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Why Inception is Just Plato's Allegory of the Cave, Republic VII

Updated on December 3, 2012

Everyone remembers Inception, the blockbuster, star-stuffed hit that stunned audience after audience. Well, I wasn't stunned. In fact, I laughed when everyone else was so blown away. My friends thought I was insane, and misunderstanding the masterpiece of the century. Sure, I loved the acting and the plot, but it wasn't as new as everyone seemed to go on about.

I guess for everyone involved, summing up Plato's Allegory of the Cave (Rep. VII ) would be helpful. If you haven't read it, I suggest the entire Republic, but specifically this section. To the point! It is written by Plato, and the Allegory is about humanity and knowledge. In it, people are trapped inside a cave, chained and unable to move. As this is all they've ever known, they take it to be reality. All they see are shadows on the wall, and believe those to be reality and the world (so a basket to the cave dweller is the shadow of a basket, etc. ). On the other hand, there are those who are outside of the cave in the light. They see the fault of the people in the cave, and try to get them to leave, but the cave dwellers believe that to be reality, and so they are not eager to trust these strangers who hurt them with bright light. Outside of that cave, however, is the truth and reality.

Now if you're here, I'm hoping you've also seen "Inception", or at least that you understand it basically. Here are the similarities:

People are trapped within dreams and fooled into a false reality

This was a major part of the movie, in fact, most of the action plot. Individuals were taken within the dream world and tricked. Take the comparison of creating dreamscapes in the movie to projection of the shadows on the cave wall. They presented specific skewed ideas to dreamers just as the shadows were projected onto the walls.

My favorite proof for this is a quote from Cobb, while talking to the Mal of the dream world, in which he says, “You are just a shade of my real life.” He admits that she is only a shadow of reality, just as the shadows of reality Plato talks of in the cave.

It's all about genesis

"The dreamer can always remember the genesis of the idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake." Arthur said that in "Inception".

The beginning is where a person typically starts, right? But the cave dwellers do not remember when they entered the cave, or they would understand the falsities. As well, people within dreamscapes do not remember the beginning or how they end up in the dream situations.

“Well dreams, they feel real while we're in them, right? It's only when we wake up that we realize how things are actually strange. Let me ask you a question, you, you never really remember the beginning of a dream do you? You always wind up right in the middle of what's going on.”

Two worlds, but which is real?

As the people in the cave believe they are in the real world, and will fight to stay there, the main characters of "Inception" believe they are in the real world. Well, except for one dead wife of Cobb. Mal is the ultimate example of the similarities between Plato's Allegory and Inception. Over time, she doesn't know which world is reality anymore. She becomes trapped within the dream world completely, and kills herself to stay in that world. This admits that there are two worlds, both replicating a reality, just as the cave dwellers and those in the light believe they are correct.

"What is the most resilient parasite?"

"An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate An idea that is fully formed, fully understood. That sticks, right in there somewhere."

For inception to work, the simplest form of the idea must be planted within the subject’s subconscious, much as the simple shadows are shown on the cave wall. Because the cave dwellers believe so surely in the shadows, it is extremely difficult to get them to leave.

The paradox that keeps one trapped

As people are chained to the walls in the cave, they are led to believe they are in the one world, seeing all there is to see. In dreamscapes, people are thrown into paradoxes, and led to believe they are within an entire world, when they're really just within a single dream box. Both are trapped in caves of their own.

The twelve sleeping men who came to wake up

It was a very small part of the movie, in which twelve sleeping men are seen. When asked if they came to be put to sleep, the man replied oddly:

"No. They come to be woken up. The dream has become their reality. Who are you to say otherwise?"

Overall the similarities between the two are large and distinct. The process of inception is the same as the people trapped in the cave. Both have a central focus of reality and knowledge.

So does that mean Inception is a bad old copycat movie? No. Remember, everything is recycled in one way or another. That doesn't mean a movie is bad. Understand, plot isn't what gives a good story merit, because plot just replicates what you already know. It is the characters, their interactions and the message of a piece that create a great story. Inception is just one story in a long line that borrows from Plato and his Allegory of the Cave.


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    • Hae Eun Park profile image

      Hae Eun Park 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Interesting Hub. Sadly, it seems people find a lot of classical literature intimidating. It's great to see a Hub that enlightens and educates others in an accessible way.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks for pointing this out, very interesting. I did not like the movie at all I felt that Nolan didn't take anytime for character development and focused only on a plot driven narrative.

    • PaddyPhilosophy profile image


      8 years ago from Aberdeen,Scotland

      Good stuff :D

    • profile image

      Peelander Gally 

      8 years ago

      This was very interesting and informative. I rolled my eyes when everyone though this was a mindfuck movie, too, even though it tried really hard to be; it's cool and fairly unique, but also simple and straightforward enough for mass consumption.


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