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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Rashomon (1950)



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God is omniscient, but for the rest of us, possessing incomplete knowledge, perspective is important. Our minds translate what we perceive into what we think is objective reality, and they do it so well that we forget that what we perceive can very often be quite far removed from objective reality. Perspective dictates what we know, and perhaps more importantly it dictates what we don't know. Complicate this with the fact that our perceptions are interpretive, and it is in our nature to skew truth by putting it in different lights and maybe even outright lying about it. As one of the characters in Rashomon observes, "It's human to lie. Most of the time we can't even be honest with ourselves."

This is a theme adeptly demonstrated by Rashomon, a murder mystery of sorts in which different accounts of a series of events are presented, all of which conflict with each other. This is common in murder mysteries, but in this one, none of the characters lie to cover up their tracks. They may not even be lying on purpose, although this call is an exercise for the reader.

The final account of the events does not necessarily solve the mystery for us, but it does suggest how seemingly conflicting accounts might all be true: there are as many subjective truths, after all, as there are people. With this final account, it is an interesting pursuit to compare them to prior accounts and consider what the differences say about the prides and priorities of the characters.

The above is enough to fascinate me, but I haven't even mentioned the film's stunning cinematography -- beautiful and, at the time, innovative -- and heightened emotional acting style that extracts great emotion from the mundane. Drama, as they say, is life with the dull bits cut out. Rashomon cuts everything out that isn't powerful and overflowing, to the point where jaded viewers might perceive it as over the top. But that's missing the point, because ultimately the film is still truthful about human nature and desires, and it is in exaggerating them that these things break free from the trappings of mundane practicality to be experienced and studied.

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