a place ofillusion. What are being projected on the cinema screen are not mereshadows, but sophisticated, highly realistic images. The history of the cinemais itself one of increasingly sophisticated representations of reality, with theprogressive addition of sound and colour making the illusion more and morecomplete.

And it is always possible to think of the cinema itself in cave-like terms, as a refuge from reality, a place where we can go in order to escapefrom the outside world, to lose ourselves in deception, illusion and fantasy. If the cinematic imageis a mere representation, an illusion, it is an illusion that we voluntarily subjectourselves to, which we allow ourselves to be taken in by and in full awarenessof its status as an illusion.

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For Plato in contrast, it is ordinary experience asa whole that is illusory. In order to escape from illusion and to comprehendreality, we have to escape entirely from the realm of ordinary experience. Ignorance forPlato is not bliss, but rather a form of enslavement. We are prisoners insofaras we are prevented from grasping the true order of things by the limits ofeveryday experience, the limits of our commonsense understanding of theworld. To gain knowledge is to escape from the imprisonment of our ordinaryconception of the world.

Plato portrays theprisoners as mistaking for reality the shadows of puppets that are being carriedby others. The implication is that we can be effectively enslaved or controlledby other people when we take for reality the images they feed to us, whenwe believe what they want us to believe. Only if we become critical, if wecome to see these false images for what they are, will we be in a position tofree ourselves from this kind of enslavement. This is more than simply a process of physicaldevelopment.

An important part of growing up is intellectual growth, inwhich we come to question the ideas and beliefs, along with the moralprinciples and standards, that have been fed to us by our parents, teachers andothers over the years. When we are young, of course, we uncritically acceptwhatever we are told about the world. In so doing, we start to become critical, to examine our existing beliefsand standards, to sift through them and weigh them up.

Such critical thinkingis an important part of breaking away from dependence on others and ofestablishing our own identity, our own views on the world, and our intellec-tual and personal independence. Second, the cave calls to mind forms of imprisonment and their over-coming in a wider social context.

An important way in which people can 22 And this is a far more effective form of socialmanipulation than straightforward coercion, because here we are willinglydoing what other people want us to do. Consider for example the advertisingimages manufacturers bombard us with, designed to make us think that theirproducts are indispensable to our well-being or happiness.

Or consider therole of political propaganda in fostering certain views of the world, or inorchestrating public opinion in various ways, in order to help bring aboutthe political goals of others. And movies too have sometimes been seen as partof this, as instruments of cultural or political indoctrination, encouragingpeople to mistake a false cinematic reality for the reality of life in the world. This is by no means to suggest that we arenothing more than passive, unthinking dupes, completely at the mercy ofthese images, as some commentators have supposed.

We can still differentiatebetween appearance and reality. What the possibility of such deception means,once again, is that it is important to be critical. Becoming critical of theseimages imposed on us, seeing them for what they are and grasping the truthof our circumstances, is an important part of breaking away from this kindof subjection, of attaining some degree of independence in our lives.

These are some of the wider implications of the cave image, and they areoften alluded to in cinematic portrayals that make use of the cave image. Letme cite some examples of this. First of all, as Erich Freiberger argues,Cinema Paradiso Giuseppe Tornatore, makes use of the cave image,and indeed the parallel between the cave and the cinema, to portray thedevelopment of its main character Toto towards adulthood and intellectualindependence. Inresponse, the professor compares the deluded prisoners in the cave with theinhabitants of Fascist Italy, blinded by propaganda.


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Since Clerici is himselfone of those who has been trapped and blinded, one of the cave-dwellers, heis unaware of the irony of his own recollections. Before moving on there is one more allusion to the cave worth noting. In this cinema, he is strapped to his seat, unableto turn his head away from the screen. Clips on his eyelids mean that he isunable even to close his eyes.

Behind him, shadowy, white-coated scientistsorchestrate the proceedings. The result is a model citizen, of sorts. However Kubrick also introduces a number of perverse twists thatsets it apart from other cinematic representations of the cave. In this cave story,Alex has to go into the cave, to submit to the brainwashing, in order to gainhis freedom from imprisonment. Moreover, because he has now become aprisoner in a more profound sense, Kubrick gets us to sympathize with Alex,but it is not at all clear that it would be a good thing for this particular prisonerto escape from his cave.

We will touch once more on these broader issues ofknowledge and society towards the end of the chapter.

Philosophy Goes to the Movies: An Introduction to Philosophy, 3rd Edition (Paperback) - Routledge

For now, let us returnto matters more directly related to the issue of knowledge. Plato, as we haveseen, uses the cave image to illustrate his account of knowledge. In it hethrows into question the faith we ordinarily place in our senses. All that oursenses reveal to us, he thinks, are mere shadows and illusions, removed fromreality. But Plato is not the only thinker to question our faith in the senses.

Some two thousand yearsafter Plato, in the seventeenth century, Descartes published his Meditations onFirst Philosophy. And here, he raises issues very similar to those raised by Plato. In order todo so, Descartes presents a number of sceptical arguments, which are designedto show that a great deal of what we think we know on the basis of ourexperience can in fact be called into question — even what seems most obvious.

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He employs two arguments in particular here, the dream argument and theevil demon argument. Descartes begins by pointing out that we sometimes go wrong in ourjudgements about small or distant objects, for example thinking that a distanttower is square when it is in fact round.

Insuch cases we can always correct our mistake in the light of further experience,for example by approaching the tower and inspecting it more closely. So it 25 But like Plato,Descartes wants to raise the possibility that our experience might radicallymislead us about the world. This Descartes doesthrough his famous dream argument.

It has often been suggested that viewing a film hassimilarities with dreaming. In the cinema as well, we are in a darkened room, our physical activity hasbeen limited, and our visual perception is heightened to compensate for ourlack of movement. An updated version of the dream argument appearsfor example in Total Recall Paul Verhoeven, Rather, he isa lowly construction worker strapped into a chair back on Earth, and he is 26 As it happens,he is able to do so.

But one of the intriguing things about the dream argumentis that it has a way of resisting such easy responses. The problem is that anytest we might come up with for determining whether we are dreaming or not,such as pinching ourselves, might itself be part of our dream. This possibility is taken muchmore seriously in eXistenZ David Cronenberg, where the relevantillusion-creating device is a futuristic form of video game that plugs into thespine, and allows one to inhabit a complete virtual reality. Towards the end,the central characters Allegra Geller Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ted Pikul JudeLaw seem to escape from the game, only to realize that for all they know theymay still be in it.

It thus takes seriously the ideathat nothing in our experience seems to be able to completely exclude the 27 Anything we care to propose as a test for being awake could itself be part ofthe dream. For Descartes, there remain some claims about what the world islike that survive the dream argument. Dreams, he argues, derive their contentfrom waking experience we dream of people, houses, trees and so on , andso even if we do not know at any particular moment whether what we areexperiencing is real or part of a dream, what we experience can still giveus a general idea of what the world is like.


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  4. So Descartes introduces a thirdsceptical argument, one that seems to throw into doubt all beliefs based onexperience. He raises the possibility that there might be an evil demon, anall-powerful being that is able to deceive us completely, causing us to gowrong even in things that we consider absolutely certain. Everything weexperience might be an illusion, generated in us by the evil demon. We cannotbe sure what the world is like, or even whether there is a world outside us atall.

    Philosophy Goes to the Movies

    The idea ofsystematic deception by an all-powerful malevolent being thus raises thepossibility that we could be so profoundly manipulated that everything wehave ever taken to be reality could be illusory. We can gain a sense of just how radicalthis kind of deception is because many cinematic portrayals of systematicdeception fall considerably short. Despite all this, however, the deception here is far lessradical than that portrayed in the evil demon situation.

    Even when he isthoroughly deceived about the nature of his situation Truman remains at alltimes in contact with the real world, even if the reality is only that of atelevision studio set. The situation is similar in The Game David Fincher, Here Michael Douglas plays the corporate executive Nicholas Van Orton whohas been enrolled by his brother in a mysterious live-action game for hisbirthday.

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    Eventually itbecomes impossible for him to tell whether what is happening in his life isreally as it seems, or simply part of the game. A film that comes significantly closer to the evil demon situation withregard to the depth of the deception that it presents is The Matrix Andy andLarry Wachowski, They are however completely unaware of their real situation.


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    Only a few rebels have managed to escape this enslave-ment and are able to offer resistance to the machines. Thus at the outset ofthe film, before he escapes from the matrix, everything that the centralcharacter Neo Keanu Reeves experiences and takes to be real is in fact acomputer-generated illusion. Indeed, as inthat scenario, most of humanity in the film is in reality floating in tanks,hooked up with electrodes through which they are fed their simulated reality.

    The Matrix is particularly interesting because it also incorporates some of theother themes we have been discussing.

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    There are multiple references tothe issue of dreams, and the possibility that we might be dreaming withoutknowing it, which Descartes raised in his dream argument. What if you were unable to wakefrom that dream? How would you know the difference between the dreamworld and the real world?