Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in Pleasantville
Writer and director Gary Ross captured the essence of Plato‘s philosophical views in his movie, Pleasantville. The movie is about two siblings, David and Jennifer, who live in completely different high school social scenes. Jennifer is the wild, extroverted teen who is obsessed with partying and boy drama. David, on the other hand, is a social outcast and spends most of his time watching TV, specifically, his favorite show, Pleasantville. David idolizes the show because of the perfect town in which everyone is accepted and there is never anything that goes wrong.
When the siblings’ mother goes away, the two are left arguing over what TV channel to watch. As their fighting develops, they eventually break the remote, which leads to the plot twist when the two are transported into the town of Pleasantville. This movie directly relates to Plato’s philosophical beliefs, specifically his conclusions about the Allegory of the Cave. However, the movie can also be loosely related to Plato’s noumenal and phenomenal realms in the sense that it is hard to tell the difference between the intelligible and sensible realms.
Plato’s beliefs are interpreted and modernized in the movie, which demonstrate the four truths that Plato realizes in his Allegory of the Cave conclusions. Pleasantville helps the audience understand the conclusions Plato draws from the Allegory of the Cave. Plato’s first conclusion explains why gathering knowledge and education can be difficult. The movie is a parallel because David and Jennifer’s cave is the life they lead as high school students. They are brought to the light when they are transported to Pleasantville.
There, they must adapt to a different lifestyle and confront the truths about themselves that they ignored in the superficial world they once inhabited. When they are brought to Pleasantville, they also act as a philosopher who is bringing knowledge to the small town. For the people that live in Pleasantville, they are stuck in a cave and David and Jennifer are their keys to the light. The movie contrasts parallel universe’s, showing that perspective is what makes someone stuck in a cave. Because the people of Pleasantville and David and Jen learn new things about themselves, they all escaped the cave and gathered knowledge.
The road to enlightenment was not an easy road, however. David and Jennifer had a difficult time maturing and leaving behind their old masks; the town of Pleasantville had a very difficult time gaining a new perspectivethe town leaders tried everything they could to forbid people from leaving their perfect little world. This parallel of the cave explains Plato’s first conclusion of how education can often be difficult because it means turning your back on everything familiar. The movie also very clearly identifies with Plato’s second conclusion that explains why philosophers are often ridiculed.
When Jennifer and David were transported to Pleasantville, they were immediately hated for disrupting the order in the town. They had to learn how to cope with a completely different world, while also instilling in others their new perspective and experience. While Pleasantville is black and white, the town represents the ignorance that people in the cave feel. However, when the town begins to turn to color, the people are finally seeing the light and escaping from the cave. This I somewhat ironic because, for both the people of Pleasantville and David and Jen, they all begin their journey in black and white.
This is interesting because, from Jen and David’s perspective, the two had already experienced the world and were sent to Pleasantville to not disrupt anything. They, however, were very mistaken. They were just as ignorant as the people of Pleasantville, just in a different way. Jen’s radical actions of having sex when she goes on a date in Pleasantville do not make her turn to color because her actions are what would be expected from her back in her own cave. She only turns to color when she gets in touch with her emotions and relieves some insecurities that had hindered her from being her full self.
The people that first turn to color are ridiculed by town leaders and people that had not yet left the cave. This explains why philosophers are often ridiculed; the people that were in color, representing philosophers, had divorced mundane concerns and found their true inner spirit. Plato’s final two conclusions describe the nature of education and the role of the philosopher, which are also dramatized in the movie. Plato tells that the role of an educator is to point their students in the right direction. In Pleasantville, the people are both students and teachers.
They are teachers to Jen and David; the townspeople teach Jen and David the importance of tradition and good values. The townspeople are also students: they learn from Jen and David how to ignite their inner flame and break from the cave that Pleasantville once was. Similarily, Jen and David are also both students and teachers. They are students in that they take the lessons from the people of Pleasantville in order to help them reach the sun and gather knowledge about a world they were unfamiliar with. They are teachers in that they help orient the people of Pleasantville to get in touch with their daring and adventurous side.
In this way, being a teacher is the role of the philosopherthe teacher must help others escape from the cave to experience life. Everyone that turned to color towards the beginning of the movie were the “philosophers” or “teachers” that helped instigate everyone else to turn to color. They helped share their knowledge and encouraged people to reach the sun and gather all new kinds of knowledge. Plato’s final two conclusions explain the nature of the philosopher in educating others and how the student has all the information inside them, they just need to tap into their inner mind to retrieve it.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Gary Ross’s Pleasantville each were very insightful in helping understand the other. By studying the allegory, it was very easy to understand the themes and symbols present in Pleasantville. Conversely, by watching Pleasantville, it was very easy to understand and modernize the conclusions Plato draws in his allegory. Through comprehending both, it is easier to understand Plato’s four truths: why knowledge can be difficult; why philosophers are ridiculed; the nature of education; and the role of the philosopher.