Plato Goes to the Movies: Summer Blockbusters May Seem like Mindless Entertainment, but Two of This Year's Big Films Offered Viewers More to Chew on Than Popcorn

By Pacatte, Rose | U.S. Catholic, September 2013 | Go to article overview

Plato Goes to the Movies: Summer Blockbusters May Seem like Mindless Entertainment, but Two of This Year's Big Films Offered Viewers More to Chew on Than Popcorn


Pacatte, Rose, U.S. Catholic


The ancient philosopher Plato (429-347 B.C.), the student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, had a busy summer this year at the movies. A case could be made for Plato's descendants to receive royalties from both The Croods and Man of Steel, as both films rely heavily on Plato's The Republic for the story line.

If you know Western philosophy, you will recognize Plato's allegories of "The Cave" and "The Line" in The Croods. If you know how to read, you will see Clark Kent/Superman in Man of Steel reading a book with Plato's name on the cover in the school yard bully scene and again in the car as he seeks to discover who he really is and what he is meant to do in the world.

Philosophy means "love of wisdom" and is concerned with reality, existence, knowledge, values and ethics, the mind, reason, and language. The Republic is about these topics as well as politics, the governance of the city and state, and the characteristics of his proposed ideal leader. But the first thing Plato had to do was to teach and convince the people (i.e. men) of his rime to use their heads, to think and reflect, to trust their own critical abilities, to move from the cave of fear to the light of day and to really live. He attempted to do this through his allegories.

With The Croods we have the story of a family, beings living on the line between preconsciousness and personhood, and their encounter with a "philosopher king," Guy, who would show them the light of truth and reality. If nothing else, The Croods is a firm endorsement of a liberal arts education, because if you didn't know about Plato, The Croods would have been just another disposable silly movie for kids with a pet sloth to make them laugh. I could not have been more pleased to realize that it was more than just entertainment. It's about being aware of the world around you, reflecting on the marvels of human invention, and discovering the value of family, trust, and questioning the status quo.

Movies about philosophers, or inspired by a particular philosophy or philosophical questions and propositions, are nothing new. The genre-bending sci-fi trilogy The Matrix tests all areas that concern philosophy, stemming from the question French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) asked: Is it all real or just an illusion?

Groundhog Day could be taken straight from the mind of Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus (55-135), who wondered about the human person, free will, and fate. German 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is the father of nihilism, the belief that every moral choice has the same value, or better, no value, so what a person chooses to do or not makes no difference at all, and neither do the consequences. Recall the long-running television show Seinfeld that called itself "a show about nothing." The implications for culture, as funny as the show was and continues to be in reruns, are worth critique and reflection. …

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