Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and M. Night Shyamalan’s film The Village share striking similarities in theme. Plato’s allegory deals with themes of ignorance and being indentured—if not enslaved—to second-hand projections of reality. The Village and its characters live under this same force. The characters in The Village are governed and held by shadows, much like those chained in Plato’s cave, and much like Plato’s allegory, if those in the village manage to see the projections for what they are and attempt to break free from the cave, they face the risk of death from those still trapped in the cave.
In Plato’s allegory, the idea is that we as humanity are chained to a wall in a cave and shown shadows of life. We are told that those shadows are the reality and truth of life; however, reality and truth truly exist outside of the cave—where we cannot reach. The essential idea of this narrative is that shadows are controlled and manipulated, and those manipulated shadows keep humanity ignorant of what is truly important and truly matters. This ignorance cripples each person in humanity for the duration of their life. Plato addresses that there will be some that recognize that they are only seeing shadows projected on a wall, and not the actual light from outside the cave. These few will strive to make it out of the cave, and when they do, reach back in to pull others from humanity out of the cave as well. However, when they do attempt to reach for the others in the cave, those in the cave will kill the person trying to save them, as they are unable to see true knowledge and true help when it comes. This narrative is a driving force in The Village, and in many ways the film follows the same structure.
In the film, Ivy Walker is the daughter of one of the village’s elders. The elders are essentially councilmen and councilwomen that determine the village’s trajectory. We are not told what year it is in the film, and those in the village live as if they are frontiersmen. Because of this, it appears that they are living sometime in the eighteenth or nineteenth century. The only thing that we know is that there is a village among the backdrop of wilderness, and that those in the village can never venture into that wilderness due to a monster.
Ivy Walker is also completely blind, which is a characteristic that is symbolic of those in the cave. Ivy is in love and deeply connected to another member of the village, Lucius Hunt. Late in the film, Lucius is stabbed by a mentally ill member of the village and is dying. Ivy is desperate to save Lucius, but can only do so with outside medical help. If she does not venture into the wilderness to find medical help beyond what the village can provide, Lucius will die. Ivy is told by her father that the monster is a “farce,” and was created to make sure that the children never tried to leave the village and go into the wilderness. Moreover, the village was created to be separate from the outside world, where it was too dangerous for the elders to continue to want to be a part of. Ivy’s father tells her that they live beyond modern civilization, and that there is medicine that can help Lucius, but that Ivy will have to go into the wilderness and beyond to receive it. Eventually she is abandoned by the two others sent with her, because they see the monster. The same mentally ill man that stabbed Lucius attempts to stop her from leaving, much like the people of the cave. She blindly makes it beyond the wilderness and into modern civilization to receive the medicine that Lucius needs.
The narrative that M. Night Shyamalan’s film follows is immensely similar to that of The Cave. Ivy is one of the rare ones that sees those who are projecting images onto a wall and telling people that it is humanity. She climbs out of the cave, or the village, and is almost killed for doing so. However, because she makes it out of the cave, she achieves the highest knowledge, and with that knowledge is able to free the others from the projections of reality and their chained lives.
Both the cave and the film share a key theme: people who are trapped in a narrow world and only able to interpret the outside world ultimately find that their interpretations were wrong.
In the allegory of the cave, Plato envisions a group of people who are imprisoned in a cave, having been chained to its wall throughout their lives. Their only real interaction with the outside world is that which they can see the shadows of objects. With little to see or do, this world and the shadows are the prisoners' only reality. However, it is a meager reality because they do not really interact with the shadows. They do not perceive what the shadows are and invent a story that bears no resemblance to actual reality. They are ultimately able to break free and leave the cave, only to find that their interpretation of what the shadows represented was not real at all.
The 2004 film The Village shares similarities with "The Cave." It tells the story of a village in which the people live in fear of unknown creatures who reside in the woods surrounding their town. Thus, just as the people in Plato’s cave are prisoners inside the cave, the people in this case are prisoners inside the village. Thus, the village and the cave are both prisons.
Another similarity is that perception differs markedly from reality in both stories. In the cave, the prisoners’ only perception of outside factors is the shadows they see and interpret. The same holds true in the movie. The people have never actually seen the beasts that live just beyond the town borders. They call them "Those We Don't Speak Of," which shows how little real perception they have of these beings. In neither the film nor the cave do the prisoners interact with the world outside the prison.
Just as in the cave, once the prisoners break free, they realize that the real beings and things that created the shadows were nothing as they had imagined them, the residents of the town ultimately discover that the so called dangerous beasts are nothing like they imagined them to be; in fact, there are no real beasts at all.
Plato's Cave is an allegory of the sense of self and the fallacy of correctly interpreting the world around us. In his estimation, it is impossible to truly deduce what is happening outside of our own heads, because the only thing we really experience is our brain's reconstruction of events. In his story, a prisoner is tied up in a cave facing away from the entrance, and he begins to create a story of the world outside the cave based only on the shifting shadows he can see from his vantage point.
In the movie The Village, the village-people are held within a compound that is believed to be in the 1800's, and there are wild beasts that keep them trapped inside. In reality, they are in modern times, and the ranking members of the Village are keeping them inside and pretending to be the beasts to prevent them from leaving.
The two tales echo one another in that the only reality we can understand is that which is directly in front of us. The villagers, like the prisoner, do not see the outside, and therefore assume it is like their village and that the beasts are real beasts. They have no experience in the outside world and therefore no ability to comprehend that their world is not at all what they think it is.