So What Do Arcade Fire and Plato Have in Common?

So, being a cultured type, you know immediately what I’m talking about when I bring up Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, dontcha? Well, I’ll explain anyway (mainly for my own sake). Imagine a cave. In this cave are a bunch of people, restrained in such a way that they simply have no choice but to stare directly at the wall at the back of the cave. Behind these people is a fire, and behind the fire is the opening the cave. Outside the cave, people are carrying on with their daily lives, as you do; carrying water, poultry, food and other nonsense to and fro. Thanks to the fire, images are thrown onto the back of the cave that the prisoners are facing; think a kind of shadow puppet affair. For the people in the cave, what they saw cast on the wall in front of them was reality, as it was all they’d ever known. You following me? Excellent. So, one day, one of the fellas in the cave gets up and turns around, and finds himself faced with the fire. He’s told that everything he’s known up until this point has been a lesser version of reality, and what he’s seeing now is truly the reality that humans are a part of. As you can imagine, his mind is summarily blown — and he’s then taken outside to get a closer look at the entirety of the real world. Sun, moon, stars — all the good stuff. He eventually returns to the cave to tell everyone about all the awesome things he’s seen in the real world, and they decide that his exposure to the blinding sun has driven him crazy. They decided that they’d never leave the cave, just to be on the safe side, and that they’d also kill anyone who tried to make them. You might be trying to work out why I’ve blown so much of my word count on a lively rendition of an old-school parable-and I’ll tell you why. Some redditors have recently been consolidating a theory wherein all of Arcade Fire’s albums are simply retelling the story of these people trapped in the cave.

Now stick with me here; because things are going to get complicated. The theory hinges around the idea that the story is told basically out of order through a number of different songs on their debut album Funeral (which was, terrifyingly, released almost a decade ago now), and some from Reflektor and The Suburbs. The first track mentioned in this theory is, unsurprisingly “Une année sans lumiere,” which translates as A Year Without Light. The song, which is sung partly in French, contains two key lyrics that tie into this theory — “A year without light/I mount a horse that is wearing blinders” and “If you see a shadow/There’s something there”. The first of these could be in reference to the people trapped in the cave, without light, with the animal wearing blinders a metaphor for their focused and closed-off nature. The second is pretty self-explanatory; for them, shadows make up reality.

The second track that supposedly ties into this theory is the third part of the Neighbourhood quadrilogy, “Power Out.” It seems to be telling the story from the point of view of the one man who left the cave and went out into the real world — “I woke up on the darkest night….Shadows jumping all over my walls/Some of them big, some of them small” seems to firmly place the narrator as the escaped prisoner. Later in the song, the narrator sings “ I went out into the night/I went out to find some light… Is it a dream? Is it a lie?/I think I’ll let you decide/Just light a candle for the kids/Jesus Christ, don’t keep it hid!”. You could certainly read these lyrics as his viewing of the outside would combined with his desperation to let the other prisoners see what he has seen. “Wake Up” also deals with the themes of finding out something you’d believed was untrue (“And I can see that it’s all a lie!”).

“Half Light I” and “Half Light II,” aside from the telling names, deal with the idea of trying to hide something that we know to be true, while “City with No Children” from the same album (The Suburbs) hints at the narrator returning to the cave — “”When you’re hiding underground, the rain can’t get you wet./but do you think your righteousness can pay the interest on your debt?/I have my doubts about it.”

There’s much more to be read into here, and it’s something Arcade Fire spoke about in 2004 so it might not be beyond all belief after all. Will you be sitting down with your Arcade Fire discography and a notebook? I know I will be. Pass me that beginner’s guide to philosophy.

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