Rashomon essay


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Rashomon essay

  1. 1. Helen Heidel<br />April 27, 2011<br />Senior Seminar<br />Pd. 6<br />Roshamon Essay<br />Kurowaza’s Japanese film, Rashomon, begins with the sentence, “I just don’t understand.” A samurai has been killed and all four characters held on trial admit to the killing, their stories giving different accounts as to what happened. The plotline ends in without the murder being solved, leaving the truth about the murder open to interpretation. This brings up a question of whether there is such a thing as an absolute truth, or if the truth is subjective. Errol Morris, a movie critic, believes in an absolute truth. His main ideas of an independent truth that does not differ from person to person are corollary to Plato’s perception of the truth.  In opposition, Ebert believes that the truth is subjective and is based on people’s different views of the truth. He does not believe in an absolute truth and favors the idea that the four characters had their own versions of the truth. Ebert believes that the truth is subjective, however the way different characters perceived the truth is influenced by their mental map, making them just a perception and not a truth. There are two identifiable absolute truths in the film; the Samurai is dead and one person killed him. Morris believes that the other character’s stories are altered by self-interests, making them untrue. Though in Rashomon the different characters give different stories regarding the murder, Morris’s theory that no matter what these characters say, only one truth exists, fits best with the film.<br /> Ebert believes that the four different characters were expressing their views of what really happened, however these views are influenced by their mental map, making them imperfect and therefore not the truth. Everybody has a mental map; it is the way humans view the world and encompass ideas of the truth. Our mental maps give us a picture of the world. The problem with the truth being subjective is that everybody has a different view on the world because of the way their mental map in structured. This is distorted by one of the ways of knowing, which is perception. A lot of times, our perception deceives us, and what we see might not be the actual truth. The samurai’s wife even admitted that what had happened to her husband was a quick blur, affected by her perception and emotion during the time. This leaves us with uncertainty, which guides us away from the truth. All the characters in Rashomon gave a different story of what happened, meaning either their perception was askew or they were lying. Though Ebert may believe that the truth is subjective, when it comes to finding the answer of what really happened to the samurai in Rashomon, Ebert’s theory would lead us nowhere. An answer would never be reached using this view on the truth. On the contrary, we are exposed to definite absolute truths in the film that will remain true for every character.<br />Morris believes in the notion of an absolute truth, and throughout the film we are exposed to absolute truths. One of the absolute truths given is that the samurai was killed and how he is dead. This truth is indifferent to the other character’s view on the situation, and it is certain that that is what happened. In every murder, only one person truly commits the crime, so only one person killed the Samurai. Though the identity of the murderer was never found, the absolute truth of one person committing the murder exists. These two truths are indifferent to how other characters perceive the situation, and these truths remain the same. These truth statements align with the correspondence theory, in which statements that can correspond with facts are true. We know the samurai died and that one person killed him as these two statements correspond to the facts of the situation. In addition, everybody else’s stories have lies and are hindered by self-interest.<br /> A problem with other people’s stories is that everybody’s stories have lies. The four characters expressed their stories in their points of view, and all four stories differ. However the absolute truth remains the same no matter how the truth is perceived. Morris stated that Rashomon is a “very powerful story about self-interest, about wishful thinking, about self-deception” in which the testifying characters are exemplifying all of the above. It can be presumed that the people who are telling these lies are doing it for their own benefits, which follows the self-interest theory stating that human beings are always selfish. Because the characters are telling their versions of the story, they may be doing so in self-interest, which will not lead up to the truth but in fact, that person’s wishes. What Morris was trying to get across is that the truth is being altered by the characters minds, making it no longer true. The real truth cannot be influenced by the deception of the other characters.<br />Though Ebert provides a valid statement, that the truth is perceived differently by different people, the problem is that this does not make it a truth. Rashomon can be seen as a movie about the problems with perception; that humans’ perceptions of reality are false in their nature because of the way humans see things. Morris’s belief of an absolute truth best fits with Rashomon because it shows that there is truth that cannot be hindered by the falsity of the human mind. This truth is greater than the “spoken truth” of people, which may be true to only them but no one else. The truth Morris is talking about is true for everybody, and in Rashomon we know two true facts that are true for all the characters. With that being said, the absolute truth is not always so easily found, and many people may follow Ebert’s direction simply because it is easier to comprehend. This leads to a number of fallacies and often, the “truth” is not found this way. To understand Rashomon, we must understand that there is an absolute truth which cannot be changed by the way the other characters express themselves. This leaves us with the question once again, of who murdered the Samurai. This is never clear, what is clear however is that there is an absolute truth that is independent of the four characters’ stories. This itself helps unravel the mystery behind the message of the film. <br />