Reality and illusion have intrigued philosophers and the common man alike since times immemorial. Years of education, superstition and increase in scientific knowledge and perspectives have led us to directly or indirectly oppose the validity and truth behind illusions. They seem to be undesirable deviances from the more acceptable and much more easily understandable reality. While the propagation and popularization of erroneous and outright false observations in the name of illusion will invariably do more harm than good, to say that illusion does not exist would be a gross misstatement. I believe that illusion is just as nearer to the truth as is reality, that both illusion and reality complement each other in such a way that one cannot exist without the other.
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An illusion can be defined as a distortion of the senses, an assumption born out of flaws in our mind and body. Just as the common circle-in-square optical illusion illustrates how the human mind clumps together line into presupposed image and sees the sides of the square as curved instead of viewing each line separately (which would provide a more accurate representation of the diagram), and so gives us an insight of our brain really works, illusions show us exactly how real our world is and so are, in fact, another perception of truth.
But can the same be said of the greater, more complex alternate realities? Authors and film producers take great delight in presenting different yet inter-related scenarios compelling the audience to wonder as to which one was the ‘real’ sequence of events. Often it is implied that it is of no consequence as to what was fact and what was fiction; one outcome was just as valid and possible as the other, making the difference between the perceived ‘reality’ and illusion immaterial.
Of recent times, Total Recall, The Matrix and He was a Quiet Man are all examples from Hollywood of how reality and illusion entwine in such a way that one cannot discern the difference between the two. In A Streetcar Named Desire, illusion versus truth is also an important theme. The way the character of Blanche Dubois creates a world of idealism and freedom in order to escape from the grim realities of the world around her makes one wonder if she managed to succeed and live a life of the very detachment and fantasy that she craved. Her words, ‘I don’t want realism, I want magic!” give us a well-rounded overview of the conflict between ideals and actualities present in the play.
Modern literature, films and other forms of media depicting this clash between illusion and reality often make clear the distinction between the two by means of an all-important conclusion. One perception is shown to have been false and merely a cover for the other, ‘real’ perception, which commonly decides the fate of the person or persons experiencing the ‘illusion’. The fact is that with so many viewpoints around the world on what really is this ‘end’, with some schools of thought holding the view that there is no such thing, that all life continues with death serving only as a transition phase, while others contending that death is the ultimate and obvious end, such a generalization is inadequate and only shows one way of how to deal with the question of what to think of as reality and as an illusion.
It is of utmost importance that we do not think of illusion as ‘magic’ or ‘trickery’. Illusion is simply an alternate outcome – essentially one that is wholly possible and may be freely interchangeable with reality. ‘Reality’ must also accordingly not be considered as the ‘right’ outcome or the more logical outcome. It is important to realize that illusion and reality both exist, they are merely different observations of a universal truth, and where reality is more dominant, illusion is a hidden but equally significant quality. In the words of Jean Genet in The Balcony.
If we behave like those on the other side, then we are the other side. Instead of changing the world, all we’ll achieve is a reflection of the one we want to destroy.
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