Roshoman: The Truth About the Truth

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Roshoman: The Truth About the Truth

  1. 1. Azzi Korn 07/03/2012 Pr.7 Roshoman: The Truth About the Truth Humans have a tendency to use words such as perceive, observation, or perception intheir daily conversations, this can happen subconsciously, and this may causemiscommunications that can lead to misunderstandings. Perception is the consciousness of theworld that we as human have and that we experience through our five senses. People are leftwith open interpretations of a situation that could affect their perception. A justified true beliefis a formula that allows for a more complete knowledge about a specific case. A part of this,truth formula should, and can be questioned. We shall take a closer look into what “truth” means.Truth, in this formula, is defined as the agreement with a particular fact that presents itself in anoccasion of reality. Although finding the truth sounds easy, this is not always the case. Onemight question whether or not perception and truth are subjective or objective to how we viewreality. In this paper two individuals will scrutinize the way people should view the truth: Morris,whose idea is that it is not possible to have an objective truth, only a subjective truth, and Ebertwho says that reality is subjective and the truth is based on human perception. Although, equallyhaving valid points to make, Ebert’s way of view the truth, that reality is subjective and the truthis relative to ones own interpretation seems most appropriate to the film Roshoman, directed byAkira Kurosawa. This Japanese movie directed in the fifties, follows the aftermath of a murderof a samurai and four people who plead guilty of this murder. These four people are beinginterrogated by the police, and are asked to explain the series of events the led up to thesamurai’s death. Even the samurai is brought up from the dead to be interrogated. The plot shows
  2. 2. the different perceptions of these four people, a woodcutter, Samurai, the samurai’s wife and abandit, and how they all recollect the events of the murder. Selectivity of perception, scientificrealism, eye-witness testimony and perceptual illusion shall aid in amplifying the points that willbe given. It is not possible to have an objective truth, only a subjective truth, one may have onetruth and someone else may acquire a different truth. There is an alternate truth that people donot see, this is the genuine truth. Morris’ view on truth is: that there is no objective truth, justsubjective truth, a truth for one person and a truth for another. There is truly only one truth; thistruth is next to impossible for a person to have. A truth cannot be picked out of a candy jar; thereare not different truths to one idea, Morris shows his understanding of this when he explains “Ido not believe that truth is subjective. Just thinking something does not make it so. This idea thatthere is no reality, that truth is up for grabs or that truth is subjective, I find foolish andunappetizing” (Interview with Errol Morris). One can also view more that Morris seems to agreewith selectivity of perception, which states that one may have a perception, but this perceptionmaybe altered by the facts about the particular perception changes, due to outside forces. Onecould have two pictures of the same thing, but both of them have different captions underneath,one says “military nuclear test site”, the other caption says “water storage facility”. The truth isaltered but if we view these photos with the captions individually, we take it as the truth, withoutmuch question. It is possible to argue that if the name of Roshoman was instead “ThePerception of Truth” or “ A Nice Day in The Forest” we would have an immediate different viewof what the movie would be about. To further support his opinion Morris states that “I don’tbelieve that you can talk about a photograph being true or false. I don’t think such a claim hasany meaning. You can talk about a caption underneath a photograph being true or false, because
  3. 3. there is a linguistic element” (Interview with Errol Morris). In this same statement he might alsobe talking about scientific realism, a picture is just that a picture, it is only when we put meaningor words into it, we give it value. One might also think of expert knowledge as always beingtrue. Because there is a caption under a photo, the tendency to think that the caption and thecorrelation to the photo are correct is substantially high. This is due to the fact that one does notquestion the person and why he/she put the caption there in the first place. If a person hassuperior knowledge over something, we generally take it as the truth. We take all three of thestories as a plausible truth because; the woodcutter, the wife, the samurai and the bandit were allpresent at the time of the murder in the forest clearing. They all also claim to have killed thesamurai, but they also have different perceptions of what happened, expert knowledge perhaps,but this does not get any closer to finding out the real truth. Ebert restates the eye-witness testimony that says “people cannot trust what they haveseen” ( interview with Roger Ebert). This is meant that when a person is needed to recall anincident, their words can be manipulated. This theory also ties closely with recollections ofmemories and or emotion. Events of the incident can even be manipulated by other people and orevents after the event. This is why, when in court, there are a dozen or so independent witnessesallowing for a higher probability of their claims being true, for a single eye-witness testimonycan be “taken at face value” thus being unreliable. The wife, in everybody else’s perceptions, isso overwhelmed with heartbreaking emotion that when she is asked to testify, her recall of whathappened is manipulated and altered. It is next to impossible not to be emotional when speakingof a murder that has occurred right before your eyes, so naturally the witnesses all had some sortof emotion. If you were to expect any of the eye-witnesses to have a distorted story it wouldhave to be the samurai’s wife. (After all she did have her face in the ground most of the film).
  4. 4. Furthermore while being in the dense forest, there are numerous sounds, movements or evenmyths, that can influence the person and their mindset. Perceptual illusion is built up of twoconcepts “Sensation which is provided by the world” and “The interpretation which is providedby our minds” (Theory of Knowledge). This can happened subconsciously without being aware.(The perception of how the individual views the forest). The woodcutter being familiar in theforest (his work place) is naturally at ease, but when he comes across the misplaced object, theladies hat, he gets startled. Then he no longer looks for wood but instead for whom the hatbelonged to. Ebert explains this by saying “The woodcutters opening journey into the woods isfamous as a silent sequence which suggests he is traveling into another realm of reality.Miyagawa shoots directly into the sun and there are shots where the sharply-contrasted shadowsof overhead leaves cast a web upon the characters, making them half-disappear into the groundbeneath” (interview with Roger Ebert). It seems that Ebert is also aware of perceptual illusion.The woman coming from a rich privileged life must view the forest in a different perspectivewhile traveling on top the horse with the veil covering her face. She could feel uncomfortable inthis new environment, being left totally alone in a dense forest. Lastly, the bandit, beingaccustom to drinking from the streams and sleeping in the forest, seems relaxed and totally alert,when the beautiful woman on her horse came riding by. He sees the forest as an opportunity toraid unsuspecting travelers that are not used to the environment of the forest. While viewing both sides of the conversation, although Morris has legitimate points,such as the truth is only objective, Ebert’s position of the movie Rashaman is more agreeable.As shown, reality is truly subjective and the truth is based on human perception. Kurosaw(producer) is also at terms with this concept, when we are left to judge the four witnesses in thecourtyard based on their perception (flashbacks). By using selectivity of perception, scientific
  5. 5. realism, eye-witness testimony and perceptual illusion, a complete understanding of how to viewthe truth is given. Once the movie has come to a close it is only fair to say it is up to our own selfto conclude who really killed the samurai, the truth is clearly subjective. Work Cited:Lagemaat van de, Richard.Theory of Knowledge for the IB diploma.Cambridge University Press 2005.Textbook.“Interview with Errol Morris.” Interview by Errol Morris., The Believer Apr. 2004. Web. Ebert, Robert. “Rashomon :: Rogerebert.com :: Great Movies.” Rogerebert.com :: MovieReviews, Essays and the Movie Answer Man from Film Critic Roger Ebert., 26 May 2002. Web.05 March. 2012.

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