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Rashomon Essay
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  • 1. Anchalee June Bloxham Rashomon EssayTo what extent do you agree with the views of either Errol Morris or Roger Ebertwith regard to their views of truth and perception in the film Rashomon? Sensation and interpretation are the two elements in which perception is composed ofwhich facilitates us in figuring out whether something is true or false in the real world. Thereforeperception is defined as the awareness of things through our five senses; sight, sound, touch,taste and smell in which enable us to feel the world and interpret the things we perceived. Due tothe inaccuracy of our senses, the definition of truth differs. Roger Ebert holds an absolutistviewpoint of truth, whereas on the other end of the spectrum, Errol Morris believes strongly thatthere are multiple truths where he claims truth is relative and perception is subjective. Ergo, thetwo film critics analyze the Japanese film, Rashomon, by Kurozawa differently. Ebert is morelenient with the fact that since each individual’s interpretation varies, truth can change butMorris believes that there is only one absolute truth since there is only one reality. However,Roger Ebert’s analysis of subjective truth surpasses and seems to best fit with the incident inRashomon. In the film Rashomon directed by Akira Kurosawa, four different stories for a murderwere told from four different people who witnessed or were involved in the crime. As theaudience views the flashbacks of each of the four stories, we can’t help but wonder which storyis true since they’re all different. For example, as brought up during the trial that the deadhusband’s word should be the most reliable since a dead man has no reason to lie, but that end upnot being the case through the woodcutter’s version because the husband lied to protect hisdignity. Another example is the woodcutter’s version that even though the audience expects it tobe the truth since the incident is told in third person point of view without any involvement, thewoodcutter lied because he does not want to be blamed for stealing the dagger. It becomes moredifficult to contemplate the truth of each story while each character is interrogated about thecrime. As a result of the different eye witness testimonies, there never seems to be a certainanswer at the end of the film.
  • 2. Errol Morris argues that no matter how an individual interprets something, there can onlybe one absolute truth. This interview by Morris clearly states that Rashomon is “not a movie butthe subjectivity of truth” and that “people see the world differently”, in another word, truth isrelative and thus all witnesses are at fault for changing the testimonies (Morris). Therefore,Morris shares the same view of absolute truth as Plato. Due to this analysis, Morris goes by thetheory of scientific realism where reality exists independently from our senses (van de Lagemaat100). Scientific realism is evident in Rashomon that despite the different testimonies, there isactually one event that happen which exits independently of any interpretations made by thewitnesses (van de Lagemaat 94). Audiences make a connection between Morris and thewoodcutter where they both refuse to believe in the four different accounts told of the sameincident. Nevertheless, Morris’s absolutist view of truth can only be used to explain a limitedaspect of Rashomon, thus Ebert’s viewpoint better fit the movie with more clarity. On the other hand, Roger Ebert believes that truth is subjective and so we accept multipletruths. The first line said in the film was “I just don’t understand” said by the woodcutterdemonstrates that he is puzzled about all the different testimonies given (Rashomon). This isbecause the four witnesses assume that what they saw was reality when in fact, they reflect onindividual’s mental map (van de Lagemaat 5). Ebert comments that “flashbacks do not agreewith any objective reality” basically means that all the accounts do not really reflect whathappened (Ebert). A very interesting point that Ebert made in his Rashomon critic that connectsto other theories are confirmation bias and false empiricism whereby “They [humans] cannot talkabout themselves without embellishing” (van de Lagemaat 14 and 86 / Ebert). Lastly, Ebertemphasizes unconscious interpretation and perception, especially that our subconscious mindusually exclude minor details which could ultimately be useful or significant. With the two opposite criticisms of truth and perception, Roger Ebert’s interpretation bestexplains perception and truth in Rashomon. However, Ebert’s interpretation could not be easilyunderstood and supported without Morris’s point of view also because Morris’s belief ofscientific realism helps individuals understand that only one reality exists. It is clear that there isone reality which is that the husband was murdered. Though, how do we know if these eyewitness testimonies depict the truth? Since we do not know the absolute answer, it is better toaccept Ebert’s viewpoint due to his flexibility where individual’s mental maps, confirmation bias
  • 3. and false empiricism are taken in account. Because all of the characters in the Rashomon, thehusband, wife, bandit and the woodcutter claims to murder or is indirectly the cause of themurder itself, they are not necessary lying but basically just telling what they perceived of theincident. As a result, there is only one reality for an event but various truths depends upon eachindividual. In conclusion, Roger Ebert’s viewpoint on truth and perception provides the bestexplanation for the audience for Kurzawa’s movie, Rashomon. However, this does not mean thatErrol Morris’s ideas are unsupported because his absolutist idea helps enhance us in theunderstanding of truth and Ebert’s point of view. Ebert’s idea can also be apply to real life betterthan Morris’s because Ebert’s version of truths helps us live with other people with fewerconflicts. This is because we, humans, have limitations and thus cannot perceive the world andall around us from every perspective without bias or personal reasons. Therefore, we have toapproach situations in life with open-mindedness and counter belief or argument.