Image Studies

Image Studies

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Plato’s Cave in Claymation


Imagine prisoners that have spent their entire lives chained deep inside a cave. They have been chained so they cannot see behind themselves. And they are forced to stare endless at the cave wall in front of them. Behind them a fire is burning…

So begins the narration of this animated film of Plato’s allegory of the cave. The allegory is one of the most influential comments on the image in the history of philosophy. For Plato, ordinary people are described as slaves chained in a dark cave witnessing in the firelight only shadows of what lies outside. Climbing out of the cave to ‘enlightenment’ is achieved only through rational thought, which provides the right way of ‘seeing’. The allegory establishes what is now a well-known narrative from dark to light, from ignorance to enlightenment, and which significantly is linked to language (as means of rational thought) usurping the image.

Watching the film immediately raises questions about the relationship between image and text:

1. Is this a ‘faithful’ rendering of Plato’s original text? How can we know?

2. After watching the film, can you picture the scenes differently? Or are you ‘trapped’ by the images playing on your computer screen?

3. Is Plato’s allegory about power and ideology, or about our comprehension of the world and aesthetics?

Try making a visual representation of Plato’s cave yourself – what would your version look like?


For more on Plato’s allegory of the cave and the relationship between text and image see:

Plato, (1955) The Republic. London: Penguin,  pp.278-83.

Manghani, S. (2013) ‘Image and Text’ in Image Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Routledge, pp.59-87.

Mitchell, W.J.T. (1987) Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Plato’s allegory of the cave informs Jean Baudrillard’s four stages of the image in his book Simulacra and Simulation (1994), which in turn was a direct influence for the highly successful film The Matrix (1999),  a science fiction action film written and directed by The Wachowski Brothers and starring Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne. A key scene shows the Matrix as a ‘construct’ – a remediation of Plato’s Cave:

(See HERE for further commentary on this film)


See also, an older animated version of Plato’s cave, narrated by the director and actor Orson Welles:

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