It is dark in the cave, really dark. There is a man sitting in the corner chained at the neck and wrist. Images fly by on the wall so fast that he can barely make out what they mean. Suddenly, someone grabs him by the neck and drags him up the stairs. The caveman screams and refuses to go. The cave is his home and he does not want to go outside of this comfortable place. The cave is the world to this man. Even with all his effort, he eventually gives in and follows the man out of the cave.
The sun blinds him subconsciously at first sight; the caveman slowly regains his sight and sees the world for what it is. Outside of the cave is true knowledge (Plato 107). This caveman is now enlightened. Similar to this caveman in Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave,” the character John Preston in the movie Equilibrium takes the same path to enlightenment. Equilibrium in many ways supports Plato’s argument for the necessity of enlightenment and resembles the allegory in many ways; although the outcomes are different, it proves that even though there are many drawbacks, in the end, the rewards, of truth and freedom, are worth every bit of the effort.
“The Allegory of the Cave” describes a man’s journey to obtain true knowledge-enlightenment. The allegory depicts a cave which holds prisoners, chained to the wall. These prisoners cannot turn to talk to their neighbors or see anything other than what is in front of them. At the back of the cave is a fire, the only source of light. It is through this fire that the puppeteers, the influential powers, cast shadows on the wall containing illusions that the prisoners believe to be real. One day, a man appears in the cave, free of chains. He releases a prisoner and drags him kicking and screaming out of the cave, into the light of the sun.
The light is so radiant that the newly released prisoner cannot see. He believes he has gone blind but slowly begins to regain his sight. Once his eyes are accustomed to the light, he sees things for what they really are and he understands that he is in a better place. He is now enlightened. He understands that the world is not the images that he saw on the wall in the cave. The world is a wonderful place full of life. He rushes back into the cave to free the trapped inmates, but even with all of his efforts to explain, they do not believe him. They make fun of him and believe he has gone blind. These people refuse to believe the truth and stay in the cave along with their fabricated reality. Plato’s allegory shows that the path to enlightenment, although hard and dangerous, is essential in order to better ourselves and understand true knowledge (Plato 104-108).
Directed by Kurt Wimmer, Equilibrium describes the story of a man’s struggle to attain enlightenment. Society in the land of Libria has rebuilt itself after the devastating Third World War, and to prevent any future major conflict, a drug called Prozium that inhibit emotions supplements the citizens’ diets. These citizens are prisoners trap inside the city of Libria, which is very similar to Plato’s cave. Anyone caught laughing, crying, falling in love, or coming across banned artwork or music is executed. These are the rules set forth to limits and control emotions, enlightenment. The influential members that control the prisoners and keep them in line in the cave are also present here in the form of the Grammaton Clerics, law enforcers of Libria (Plato 106).
John Preston is the highest level Clerics and he is the strongest warrior in hunting for sense offenders, people who refuse to take Prozium. But one day, Preston accidentally misses his dosage and begins to feel appalled at the injustice he sees. Preston finds himself unwilling and unable to turn back to the dreariness of his previous existence. This part of the movie is comparable to the caveman being freed from the chains and crawling out of the cave even though he does not want to leave the comfortable place that he is currently in. Preston realizes that a society without emotions is like a world without life. He leads the coalition to destroy the government and return emotions to society. Preston comes out of the cave and looks straight into the sunlight in search of freedom-just like the caveman in the allegory (Plato 107).
Preston’s passage to enlightenment, in Equilibrium, exhibits many elements that are similar to “The Allegory of the Cave.” The film demonstrates some of his biggest challenges and how he overcomes it to reach enlightenment. Preston’s biggest payment for enlightenment is his wife. Unlike Preston, his wife is already enlightened She could love, laugh, and cry; she could feel all the emotions that a normal human being could. Because of this, she was incinerated. They call her the sense offender, a crime that is destined for destruction. Before the police take Preston’s wife away, she kisses him and says, “Do not forget me.” Preston struggles to understand what his wife tried to get through to him but the chains, Prozium, restrain and hold him back. Fate, later, makes another arrangement for enlightenment through his partner, Partridge, who is too enlightened.
Preston suspected Partridge of feeling, so he followed him one night outside of Libria and found Partridge sitting in a church reading a book. Patridge’s last words to Preston are, “For I being poor, have only my dreams. I spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams. I assume you dream, Preston.” Millions of thoughts run through Preston’s mind. He remembers all the dreams he had about his wife and the details of her execution. Preston weeps deeply inside, yet he fires and killed his partner. These fatalities build up the anger inside Preston and later lead to his enlightenment. He does not want to see him wife executed or kill his partner yet he is somehow forced to kill them. Prozium, the teaching of the Father, and his trainings are like the puppeteers and images on the wall that the caveman sees (Plato 106).
The last witnessed fatality is Mary, who refuses to take Prozium. Mary shows Preston a world he has never seen before, a world of suppression, dreams, and illusion. When he stepped into the secret room that Mary had specially built to hold artworks, records, and forbidden items that could stir emotions, he saw a snow globe that stirs up thousands of emotions in him all at the same time. A record plays in the background while he reads Mother Goose; he finally understands all the emotions that Prozium suppressed. He has reached the end of the cave and saw the sun light just like the caveman. He is now enlightened; Preston found true knowledge just as the caveman looks straight into the sun and sees all the beauty that is around him (Plato 107).
The outcome of enlightenment may differ between Equilibrium and Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave,” nevertheless, enlightenment is required in order for both society to obtain freedom. The caveman experiences enlightenment and it was the greatest feeling in the world. The caveman’s world after enlightenment is a place of knowledge and power, a place that is perfect in every way, a place so perfect that he wants to share it with the people that are still stuck in the cave (Plato 107). Enlightenment in Libria results in war, deaths, and horror. The enlightenment in Preston fueled his thirst to understand his emotions. The more he feels, the more he hated the government for producing Prozium. He goes on a killing rage destroying military forces, innocent people.
Factories that produced Prozium are demolished the minute news breaks out from the rebels that Preston had succeeded in killing Father. Rebel forces stormed the streets killing police and military forces as if they were hunting down their prey. Blood shed everywhere in the street; destruction that was once abolished is now back and is stronger than ever. In spite of this, Libria regains its loving, caring, and all the emotions that make up a real human being. Enlightenment comes at a big cost and even though some may not agree with the price, it is required. Someone has to sacrifice in order for another to benefit. Many people sacrifice their lives in order to bring Preston into the light and help enlighten him. In the end, enlightenment is just like what Plato described, the ideal state that offers perfection, true knowledge and freedom.
If knowledge is power, then enlightenment is the most powerful weapon if used correctly. With the power of enlightenment in their hands, the people of Libria destroy their government and regain their freedom. Preston proves that with the will and belief to better his life he can do anything. Plato’s teaching encourages enlightenment and self-realization, to look outside of the box and seek your own path to enlightenment. In the end, both “The Allegory of the Cave,” and Equilibrium teach a great lesson, to seek for the truth, whether through education or through the journey of life, and to use that knowledge wisely to advance in life.
Equilibrium. Dir. Kurt Wimmer. Perf. Christian Bale and Emily Watson. Miramax, 2002.
Plato. “The Allegory of the Cave.” The Mercury Reader. Ed. Janice Neuleib. Boston: Pearson, 2002. 104-108.