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Josiah Spears                                                                                    Period 5                 ...
Josiah Spears                                                                                     Period 5                ...
Josiah Spears                                                                                       Period 5              ...
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Rashomon essay


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Rashomon essay

  1. 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, stronglysupports the relativist’s view of truth about Rashomon. Morris, a movie director,passionately promotes the absolutist view of truth, which is that there is only one truth.Although Ebert’s relativistic point of view may be more practical in every day life,Morris’s absolutist view more appropriately relates to Rashomonwhen Rashomon iscompared to Plato’s definition and justified true belief and one views the fallacies ofperception and emotions as solely 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 mostpart 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 truth 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 wouldreply 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 happened or did not happen coheres to most people’s mentalmaps because they have been conditioned by their schooling that certain events “withouta doubt” happened and by the code of law of their countries that people are guilty or not
  2. 2. Josiah Spears Period 5 Mr. Clover Nov. 16, 2011guilty. Thus, it is logical and natural to most people to assume that there is an absolutetruth to Rashomon. This coherence will cause many people to believe that there is anabsolute truth and also gives them good justification for believing so. The fact that thestatement there is an absolute truth in Rashomon is true, along with justification andbelief, proves that Morris’s view is most likely true because he has justified true belief. 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 but that does not changetruth or reality because reality is independent of humans. Also, the characters inRashomoncould have experienced fallacies in their perspective because of visual illusionsor different factors like that. Also, their perspectives could have been affected by theiremotions, especially in the case of the wife who had just been raped. Their perspectivescould also have been affected by their motives like the woodcutter who had a confusedperspective probably as a cover to his greedy desire for the dagger. Morris argues thatmotive could affect people’s perspective when he emphatically proposes,“There is such athing as truth, but we have a vested interest in not seeing it, in avoiding it” (Interviewwith Errol Morris). However, Morris does not believe that motive is apart of JTB but justa factor in people’s perspectives. To Ebert’s argument that Morris cannot come to anabsolute truth about who was the murder, Morris would reply by saying, “that you knowwhat really happened at the end. It’s pretty damn clear”(Interview with Errol Morris).Theproof he used to come to his conclusion was probably eyewitness and confirmation byanother because the bandit was accused of committing the murder in two testimonies; noone else was. Personally, I do not see clear-cut ending to Rashomon; however, this doesnot at all weaken or undermine Morris’s argument at all. Morris supports this point whenhe says, “We may not have all the evidence in hand in order to adjudicate the question,but underneath the question there’s a physical reality” (Interview with ErrolMorris).Although it is not apparent which person committed the murder, this does implyand one should not infer that there is no reality. There is a reality and truth in Rashomon;I just believe that 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 most logical answer because no solution toRashomon is evident. 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 saywe do not have to have the evidence to fully approach the ultimate truth because evidenceis not a prerequisite of truth or knowledge. Ebert also argues, “the genius of Rashomon is
  3. 3. Josiah Spears Period 5 Mr. Clover Nov. 16, 2011that all of the flashbacks are both true and false. True, in that they present an accurateportrait of what each witness thinks happened. False, because as Kurosawa observes inhis autobiography, "Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves aboutthemselves” (Ebert: Rashomon Review). Although this is a valid point that the peoplemay think their perspective is true because it is true in their understanding does not meanthat it is truth because according to Plato’s definition of truth, truth is independent ofpeople. The characters in Rashomon’swere probably affected by confirmation bias andrationalization. Ebert would include motive as a way of knowing and as a part of JTB;however, Morris would disagree with this because he would say that we cannotcompletely know motive. Ebert’s relativistic chance is logical and relevant for every daylife, but Morris’s view has even a better counter argument to Ebert’s points. 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 believe that Morris’s view bettersupports the movie, and it does not hurt his view that one of the greatest authorities ontruth, Plato, agrees with him. Morris’s view coheres to most people’s mental maps andalso is Justified True Belief. Ebert’s view does not cohere to Plato’s definition of truthbut that is not necessarily a weakness because Plato’s theory on truth is not flawless aswell. The main weakness in Ebert’s argument is the fallacies of perception and emotionsas ways of knowing as well as examples like the one about George Washington was orwas not President.The strengths of Ebert’s argument are that there is no obvious endingor truth to Rashomonand that his theory is flexible and practical. However, with theevidence and theory backing Morris’s absolute view on Rashomon, his argument is thestronger and more persuasive of the two. Works Cited“Interview with Errol Morris”“Ebert: Rashomon Review”