What is Allegory in Film? Meaning, Definition & Examples.


An allegory is a narrative or representation in which characters and events symbolize deeper meanings or abstract concepts, conveying moral, social, or political messages through symbolic storytelling.

Allegories in movies are a fascinating and intricate way of storytelling, where characters, events, and narratives operate on a symbolic level, conveying deeper meanings or messages beyond the literal storyline.

The use of allegory allows filmmakers to explore complex themes, existential inquiries, or critique societal issues, all while engaging the audience with a compelling narrative.

Allegorical Examples from Movies

Allegories can be seen across various genres and have been used to various effects in cinema history. Here are a few notable examples:

“The Matrix” (1999) by the Wachowskis

One of the most famous allegorical films, “The Matrix,” uses its science fiction setting to explore themes of reality, freedom, and control.

  1. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: “The Matrix” mirrors this allegory through the simulated reality of the Matrix itself, where humans perceive a fabricated world as the ultimate reality, not knowing they live in a shadow of the real, physical world.
  2. Biblical References: Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity are allegorical figures to Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Holy Spirit or Mary, respectively. Neo’s journey mirrors a messianic figure, a “chosen one” destined to save humanity. His death and resurrection in the film also parallel the story of Jesus Christ.
  3. Gnosticism: Gnosticism considers the physical world an illusion, a theme central to “The Matrix.” The act of “waking up” from the Matrix mirrors the Gnostic awakening to spiritual knowledge (gnosis), escaping the deception of the physical world created by a false god (in Gnosticism, the Demiurge; in the movie, the AI machines).
  4. Existentialism: Neo’s journey can be seen as an existential quest for self-identity and purpose in a world where such concepts are manipulated and controlled.
  5. Social and Political Allegory: The Matrix can also be viewed as a critique of a conformist society and its control systems. The film suggests that modern society is a construct designed to keep individuals complacent and unaware of the true nature of their existence, much like the simulated reality of the Matrix. This allegory speaks to concerns about government control, the manipulation of media, and the dehumanizing effects of technology.
  6. Transgender Allegory: Lana and Lilly Wachowski, creators of ‘The Matrix, have publicly identified themselves as transgender women. This has led to interpretations of the film as an allegory for the transgender experience, highlighting themes of awakening to one’s true identity, the struggle for authenticity, and the choice between accepting a difficult reality (red pill) or remaining in denial (blue pill), paralleling the decision to transition.

“The Matrix” remains a rich text for analysis, with its multiple layers of meaning and allegory inviting viewers to explore a wide range of philosophical, religious, and socio-political themes.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) by Guillermo del Toro

Set in post-Civil War Spain, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a dark fantasy that intertwines the real and the mythical to create a powerful allegory of fascism and resistance.

The brutal realities of a young girl’s life under her oppressive stepfather, a Falangist captain, are paralleled with her journey in a fantastical world.

The story of Opheilia’s Rose is an allegory for the oppressed people of Spain. In this narrative, the men represent the Spanish populace, the blue flower symbolizes their political freedom, and the thorns surrounding the rose depict the fascist regime.

Consequently, Pan’s Labyrinth tells the tale of a young girl’s struggle to flee from the harsh realities of fascist Spain.

The film uses fairy tale elements to comment on the horrors of war, the innocence of children, and the fight against tyrannical regimes.

“Snowpiercer” (2013) by Bong Joon-ho

A science fiction thriller set on a constantly moving train carrying the last remnants of humanity after a climate change disaster, “Snowpiercer” is a sharp critique of class division and social inequality.

The train’s segmented structure, with the wealthy living in luxury at the front and the poor in squalor at the tail, allegorically represents the stratification of society and the inherent struggles for equity and justice.

“Get Out” (2017) by Jordan Peele

On the surface, “Get Out” is a horror film about a young African-American man who uncovers terrifying secrets when he visits his white girlfriend’s family estate.

However, it’s also a profound allegory for racism in America, examining the commodification of black bodies, liberal racism, and the enduring legacy of slavery.

The film uses horror tropes to explore and critique contemporary racial dynamics, making it a poignant allegory for the African-American experience.

“The Lion King” (1994) by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

While it might seem like a straightforward animated animal adventure, “The Lion King” has been interpreted as an allegory for various themes, including the circle of life, responsibility, and redemption.

Fx, the devastation of the Pride Lands under Scar’s rule can be seen as an allegory for environmental degradation and the consequences of human (or, in this case, animal) greed and mismanagement.

The restoration of the Pride Lands following Simba’s return and the overthrow of Scar’s tyrannical regime symbolizes the potential for renewal and healing when harmony with nature is restored.

Scar’s manipulation of Simba following Mufasa’s death parallels the biblical narrative of the Fall of Man. Scar represents a satanic figure who tempts Simba into exile through guilt and lies.

This allegory explores themes of innocence, guilt, and redemption as Simba must confront his past and reclaim his identity and destiny.

You can also draw parallels between its storyline and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” with Simba’s journey reflecting the prince’s struggle for justice and self-discovery.

The difference between allegory, subtext, symbolism, simile, and metaphor.

Allegory, subtext, symbolism, simile, and metaphor are related concepts in the analysis of the text (understood broadly as any popular cultural element), but they are different.

Each serves a distinct purpose in enriching the text and adding layers of meaning. Understanding their differences is crucial in analyzing literature and film.

Here’s a brief overview of each:

AllegoryAn allegory is a narrative in which characters, events, and settings symbolize something beyond the literal story.“Animal Farm” by George Orwell, where animals on a farm symbolize the overthrow of the last Russian Tsar, communism, and the Soviet Union.
SubtextUsing symbols to represent ideas or qualities gives objects significance beyond their literal meaning.In “Romeo and Juliet,” the conversations about love often carry a subtext of violence, reflecting the dangerous nature of their relationship.
SymbolismUsing symbols to represent ideas or qualities gives objects significance beyond their literal meaning.The green light in “The Great Gatsby” symbolizes Gatsby’s hopes and dreams for the future.
SimileA figure of speech comparing one thing with another thing of a different kind is used to make a description more emphatic or vivid (using “like” or “as”).“As brave as a lion” or “Her cheeks are red like a rose.”
MetaphorA metaphor also compares two things, but it does so by stating that one thing is another, not using “like” or “as.” Metaphors imply a resemblance or representation, making the abstract more tangible.“The world’s a stage,” or “Her heart is gold.”


Allegories in movies allow filmmakers to address complex issues and themes in a more accessible and engaging manner, encouraging viewers to think critically about the narrative and its broader implications.

Through symbolism, allegory enriches the cinematic experience, offering multiple layers of meaning to explore and interpret.

Up Next: How to use Subtext in Film.


  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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