Rash essay
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Rash essay Document Transcript

  • 1. Josiah Spears Period 5 Mr. Clover Nov. 16, 2011 Rashomon: Absolute or Relative Truth Why is Rashomonsuch a renowned and highly acclaimed film? Most would agreethat Rashomon’s forte is definitely not its “astounding” black and white graphics or the“breathtaking” ease and effectiveness of the actors. The factors that causedRashomon’ssuccess are the topic it covered and the method and point of view from whichit was covered. Rashomonexplores the intriguing yet controversial topics of truth andreality and the corrupt nature of humans by presenting the viewer with four differentaccounts of a murder, each contradicting each other. The beauty of this film is that at theend it forces the viewer to choose a verdict for himself, thus, ultimately prompting theviewer to ponder over the deep concept of truth and reality. Because of this,Rashomonhas been a subject of heated debate. The main two views of this film areseparately advocated by Errol Morris and Roger Ebert. Ebert, a movie critic, supports therelativist’s view of truth about Rashomon. Morris, a movie director, advocates theabsolutist view of truth, which is that there is only one truth. Although Ebert’s relativisticpoint of view may be more practical in every day life, Morris’s absolutist view moreappropriately relates to Rashomon,especially when one views Rashomonthrough thelenses of Plato’s definition of truth and justified true belief, as well as, when one realizesthe fallacies of perception and emotions as sole ways of knowing. Morris openly expresses his disregard of and opposition against the relativist’sview when he strongly states, “This idea that there is no reality, that truth is up for grabs,or that truth is subjective, I find foolish and unappetizing”(Interview with Errol Morris).Clearly, Morris believes in truth and ultimate reality and thus would agree for the most
  • 2. Josiah Spears Period 5 Mr. Clover Nov. 16, 2011part with Plato and his definition of truth. Plato’s explanation of truth states that truth isindependent of people, is eternal, and is universal. The primary part of Plato’s definitionof truth that applies to Rashomonis the part that truth is independent of people. Morrisexpresses his belief in this when he says, “Just thinking something does not make itso”(Interview with Errol Morris). Truth is true no matter what people think about thetruth. Although almost every one in the Middle Ages thought that the earth was the centerof the universe, this did not make it true; in fact, it was false. The testimonies inRashomonor what any of the characters believe is truth does not at all affect the realitythat somehow the samurai was killed and that someone did it. The character’s testimoniesare only there as tools to guide the viewer to the best verdict but in no way affect thetruth. To the relativists that say that truth is up for grabs in Rashomon, Morris wouldrespond by stating, “I believe in the real world, Just like there’s a fact of the matter ofwhether there was an attack on August 4th [1964] in the Gulf of Tonkin. It’s not up forgrabs” (Interview with Errol Morris).For the most part, events in history either happenedor they did not, although perspectives on the outcomes and affects could vary immensely.For example, George Washington was either the first President of the United States ofAmerica, or he was not; there is know middle ground. Morris would apply this concept toRashomonby saying that the bandit either killed the samurai or he did not; there is nomiddle ground there. The woodcutter either killed the samurai, or he did not and so on.The concept that an event either happened or did not happen coheres to most people’smental maps because they have been conditioned by their schooling that certain events“without a doubt” happened and by the code of law of their countries that people areeither guilty or not guilty. Thus, it is logical and natural to most people to assume that
  • 3. Josiah Spears Period 5 Mr. Clover Nov. 16, 2011there is an absolute truth to Rashomon. This coherence will cause many people to believethat there is an absolute truth and also gives them good justification for believing so. It isalso true that there is an absolute truth in Rashomonbecause this proposition meets therequirements of truth defined by Plato. Putting the pieces together one can see thatMorris’s theory is justified true belief, which means that he has knowledge. Ebert would certainly try to poke holes in Morris’s argument by pointing out thatMorris has not and cannot come to a direct and absolute conclusion to the story and thathe does not consider how the people’s different perspectives changed their reality. Morriswould respond to the latter complaint by saying, “ It’s a movie about how everybody seesthe world differently. But the claim that everybody sees the world differently is not aclaim that there’s no reality”(Interview with Errol Morris). Just because people havedifferent views of the world does not mean that there are different realities, but merelymeans that they may have a different way of interpreting reality. However, this does notchange truth or reality because reality is independent of humans. Also, the characters inRashomoncould have experienced fallacies in their perspective because of visualillusions, expectations, context, etc. Also, their perspectives could have been affected bytheir emotions, especially in the case of the wife who had just been raped. Herperspective and testimony was definitely affected because of the strong emotions she wasexperiencing. The four accounts could also have been affected by the storyteller’smotives like the woodcutter who had a confused perspective in order to cover to hisgreedy desire for the dagger. Morris argues that motive could affect people’s perspectivewhen he emphatically proposes,“There is such a thing as truth, but we have a vestedinterest in not seeing it, in avoiding it” (Interview with Errol Morris). However, Morris
  • 4. Josiah Spears Period 5 Mr. Clover Nov. 16, 2011does not believe that motive is apart of JTB but just a factor in people’s perspectives.There are just too many factors that could have and did skew the observers perspectivesand motives in order to solely or mainly rely on perception and emotion to determine thetruth, as Ebert does. To Ebert’s argument that Morris cannot come to an absolute truthabout who was the murder, Morris would reply by saying, “that you know what reallyhappened at the end. It’s pretty damn clear”(Interview with Errol Morris).The proof heused to come to his conclusion was probably eyewitness and confirmation by anotherbecause the bandit was accused of committing the murder in two testimonies; no one elsewas. If a person is accused of a crime by two or more witnesses in a U.S. court of law,this is usually enough evidence to put the person away for life. This author does not see aclear-cut ending to Rashomon; however, this does not at all weaken or undermineMorris’s argument. Morris says, “We may not have all the evidence in hand in order toadjudicate the question, but underneath the question there’s a physical reality” (Interviewwith Errol Morris).Although it is not apparent which person committed the murder, thisdoes imply that there is no reality. There is a reality and truth in Rashomon; I just believethat there is not enough evidence to come to that truth. As a relativist, Roger Ebert believes and argues that there is not an absolute truthin Rashomon and he does argue some persuasive points. Ebert argues, “What he doesntunderstand is that while there is an explanation of the films four eyewitness accounts of amurder, there is not a solution”(Ebert: Rashomon Review). Ebert’s view is very practicaland at a quick glance seems to be the more logical answer because no solution toRashomon is clear. Morris would counter this argument by saying that just because asolution is not evident does not mean that there is not an absolute solution. He would say
  • 5. Josiah Spears Period 5 Mr. Clover Nov. 16, 2011we do not have to have the evidence for there to be an the ultimate truth because evidenceis not a prerequisite of truth; it just proves to humans what is true. Ebert also argues, “thegenius of Rashomon is that all of the flashbacks are both true and false. True, in that theypresent an accurate portrait of what each witness thinks happened. False, because asKurosawa observes in his autobiography, "Human beings are unable to be honest withthemselves about themselves” (Ebert: Rashomon Review). Although this is a valid pointthat the witnesses may think their perspective is true because they understand it to betrue, this does not mean that their perspectives are true because according to Plato’sdefinition of truth, truth is independent of people. Ebert would include motive as a way ofknowing and as a part of JTB; however, Morris would disagree with this because hewould say that peoplecannot completely know motive. Ebert’s relativistic stance islogical and relevant for every day life, but Morris’s view has better counter arguments toEbert’s points that weaken Ebert’s stance. Overall, both Morris’s absolutist view and Ebert’s relativists view have strengthsand weaknesses; although Morris’s view seems to have more support from theory and alittle less weaknesses then Ebert’s. Morris’s view lacks flexibility and in life wouldprobably be less effective then Ebert’s view. However, I Morris’s view better supportsthe movie, and it is supported by one of the greatest authorities on truth, Plato. Morris’sview coheres to most people’s mental maps and also is Justified True Belief. Ebert’s viewdoes not cohere to Plato’s definition of truth but that is not necessarily a weaknessbecause Plato’s theory on truth is not flawless. The main weakness in Ebert’s argument isthe fallacies of perception and emotions as ways of knowing as well as counter examplesagainst it like the one about George Washington mentioned earlier.The strengths of
  • 6. Josiah Spears Period 5 Mr. Clover Nov. 16, 2011Ebert’s argument are that there is no obvious ending or truth to Rashomonand that histheory is flexible and practical. However, with the evidence and theory backing Morris’sabsolute view on Rashomon, his argument is the stronger and more persuasive of the two. Works Cited“Interview with Errol Morris”“Ebert: Rashomon Review”