Lauren Ruzinsky November 15, 2011 Senior Seminar P.6 To what extent do you agree with the views of either Errol Morris or Roger Ebert with regard to the film Rashomon? In 1950, a Japanese film named Rashomon was made and directed by AkiraKuroswa. It became a very successful crime and mystery film, after winning severalawards. The story begins with a woodcutter who continues to repeat, “I just don’tunderstand.” The body of a murdered samurai was found in the woods and fourcharacters were summoned to testify in court. The woodcutter, a bandit, the wife of thesamurai, and the spirit of the dead samurai tell their own versions of the story, which turnout to be very different from one another. In the end of the film, the murder is leftunsolved, and the audience must interpret the reality of the truth. This brings aboutdisagreements, especially between two film critics named Errol Morris and Roger Ebert.Morris’ view is that truth is absolute and that it is independent of reality. Ebert, on theother hand, believes truth is relative and reality is subjective. I agree with Ebert’s viewsto a small extent, however, overall I find Morris’ views outline the truth better in regardsto the film Rashomon. Ebert’s theory of truth and reality being subjective could hold true when lookingat the multiple conflicting accounts of the same crime. Three of the characters claim tohave murdered the samurai. They each give their eye-witness testimony and if applicable,they explain their motives. The bandit claims he was eventually jealous of the samuraiand killed him to win over his wife. However, the wife feels she couldn’t choose oneman, so the other man must die. As the audience fills in for the spot of the judge, Ebert
believes we should take all the perspectives and build an agreement as to which characteractually killed the samurai. Ebert says in an interview, “It is human nature to listen towitnesses and decide who is telling the truth,” and later talking about the flashbacks, saysthey are, “an accurate portrait of what each witness thinks happened.” He believeshumans can have different opinions on the events because we are unable to be honestwith ourselves about ourselves. In the film, Kurosawa shows us different views of the story and how people caninterpret parts of it differently, however there is only one truth in the end. Morris iscorrect to a greater extent, when he states, “We may not have all the evidence in hand inorder to adjudicate the question, but underneath the question there’s a physical reality.”This relates to Plato’s allegory of the cave theory because the prisoners inside have alimited amount of sources to understand the world, so they create their own reality. Thecharacters in Rashomon have their own perspectives because that is all they rememberedor filtered into their minds. However, we know that the physical reality exists and factualevidence is the source we use to get there. If the prisoners were released and went outsidethe cave, they would see the rest of the world. They would finally understand it is full ofthings they have never seen or experienced before. It can be said that Morris comparedRashomon to the allegory of cave and believes there is one absolute reality, and noamount of perspectives can change that fact. Morris’ views about truth fit the film further as he relates to language, “Truth andfalsity is something that concerns language, it’s a property of language.” The charactersdescribe their events through not only the use of words, but through their actions. Thebandit laughs continuously, while the wife cries thinking back to what she had seen.
Language is the most common function humans use to communicate with each other.Without the sounds in the film, it would have been more difficult for us to determine thecharacter guilty of the crime. The problem is that as helpful as it can be, language can bemisinterpreted or very open-ended. Words can be defined various ways and said invarious tones. Rashomon plays with this and leaves these stories for the audience tosolve. As hard as this challenge sounds, Morris feels, “you know what really happened atthe end. It’s pretty damn clear. Kurosawa gives you the pieces of evidence that allow youto figure out what really happened.” Language can be very ambiguous, but the pieces ofevidence help solve and prove the person guilty of the crime. Both film critics, Morris and Ebert, have their own views of truth. Morris is anabsolutist, while Ebert is said to be a relativist. The multiple perspectives given from thecharacters show the Ebert’s beliefs play a small role in the film. However, the wayRashomon fits into Plato’s allegory of the cave theory and identifies language as bothstrong and weak shows that Morris’ beliefs play a far greater role. Perhaps, the purposeof the film is to show that people are only human. We believe different things and extendthe truth because we are afraid of what really happened. While I think people have theright to think whatever they want, I believe there is only one physical reality and the truthand facts that exist in it will always be the evidence needed to solve the world’smysteries.
Works CitedEbert, Roger. "Rashomon." Rogerebert.com. Chicago Sun-times, 26 May 2002. Web.Nov. 2011.<http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20020526/REVIEWS08/205260301/1023>.Lagemaat, Richard Van De. Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma. Cambridge:Cambridge UP, 2005. Print.Poppy, Nick. "Interview with Errol Morris." The Believer. The Believer, Apr. 2004. Web.Nov. 2011. <http://www.believermag.com/issues/200404/?read=interview_morris>.Rashomon. Dir. Kazuo Miyagawa. Perf. Toshirō Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyōand Takashi Shimura. RKO Radio Pictures, 1951. Film.