Imagine your dog got to live a day in your body.
His first thought, I imagine, would be the horror that you can barely smell. He had no idea that you were tragically unable to comprehend the enthralling world of scents as he does.
Imagine a bat got to live a night in your body.
His first thought, I imagine, would be the horror of being unable to move – even at a slow human pace – without bumping into things. He had no idea that you could even survive in this dangerous world without keen ears and echolocation.
The lesson that the dog and the bat would learn is that there are many different ways to experience and interpret reality. And we humans are among the worst at it because our senses are weak and unimpressive.
The only thing we have going for us is an advanced brain. And even that works against us because our imagination and emotion distort our memories.
You know the old saying “there are three sides to every argument: your side, my side, and the truth”? Legendary director Akira Kurosawa disagrees. Kurosawa argues that there are several sides to every argument, and no truth at all.
“Rashomon” is set in medieval Japan. We meet a priest, a woodcutter, and a cynical commoner.
The priest and the woodcutter are shellshocked because their faith in humanity has been crushed. They just came back from a murder trial that did not produce any truth or justice.
There are only two facts that everyone agrees on. A bandit confronted a samurai and his young wife in the woods. And the samurai ended up dead. Everything else that happened and who did the killing is an unsolvable mystery.
We hear the bandit’s story. We hear the grieving widow’s story. We even hear the dead samurai’s story (via a medium).
Each story is a dramatic tale of violence, shame, and inhumanity. But the versions are irreconcilable. The cynical commoner isn’t surprised: “It’s because men are weak that they lie, even to themselves.”
Kurosawa demonstrates that people lie, especially to themselves. “Rashomon” is more than a movie. It’s a philosophical assault on anyone who believes the truth is knowable and that their memories are facts.
Kurosawa makes the fairly obvious point that each individual experiences the same event differently.
But he digs deeper and attacks human memory. Kurosawa shows that your memories are little novelettes that are only based on a true story. Your memories have added meaning and emotion that have absolutely nothing to do with real events.
Every story you tell and hear contains lies. You don’t know whether the lies are intentional or self-inflicted, and neither does the person telling the story.
Kurosawa urges us to ignore anyone arrogant enough to think he knows the truth.
Is there any objective reality at all? I don’t know. And it hardly matters. The only thing certain is that we don’t have the capability of experiencing it.
We are like dogs without a sense of smell and like bats fumbling around in the dark without echolocation. We can never fully experience or understand the world around us.