Essay on Cinema: Plato & Lacan


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Plato's Cave, Lacan's Mirror Stage and Cinema

Essay on Cinema: Introduction

Cinema and its spectators show several similarities with certain psychoanalytic and philosophical concepts. Cinematic experience can also differ from those as it's a unique experience unlike anything else. To explain this further, this paper makes clear the analogy and differentiation between Plato's Cave and cinema. Later, explains the analogy between Lacan's Mirror Stage and cinematic experience, then decides with whom the spectators identify themselves. Although we can relate those concepts to cinema, it is undoubtful that cinema differs from both and is idiosyncratic.

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First, we have to take a look at Plato's Cave and cinema. Plato's Cave is an allegory that takes place in "The Republic." It is a cave full of people who are chained from birth and are unable to move anywhere. They look at the shadows before them and nothing else. It is their whole reality. Based on this description merely, we can say that this resembles a movie theater. In Plato's image, he explains how he sees the nature of reality; for him, that's how we understand the world around us. To realize the actual reality, for Plato, people need to get out of those chains and experience nature themselves. That's where this analogy is created. In a movie theater, people also look at whatever is presented. Cinematic images can be seen as the shadows in the Cave. What is perceived in cinema is not the object but its shadow and replica (Metz 45). According to Andersen, films are a part of reality, but they stand apart (Andersen 32). Movies reflect what we see around us, and for Plato, the world we perceive is deceitful; therefore, cinema would be just mimicry of another mimicry. It cannot be real because it is not alive, just like the shadows in the Cave; it is just a copy of another doubtful reality. However, cinema, in specific ways, differs from Plato's Cave. For example, people in the Cave have chained from birth, but cinema spectator knows what they will get, they are aware that it is not real life. Thus, movies can provide us with the same questioning that Plato did in his allegory. Plus, another perspective might argue that cinematic images move, unlike photography, therefore they may be identified as instants of time or pieces of reality (Baudry 305). Another differentiation is that cinema is a form of art; thus, one might say it does not try to mimic reality; it's just another phenomenon by itself.

Secondly, we will explain how cinema resembles Lacan's mirror stage, how it differs, and how the spectators identify themselves. Lacan's mirror stage argues that human children identify themselves first when they first encounter a mirror. This illusory builds their ego. The mirror stage establishes a relationship between an organism and its reality. The image on the mirror can be associated with the cinematic images. And the child is the cinema spectator. The relationship between an organism and reality can also be seen in movies. In movies, we see the reflection of life and nature. Spectators see the same illusion in another mirror. The camera moves independently and can only reflect what is evident. This creates a base for the spectators in which they can identify certain concepts. However, there are many different elements between a screen and a mirror.

First, spectators never see their bodies on the screen, unlike the mirror. Moreover, children perceive themselves first in a mirror; however, cinematic spectators already know all the elements of the movie because they reflect reality, and spectators are not children. Also, the camera's existence brings about a third party, which is absent in the mirror stage. Although the camera moves like an eye, spectators know that it's there. Therefore they know that it's a product rather than a reality. Based on these, with whom can the spectator identify herself? For somebody to identify "themselves," they need to see their reflection "as" an object. In cinema, spectators identify themselves "with" an object because they are not apparent on the cinematic screen (Metz 48). This is another distinction that separates cinema from the mirror. However, an identifying can also be seen in cinema. Because spectators can't see their bodies or self, they can identify with the movie's characters. They can identify with the actor.

Furthermore, films also reflect the copy of reality; thus, spectators can also identify their world and environment. According to Baudry, that's why spectators identify less with what's represented, the spectacle itself, than with what stages the spectacle is shown (Baudry, 311). Also, spectators might identify themselves with the camera, too, because they "see the movie"; if they were to close their eyes, there would be no movie for them. They see the events in the movie as the camera that recorded them. As Metz says, "I (the spectator) am the camera, which points and yet which records (Metz 51). Lastly, spectators know that they perceive that they know they have senses, unlike a child before a mirror. This means spectators have already identified themselves as objects; hence, the cinematic experience is symbolic because spectators expect what they will see. But they can continue identifying themselves with the abovementioned elements in the cinematic experience.

Essay on Cinema: Conclusion

After all, cinema and its audience fulfill psychoanalytic and philosophical roles. We can see that by relating it with certain concepts. For example, cinema shows a remarkable resemblance to Plato's Cave and Lacan's Mirror Stage. However, it also differs from those in certain aspects. This paper, therefore, analyzes the analogy between those concepts and the cinema, explains their differences, and lastly, answers the question of with whom cinematic spectators identify themselves. While cinema imitates those concepts, it is unquestionable that by itself, it's an unusual experience.


Andersen, Nathan. Shadow Philosophy : Plato’s Cave and Cinema. London ; New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014.

Baudry, Jean-Louis, and Alan Williams. “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus.” Film Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 2, Dec. 1974, pp. 39–47, 10.2307/1211632. Accessed 5 Nov. 2019.

Metz, Christian. The Imaginary Signifier : Psychoanalysis and the Cinema. Bloomington, Ind., Indiana Univ. Press, 2000.

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