6. The Village (2004)
An M. Night Shyamalan film with unparalleled potential, The Village is about a small Pennsylvania town (Pennsylvania is the worst, isn’t it?) in the 1800s. Residents of the town live in constant fear of “those we don’t speak of”, monstrous figures that stalk the woods surrounding the town.
This has gone on for some time, apparently, as everyone in the village knows of nothing outside of the village. Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Pheonix) decides to try to learn more, and the village elders attempt to deter him from leaving or investigating.
Of course, nothing gold can stay, and Hunt is determined to figure out what surrounds the secluded village and what motivates these monsters. In a sense, he is determined to break the chains and free himself from the cave. That much is clear early in the film, but what lies outside is not. Will he return to share the outside world with those stuck in the cave?
7. The Matrix (1999)
Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a computer programmer and hacker who, in his work and hobbies, is frequently confronted with a cryptic phrase: the matrix. He eventually meets Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who helps him—you guessed it—see the outside the cave. As soon as he does, viewers see Anderson awaken in a strange pod connected to myriad electric cables and electronics.
What is Anderson sitting in? He is somewhere between being a brain-in-a-vat, the famous thought experiment epistemologists love to talk about these days, and a prisoner of Plato’s cave, the origin in some ways of the brain-in-a-vat scenario. Now Anderson is able to see and experience reality as he was never able to before, but he must fight to share reality with everyone else.
8. Stranger than Fiction (2006)
One of the most peaceful Will Ferrell films of all time, Stranger than Fiction follows Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), an IRS agent who meticulously plans out his every day and lives the most bureaucratic life imaginable. This would, it seems, continue on until Harold dies, but he quickly realizes that his life is being narrated by the voice of an omniscient female narrator.
Things start to go wrong, and he hears her utter the words “little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death.” Terrified, Harold sets out to discover what is happening, who is narrating his life, and what he can do to regain control.
Besides obviously dealing with issues of free will and spontaneity, Stranger than Fiction is about a character who is living without access to the higher realm. As soon as Harold is able to hear the narrator, he realizes that there is an immediately more important narrative out there and that it is controlling his life. He must find a way to break into it in order to restore order and keep on living.
9. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
This Guillermo del Torro film is a Spanish fantasy following Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) in 1944 war torn Spain. Her new stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), has been stationed in the woods of Spain and assigned to hunt down rebels after the civil war.
It is quickly revealed that Ofelia is the Princess of the underworld, and that she must complete a series of tasks to return to her father, the King of the Underworld, to rule in serenity with him. The tasks are difficult and of an obviously mystical and bizarre nature, but Ofelia does attempt to complete them and is helped along the way by a “pan” (faun).
The reality viewers most frequently see is, of course, that of Spain and its civil war, as the guerrillas infiltrate the camp and attempt to disrupt the militia’s efforts. It seems that everything supernatural is in Ofelia’s head, but she has faith that it is not. Of course, this compounds as Captain Vidal tries to prevent Ofelia’s imaginative games and discourages her from reading any more fairy tales. Which is real and which is not? You have to watch until the end to find out.
10. The Truman Show (1998)
The most obvious allegory of the cave, The Truman Show is a Peter Weir masterpiece following Truman Burbank (Jim Carey) as he lives his seemingly normal life.
What Truman is unaware of is that his life is actually a television show, filmed constantly and broadcasted 24/7 to viewers around the world. This involves a lot of work, from hundreds of cameras to the dozens of actors playing a serious role in Truman’s life to even the intense amount of work that must be done to make the set seem believable. It’s a real Synechdoche, New York, in a sense.
Of course, all of this can only mean that all of Truman’s reality is contrived and a bit forced. Naturally, at some point, this must break down, and Truman begins to realize the falsity of everything in his life. The more he investigates, the more he is disappointed, but he is driven to continue because of his love for a woman, Hannah Gill (Laura Linney), and eventually he is able to break free of the chains holding him inside the cave.
Author Bio: Ben Wilson is a recent graduate of Yale college, where he studied Philosophy and Political Science. A film buff and addict, he views film as the proper medium for philosophy in the 21st century.