Philosophy is a way of thinking about the world. It is the study of ideas about knowledge, truth, the nature and meaning of life, etc. and it consists of several different sections, one being metaphysics. Metaphysics is the part of philosophy that is concerned with the basic causes and nature of things. It distinguishes between what is and what seems, as seen in Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave. ” Metaphysics aims to answer: what, most fundamentally, is real? In the film, The Machinist, I noticed that philosophical theme throughout the movie and as a viewer, I was determined to answer that question.
In “The Allegory of the Cave,” Plato, a Greek philosopher, compares the mind to the Realm of Forms, using a metaphorical story about a prisoner’s escape from a cave to the outside world. The Realm of Forms, according to Plato, is a place of eternity. This is a place where our souls return to once our body dies. In this realm, one can repeatedly be born again. He also believes that we have all been to this realm before because to him, we are our souls and not our bodies. So once our body dies, our soul leaves and goes to the Realm of Forms.
This realm holds all knowledge. As discussed in class, knowledge is true, eternal, unchanging, infallible, what exists and is immaterial. If knowledge is truth and truth is of the forms that means that knowledge must also be true, eternal, unchanging, infallible, what exists and immaterial, according to Plato. Since we have all been to this place which contains all knowledge, Plato also says we do not and cannot learn knowledge. It’s something we already have within us. It’s something that we recall. This makes him a rationalist. He believes that knowledge is innate.
Many other philosophers don’t believe Plato and his argument, but they just can’t seem to prove him wrong. In “The Allegory of the Cave,” there is a prisoner. We will call him Bert, as we did in class discussion. Bert is a prisoner that has been held captive in a very dark cave for an extremely long period of time, along with a few other prisoners. The prisoners are all chained together in this cave that is set up in a stadium-style fashion. The prisoners are facing a large wall towards the bottom of the cave. On this wall, a shadow of a tree is being displayed.
Bert and the prisoners called this shadow of a tree, “tree. ” Behind the prisoners is a contained fire and in front of that fire is a figurine of a tree, which casts the shadow. These shadows are being casted by a security guard in the cave. We will call him Ernie. Bert decides to escape the cave. When he gets out of his shackles, he turns around immediately sees the fire and says “ouch! ” due to the brightness of the fire, but when his eyes finally adjust, he sees the figurine. When he notices that the figurine of the tree is identical to the shadow of the tree on the wall, he calls the figurine “tree,” as well.
Bert continues to escape out of the cave. When he finally exits the cave, he is immediately blinded again, but this time it’s by a large, bright ball that sits in the sky, known as the sun. He looks up at the sun, says “ouch! ” and then continues walking. As Bert keeps walking, he comes across a pond and in that pond he sees a reflection. This reflection is something very similar to something he’s already seen before. It was a reflection of a tree. When he sees that reflection, he says “tree! ” and then looks up and notices a real, living tree next to the pond.
This is his very, first time seeing an actual tree. So out of excitement and amazement, he goes back to the cave to tell the other prisoners about what he’s discovered in hopes of rescuing them from the cave. When he returned to the cave, he told the other prisoners that the shadow of the tree they were looking at isn’t really a tree. He explains to them that behind them sits a pit of fire and in front of that fire is a figurine of a tree that only displays the shadow of the figurine shaped like a tree, not an actual tree. Bert goes on to explain his discovery outside of the cave.
He told them that outside of the cave stands a real tree, not just a shadow of one. As Bert explained the story to the prisoners, they weren’t believing any of what he was saying. Because the only thing they knew for their entire lives was what was right in front of them, everything Bert was saying sounded ridiculous and made up. While they finished listening to everything Bert was saying, the prisoners turned on him and ended up calling the guard, Ernie over. In result, Ernie killed Bert. “Allegory” is defined as a story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning and this story shows just that.
This entire story is metaphorical for an actual event in the ancient, Greek society. Bert, the escape prisoner represents Socrates. Socrates was Plato’s teacher. He was tried for corrupting the youth, inventing new gods and atheism (the belief in the wrong gods. ) In an honor based, Greek society, all of these were capital crimes punishable by death. The other prisoners who remained in the cave represent us, human beings and the chains represent our bodies. Ernie, the guard represents other philosophers. The cave is symbolic for this realm that we’re in, here and now.
The outside of the cave represents the Realm of Forms. The figurine represents something sort of like the Form, meaning things here in this form are modeled after the Forms, but isn’t the actual Form. The reflection represents something very like the Forms and in contrast, the shadow represents something vaguely like the Forms. For example, the 100th copy from a mimeograph; a mimeograph is a duplicating machine that produced copies from a stencil. As each copy is produced, the clarity of the stencil gradually worsens.
So the shadow, representing something like the Form would be like the 100th copy from the mimeograph… an unclear copy of the original. The tree represents the form of the tree (real) and the sun represents the Form of the Good (objective). Just as the sun made everything outside the cave visible for the prisoner, the Form of the Good makes something visible as well. The Form of the Good reveals to us all reality and understanding. “The Allegory of the Cave” is entirely symbolic for the time Socrates went to tell other philosophers about the Realm of the Forms and is executed.
Socrates had been to the Realm of the Forms. When he came back to tell other philosophers about it, they didn’t believe him. We, as humans, mislead our bodies and believe things that technically aren’t true. In the text from Western Philosophy: An Anthology, it states “We adopt our opinions second-hand, manipulated and controlled by others… We need to struggle upwards, out of the cave, into the higher world of universals, grasped not by sense but by the intellect” (Cottingham, p. 69). This realm, here and now is full of things that are not real, but seem real.
We are misled by our 5 senses (sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste), along with other philosophers. We are being shown things that are things similar to what is, but not actually what is. Instead we are being shown what seems. According to Socrates, we are too chained down by our physical bodies to go to the Realm of the Forms and see otherwise. Because we have not seen any thing besides what we see everyday and what we know to be “real” to us, it is hard for us to comprehend or even believe anything outside of what we’re used to.
The Form of the Good is the source of the intelligibility and reality of the Forms” (Cottingham, p. 69). This is the ultimate source of truth. It is the source of all reality and understanding. This Form reveals to us the Realm of Forms, which holds everything true, eternal, unchanging, infallible, what exists and immaterial. In the film, “The Machinist,” trying to distinguish between what was, most fundamentally, real and what was seemed to be a difficult task for Trevor Reznik, along with myself.
The main philosophical theme in this film is the nature of reality and trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not real. This theme shows up in this movie through a lack of understanding of just that, but towards the end of the movie, everything that was real and not real were evident. Scenarios between Maria, her son, Nicholas and himself only existed in his mind, due to the guilt he had of killing Nicholas. Those scenarios did not exist. Also, Ivan was just a figment of Trevor’s imagination, but during the times he “communicated” with him, he seemed like he was real.
Ivan was basically Trevor’s guilt in human form. Once he slit Ivan’s neck, in hopes of getting rid of him, he realized that Ivan wasn’t real at all. Instead, he was the guilt that’s been hovering over him for the past year. He finally realized that the only way to get rid of him/the guilt was to turn himself in for doing the hit and run. Once he did that, Ivan disappeared and he was finally able to sleep after being an insomniac for an entire year. All in all, both “The Machinist” and Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” revolves around the questions what is and what seems?
The shadow, figurine and reflection of the tree seemed to be real until the prisoner saw what was actually real, similar to Trevor in “The Machinist. ” He believed Ivan, Maria and Nicholas existed in certain scenarios, but he then noticed that those scenarios and Ivan were not actually real at all. They just seemed to be real. As the movie played out, it was clear that Trevor wasn’t too sure of what was real and what was not real. For that, he was judged, especially by his coworkers and boss because of the things he claimed existed, just like the prisoner in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave. ”