Monday, October 24, 2005

The Allegory of the Bourne Identity

Continuing the discussion about education, Socrates begins telling the story of prisoners kept under a very specific set of conditions. These prisoners are kept shackled so that they may only face the wall of a dark cave that they are in, and all they see throughout their lives are the shadows of what passes by on the road above the cave and blocks the sunlight from entering the cave at that precise moment. This allegory of the cave includes the story of a man who leaves the cave and experiences the true world, not a representation of the world as he and his fellow prisoners saw it on the cave walls. In a real world situation, the allegory of the cave is very relevant, due to the figurative nature of all elements of this story. A real world situation I have found that embodies many of the principles contained in the allegory of the cave is the blockbuster movie The Bourne Identity (2002).
It may seem that applying the lessons Socrates teaches us in The Republic to an action flick are a degredation of this classic text, however, doing this is in fact just the opposite. To apply Socrates’ allegory of the cave to an action flick shows just how remarkably relevant and accurate The Republic is, even to this day. In The Bourne Identity, we see Jason Bourne, masterfully played by Matt Damon, wash up onshore in mainland Europe, unsure of who he is, and how he got there. Jason Bourne’s situation throughout the movie is similar to that of one of the prisoners of the cave: he lacks a real understanding of the situation he is in. Due to his amnesia, Jason Bourne must accept what he hears from the news or what he hears from people he meets along the way as truth, because he knows no else and has no personal experience to draw upon. At this point Jason Bourne’s understanding of truth is what he is told and what is given to him.
As a prisoner trapped in the cave of ignorance, Jason Bourne is desperately trying to leave the cave. Due to the physical danger of arrested or killed, this process of discovering his surroundings and the ultimate truth is expedited, because there is a certain sense of urgency to discovering truth when your life depends on it. The process to discovering not only how he got to the situation that he is in, but who he really is, is a very similar situation to that of a prisoner attempting to leave the cave. Because of the confusion that surrounds everything that is happening to him, Jason feels the need to find the ultimate truth and leave the cave of ignorance that his life resembles currently.
In using the allegory of the cave to criticize and analyze the Bourne Identity, we can understand the actions of all characters in the movie. For those that want to keep Bourne from figuring out who he is and what assasination mission he was on while that fateful accident occurred, it is in their best interests to keep Bourne in the cave. As long as Jason Bourne is in the cave and ignorant about the ultimate truth of his job and the situation of the CIA, he is not dangerous. A Jason Bourne that has an understanding of his surroundings, similar to the prisoner who leaves the cave, combined with deadly skills makes for an undesirable combination on the part of the CIA. However, leaving the cave and experiencing ultimate truth, as well as understanding his situation in the true light of outside the cave, is very beneficial to Jason Bourne. By leaving the cave, he will be able to understand why his life is the way it is, and what he must do in order to protect himself and guarantee a life of happiness free from danger.
By drawing comparisons between a recent action flick and The Republic, we are enriching our current culture. The lessons contained in this book, as told by Socrates, Glaucon, Adeimantus, and other men participating in this discussion, tell of universal situations that can always further our understanding of our world. By analyzing a contemporary movie in this manner, we are not only gaining an increased understanding of our modern world, we are gaining a rich understanding of past philosophers and history. Just as Plato wrote an account of the rich discussions between very perceptive and philophical men of the time, we are writing an account of the philosophical discussion that is happening today in our world.

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