One of the most important pieces of Western philosophy is the expansive Republic of Plato. In the Allegory of the Cave, a dialogue between Socrates and Plato’s brother Glaucon proposes the image of common men as a group of prisoners spending their lives watching a shadow play on the inside wall of a cave, mistaking the charade for reality itself. The philosopher, according to Plato’s Socrates, is a man who has emancipated himself from such bondage and attained a truer understanding of the world. For the young director Niclas Gillis, the allegory seems to be especially significant. “We can only perceive what’s in range of our senses,” he says, “and then process that information with whatever cognitive, emotional, and instinctual capabilities that we may have. In a way, our senses tell us what is, and the latter tell us how to deal with it.”
Gillis found himself confronted with a shift in perspective when he moved from his native Sweden to New York in 2009. “Suddenly, all of my convictions were turned on their heads and I had to figure out whether they were actually valid or if they were based on a uniquely Swedish—that is to say, subjective—point of view,” he explains. “I realized that there is a very definite distinction between cultural conceptions and objective morality and that I couldn’t rely on the news for an accurate portrayal of the world, or on the law for moral guidance. Those institutions are just as fallible as any other and they affect not only our concept of reality, but even the way that we think about it.”
That experience came to bear when the opportunity arose to make “The Cave,” a short film made with the help of fashion designer Kyle Fitzgibbons that played earlier this year at the Brooklyn Film Festival. Gillis, who directed as well as starred, says that the idea was to make a “black box of modern American history which the character was going to experience aurally.” The resulting short, a screeching, viscerally powerful study of sensory deprivation, was shot in half a day, although the collaged audio took several months of extensive search through newsreels, audio files, and documentaries in a variety of online archives and libraries.
Himself blinded during the filming process by the white contact lenses, Gillis says that “The Cave” was an opportunity to “explore the possibility of telling a story strictly through sound and having the image play second stage,” an effort that can seem a direct rejection of the primacy of sight in cinema. “Ironically,” he says, “the first thing that people comment on after seeing the film is the visuals—which I suppose bear some semblance to German Expressionism—but we really wanted to do something that was anti-cinematic in a way.”
At the end of the day, Gillis hopes that viewers will come away with an urge to battle their own solipsism. “All I’m trying to say is that since we can only see the world through the windows of our skulls, perception per se becomes a sort of imprisonment, an inability to comprehend the larger mosaic from the viewpoint of the individual pieces,” he explains. “Perhaps the character in the film is someone who wants to break out of that and to see the world for what it really is. To make a complete resignation of the self. It becomes a sort of death in a way, as terrifying as it is liberating.”
Director: Niclas Gillis
Writer: Jonathan Shia