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Elements of Allegory of the Cave in the Movie Dead Poets Society

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Benjamin Talić

Professor Kovačević


29 March 2011

"My responsibility is to understand reality but believe in imagination"


Elements of Allegory of the cave in the movie Dead poets society

The movie Dead poets society has many similarities with Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Like the "Allegory" it challenges tradition, conformity, rules. Although the movie is full of such scenes we could concentrate on the big idea and on some key scenes to capture the similarities. The key scenes being tearing out the pages from the book at the beginning of the movie and forming the "Dead poets society", the scene where the teacher makes a student recite poetry, the last conversation between Neil and his father and the last scene in the movie.

We could consider the whole life of the boys to be the cave, but it is enough to consider the cave being Welton academy. Welton academy is the place where the parents and the teachers produce echo and shadows for the boys to see and hear. They form their reality. But at the same time those teachers and parents are prisoners in another cave, tradition and conformity. We can reason that the boy's reality is indirectly shaped by tradition and conformity operating through the parents and teachers. In the dean's speech there is one idea popping out: you have to respect our rules to improve. Another example is the dialogue, more a monologue of Neil's father:" I decided that you should drop the school annual" and

"When you graduate from medical school you can do whatever you please." So even when he would let his "prisoner" be free it must be under his conditions. On the other hand while the cave is a place of ignorance in the "allegory" in the movie the cave represents the light of self-awareness and knowledge. Not directly said but it can be deducted that in the "Allegory" the escaped prisoner is Socrates, his counterpart in the movie is professor Keating. "Yes, I too attended "Hellton" and I survived. No, at that time I was not the mental giant you see before you"-Keating in the beginning of the movie. We can relate that to the prisoner who saw the light, grow mentally and returned to show the truth to the other prisoners. Another example is the dialogue between Neil and his roommate, where Neil who already exited the cave came back, grabbed his roommate and showed him the way out.

You could trace the movements of the prisoner in Plato's allegory with the characters in the film. Recall how Keating had them tear out the introductory pages of the poetry book? That was heretical! Yet it was a move to get the students to stop thinking in terms of mere rote memorization, and begin to think in terms of their own powers of reason. Just as the prisoner in the cave is encouraged to "see" with the "light" of reason, so also the students are encouraged to stop relying on what the "experts" say, and to begin to explore thinking and ideas with their own power of rationality. That was when they thought they could leave but could not get out the door alone, they where



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