Beyond Good and Evil

Jun 14, 2014 by

Rashomon is a commentary on the nature of man.  In the story, you have two locations, the city and the forest.  These two locations represent order and chaos, the state and the state of nature.  This story revolves around how man acts when in the state of nature, the process of thought that goes on in his head.  The whole conflict revolves around one person, the woodcutter.  He enters the state of nature and is presented with a conflict between three emotions:  Greed, Manipulation, and Honor; represented by the bandit, the woman, and the samurai respectively.

            The woodcutter stumbles across a conflict between these three.  The bandit wants to take the woman from the samurai.  However, the bandit does not want to fight the samurai head on, knowing that samurai could very well take him.  Instead the bandit tricks the samurai and ties him up without much of a fight.  However, when trying to claim his prize, he discovers that the woman is not satisfied with merely tricking the samurai, but desires the samurai dead if the bandit is to have her.  The bandit and the samurai don’t want to fight each other head on, yet the woman manipulates them into fighting.  In the end, the bandit won the poor excuse for a fight.  The bandit was not a good fighter, but neither was the samurai.  Meanwhile, the woman ran away, not wanting to be taken by the bandit.

 Roshomon 2           This is representational of Man’s internal struggle to do good when there is no society to impose order on him.  Our greed never acts blatantly.  Greed is not the kind of thing that tries to beat honor.  Usually, it twists and tricks us into justifying that the Greedy act is the honorable one.  Yet, the woman represents our will and our manipulative side.  When Greed becomes apparent, our minds have this internal struggle to decide whether or not to give into our greedy nature or conduct ourselves with honor.  Yet, the very fact that we must struggle, shows that our will has given in.  Like the woman permitted the bandit to kiss her, so too does our will permit greed to have its chance.  And, in a state of nature, when the temptation is great enough, sometimes our honor does not put up much of a fight to greed.  It is not that greed is strong, but that our honor is not up to par.  Yet, our wills do not give in to greed completely; they are ashamed of our actions, our moment of weakness.  The woman, ashamed of the whole event, ran away.

            Then, we must bring our actions into the realm of order and justify what we have done.  This is represented in the courtroom.  The three sides give their arguments to make themselves look good.  The bandit makes himself sound like an amazing fighter, who was too strong for any man, even this samurai who was a worthy adversary.  The samurai makes himself look like an honorable man.  He claims that, after being captured, the woman asked the bandit to kill him.  The bandit recognized the horror of this request and tried to punish the woman.  The woman escaped, the bandit released the samurai, and the samurai killed himself out of disgrace.  The woman makes herself look like she had no choice in the matter.  The bandit forced himself upon her.  Once the bandit had forced himself on her, she tried to make up for it, begging for the samurai’s forgiveness.  When it was not given, passed out, accidently stabbing the samurai.

            This is similar to how we try to justify our actions after the fact.  We say things like: the temptation was too much.  I didn’t have a choice.  I tried to do what was right, but lacked the courage, will, to go through with it.  We make excuses and try to make it seem like we were in a tough situation at the time.  In reality, we simply chose to do what was wrong.  We chose to give greed a chance and not put up much of a fight.Roshomon 3

            This is all manifest in the woodcutter.  During the fight, a valuable dagger had been dropped.  The woodcutter took the dagger and left the scene.  Upon returning to the city, it comes out that took the dagger.  He offers excuses such as:  his family is large and he is poor.  He is ashamed of his actions.  Judging his actions are a peasant representing pure evil, and a monk representing pure good.  The peasant states that he should not be ashamed of his actions; instead he should embrace the true nature of man.  The monk scorns him, he no longer trusts this woodcutter.  Yet, in the midst of the city, a baby is discovered who was abandoned.  The woodcutter takes him in as his own.  The monk praises the woodcutter for this action.

            In the end, what the movie is saying is that we are not good or evil, but somewhere in between.  We are capable of the greatest good as well as the greatest evil.  Sometimes, our good nature gives way, allowing our evil side to perform acts.  And, upon committing these acts, we are ashamed.  Yet, when everything is said and done, we are good people.  We may give in to weakness, but we naturally lean good.

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