Rashomon Essay


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Rashomon Essay

  1. 1. Michelle Babb<br />Senior Seminar [6]<br />Mr. Clover<br />March 20, 2011<br />To what extent do you agree with the views of either Errol Morris or Roger Ebert with regard to their views of truth and perception in the film Rashomon?<br />Perception is regarded as the ability to see, hear, or become conscious of things through the five senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Therefore, parallel situations are, indeed, observed and experienced differently by one person than for another. As a result, what one may perceive as the truth through confirmation of any combination of the five senses may not actually corroborate another person’s testimony about the same event. Two men, on either end of the truth and reality spectrum, outline two specific beliefs in regard to this situation. Roger Ebert, for example, outlines a theory explaining how multiple truths may exist mutually; he holds a belief in the idea that truth is relative between individuals and that reality, as a result, is only a subjective experience. Errol Morris believes otherwise. Morris is adamant in his idea that truth is an absolute entity and that reality is objective, independent of perceptual experience; he supports the idea that what is regarded as fact can truly only be either fact or fiction. Both Ebert and Morris investigate and apply their respective beliefs to Akira Kurosawa’s motion picture, Rashomon. The film depicts the death of a samurai husband and the four distinct, mutually contradictory accounts describing the circumstances of the man’s death. In spite of the allure towards Ebert’s theory and the idea of multiple truths, in regard to Rashomon, it is Morris’s belief, that there is only one truth, which would better solve the conflict outlined in the film.<br />Roger Ebert’s opposing viewpoint outlines the general idea that reality is subjective and that truth is relative. Specifically, Ebert claims that reality is dependent on the person and his or her perceptual experience regarding a particular event and that, as a result, truth is only comparable to that one person. In his review of the movie Rashomon, Ebert explains the idea that “human beings are unable to be honest [and talk]… about themselves”; this statement summarizes Ebert’s skepticism in the ability of human beings to express details in a truly unbiased manner. In Rashomon, the four accounts of the samurai husband’s death share little common ground. For example, one version claims that the man committed suicide, another two state that the bandit murdered the samurai, and the last describes the perspective in which the wife killed her own husband. The conflicting natures of the eyewitness testimonies indeed support the viewpoint that Roger Ebert clearly promotes, that there may be more than one truth relating to a particular situation. However, in spite of this appealing concept about the possibility of multiple truths, Errol Morris outlines an even better theory, which supports the concept that there is only one absolute truth. In the film, such a theory is far more reasonable; the samurai could have only truly died at the hands of one person and by only one weapon.<br />Errol Morris’s theory summarizes the idea that there is only one truth, which is absolute and independent of human subjectivity. The beliefs held by Morris closely relate to another theory by famous Greek philosopher, Plato. Plato’s analysis of knowledge reads as follows: knowledge = justified true belief; the formula is made out of three main components that eventually equal to the definition of knowledge. The first, truth, states that a particular claim must be true; the second, justification, states that there is reason to support the claim as truth; and the third, belief, is the idea that the claim must both be true and believed, wholeheartedly, to be so. In an interview with The Believer magazine, Errol Morris states that the “idea that there is no reality, … that truth is subjective, … [is] foolish and unappetizing”. It is evident in this particular quote that Morris is steadfast in his belief that truth is a concrete black-and-white entity that does not entitle and allow other perspectives, or any other shades of gray. This absolutist theory is one that does not allow much lenience in regard to details about experiences because of its insistence in the belief of only one objective reality. However, it is because of this that the theory is best suited for a mystery crime film, such as Rashomon.<br />In Kurosawa’s motion picture Rashomon, the central character, a samurai, is killed, though the majority of the details in the four various accounts remain painfully vague. The inconsistency between the versions create an intense lack of certainty that is only further exaggerated with the continuation of additional perspectives, adding even greater disarray in the audience’s quest for truth. The film centers on the death of a samurai, who dies deep within a forest. The four versions, the wife’s, the bandit’s, the samurai’s through the use of a medium, and the woodcutter’s, all outline vastly dissimilar perspectives with only one common conclusion: a man, who is both a samurai and a husband, dies in the woods. Though the film explains the four accounts in vivid detail, Morris’s theory disproves the idea that they can exist in mutual harmony, with the acceptance of multiple truths. Instead, Morris claims that the truth, what is factual reality and what is not, does not depend nor rely on personal experience and that the one absolute truth does not depend on relativity at all. Simply stated, Morris believes in the idea that one truth exists, one reality exists, and that no-one’s personal experience changes this fact; despite the explanation of four different viewpoints in the film, Morris’s analysis on truth and reality is one that supports the idea that only one, if that at all, of those perspectives could theoretically be the truth.<br />Thus, it is the theory of Errol Morris and not Roger Ebert that best suits Kurosawa’s mystery film Rashomon. Perception, the ability to be aware of something through the five senses, is an important aspect of human existence; it is the reason a person is able to experience events and encounters throughout one’s life. However, it may also be the reason for dispute in regards to particular situations. The simple, black-and-white theory of Morris is a theory that is all encompassing to circumstances in life, and for this example, the motion picture Rashomon. It is impossible to deduce just what happened deep in the forest to result in the samurai’s death, but the absolutist theory of Errol Morris may offer a straightforward conclusion: the truth is an absolute entity that is the same for each and every single person regardless of any perpetual experience that may, perhaps, try to prove otherwise.<br />