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Since everyone in this thread is pointing out typos and nit-picking selection criteria, can I just explain to all the people claiming that this-or-that movie is an allegory that the movies they are describing are not actually allegories?

Stories where one thing stands in for another thing in a single, specific way are called “parables.” If you think that E.T. is supposed to be Jesus or the scientists in Prometheus are supposed to represent humanity’s search for knowledge, that’s great, but neither are an allegory. They are parables, a story where each character is a metaphor for something else in one specific way.

Allegory is a defined literary form that was most popular in the medieval period. And while it also involves a big extended metaphor, there’s two things that set it apart, and they’re both pretty easy to find:

  1. The characters have to represent abstract concepts. They can’t represent historical figures or events or specific people. Any movie with a Christ figure in it who dies and comes back is not a Christian allegory, it’s a Christian parable.
  2. The characters have to be completely driven by the traits they represent. If a character represents Laziness, they have to be lazy all the time, and refuse to do anything that takes too much energy, and act as nothing but a vessel through which we see how Laziness relates to the other concepts in the allegory. It’s the main reason allegory is often seen as a bad thing in modern films/theater — audiences tend to prefer more complex characters with multiple facets to their personality; allegory demands that they only have one.

So far as I can tell, the only modern film that is actually an allegory is Inside Out. The five moods are entirely defined by the feelings they represent, all of which are abstractions.

Some movies have characters that could represent abstract concepts, but they don’t do it all the way through — like Charlize Theron’s character in Prometheus might seem to represent Captialism, but then she also has a secret father and gets squashed by a spaceship, and the movie doesn’t try to show how those things represent something about Capitalism at all.

Or the metaphor is so multifaceted that it could refer to multiple things. I’ve seen The Matrix described as a story about spiritual enlightenment, discovering one’s sexual identity, and rebelling against capitalism, but the pieces aren’t well-defined enough to qualify as an allegory. Agent Smith could represent the corporation, or heteronormativity, or the philosophy of materialism, but it’s all so loose that no allegorical structure actually emerges.

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.

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