Allegory of the Cave, Descartes’ Meditations, and The Truman Show

In his Allegory of the Cave, Plato asks us to consider that the world we are living is the equivalent of a cave; in order for us to enter into this “sensible realm” of truth and knowledge we must actively pursue these values. In his First Meditation, Rene Descartes asks us to abandon all preexisting assumptions of the universe, as there is the possibility that we are being deceived. It is difficult to imagine there being any legitimacy to either of these scenarios that the philosophers set up, as we are so wrapped up in the intricacies of our own lives that it rarely crosses our minds whether there is any authenticity to what we are experiencing. However, the 1998 film The Truman Show brings a very plausible reality to these propositions. The Truman Show brings to life the notions of skepticism – the belief that they way you think things do not match up with reality – brought up by Plato and Descartes. Recalling the Allegory of the Cave, The Truman Show presents a world where man lives in a false reality. It correlates with the idea of man’s ignorance, and his escape from it, that Plato writes about. Likewise, The Truman Show bears resemblances to First Meditations in respect to its exploration of one man’s transition from trust to doubt in the world presented to him.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave describes a set of circumstances in which humans have been trapped in a cave their entire life, with their only connection to the real world being the shadows cast on the wall they face by a burning fire behind them. Because they have been stuck in this position for all their lives, this is how they perceive their world to be. Truman Burbank, the title character of The Truman Show, lives very similarly to the people in the cave. The enormous television show set he lives on that he lives on echoes the pseudo-reality that the cave provided to the prisoners in Plato’s allegory. The actors hired to interact with Truman are like the fire that gave off shadows for the people in the cave, as both of these gave the illusion of a true reality. However, also like the prisoners, Truman goes through most of his life never suspecting anything was wrong with the world he was presented with. Truman believes “that the truth is nothing other than the shadows” (Republic VII p.1133). At this point in time, Truman is not a skeptic, as he takes his fake world at face value and believes it to be reality.

The key aspect of The Allegory of the Cave is that the prisoner ultimately is freed from his shackles and allowed to finally perceive the sensible realm. Truman’s quest to seek out the truth in his existence represent his own breaking free of the shackles put on him by Christof and all others involved in the production of the TV show about Truman’s life. Plato writes of how once reality can often times be hard to come to terms with for someone who has lived in a state of ignorance his entire life. He relates it to coming out of a dim cave, and having to adjust your eyes once you step out into the sunlight. The light is intimidating, but it is worth following, as once we immerse ourselves in it we cannot possibly imagine returning to the dark state we were once it. This is applicable to Truman, who overcomes his fear of water to fight his way to reaching a reality he has up till then only seen remnants of. It was a risk, but in the end we see that it was nonetheless a risk worth taking. Once Truman hits the wall – the boundary between the cave and the sensible realm – Christof tries to coax him out of leaving. However, it is too late. Truman knows too much, and he cannot possibly consider returning to his dark cave.

Truman would have never come to terms with reality had he never expressed doubt in his artificial world. Rene Descartes emphasizes the significance of having doubt in your surroundings through his First Meditation. Descartes argues that our surroundings cannot be trusted, and so if one ever wants to truly reach a full understanding of their world they must doubt everything. The Truman Show explores this concept of doubt, as Truman leads the majority of his life without a single doubt in his mind that the world is as he thinks it is; he never doubts that his wife is really his wife, he never doubts that he has genuine friends, and he never doubts that his dad died long ago. By never doubting these things, he remained a slave to Christof for so many years.

Once Truman started to be skeptical of his world, he became closer to discovering the truth of his own existence. As strange things occur to him more frequently, Truman abandons the state of denial he had been living in for his whole life. He picks up on odd, unexplainable events that are taking place, such as the stage light falling from the sky or the radio’s crossed signals picking up conversations from the crewmembers that are filming Truman. Truman’s peers tried to dissuade him from having distrust in the world that they designed for him, however Truman does not cease to follow the gut feeling that Descartes encourages. Ultimately, Truman comes to the same realization that Descartes had; his world is being controlled by some kind of evil mastermind, and what he is seeing does not correlate with the world’s absolute truth. This is what pushed him to seek out this actual reality. If Truman had not abandoned faith in the things he observed that seemed so obvious, the film would have ended much differently and much more disappointingly.