Just walking in there made me want to cry.
I was reading Tadao Sato’s commentary on Kurosawa’s Rashomon (for the non-Japanophiles out there, Kurosawa is a famous Japanese producer and Rashomon is one of his movies), and was fascinated by this concept that the characters in the movie were limited by their roles. But first, a little background: According to Kurosawa, Rashomon is about a rape and a murder. And the story of the rape and murder is told by four different people – the bandit, Tajomaru, the wife, the samurai husband and the woodcutter. Each tells the story differently and Sato argues that they each tell the story in a way that makes them seem “honest.” At first I was shocked because how could any of these people call themselves honest? But then I realized I had made the mistake of associating the word “honest” with “moral” or “innocent,” when really what Sato meant was that each character told the story in a way that made them seem (apologies for the cliche I’m about to use) “true to themselves.” In Tajomaru’s story, he plays the bandit’s role well. He rapes the wife and then with his cunning and skill, defeats the samurai in battle and kills him. The samurai, however, portrays Tajomaru differently. In his story, the wife begs Tajomaru to kill her husband and Tajomaru, being disgusted by this request, asks the samurai what to do with his wife. He is willing to kill her if the samurai wishes. The samurai assigns Tajomaru a deference and respectfulness that Tajomaru does not even assign himself. While the samurai’s story ruins Tajomaru’s image as a bandit, it does reinforce the husband’s image as a samurai. Samurai are cool, calm, collected. They are honored and respected in society, even by bandits, apparently. In his story, the samurai kills himself, since death by one’s own hand is more honorable than being outmatched by a ruffian. There are other examples, but I’ve already written my reading response for Bruce’s class, so I’m going to skip to the part where I fret about the possible implications this idea has for humanity.
If a person must “stay in character,” what does this mean in terms of free will and predestination, or even nature vs. nurture for that matter? If we are limited by our own natures, doesn’t that mean that our paths are predetermined? Don’t our options become limited? How often does the phrase “maybe it’s just my personality, but…” escape from our lips? I feel like most people would readily acknowledge that people do not do things that are “out of character.” I mean, that’s why we say that – “oh that was so out of character for you.” If this is the case, then don’t we become limited in what we can do by our own personalities? Dumbledore tells Harry that we are defined by the choices we make and what actions we take (and the leaves that we rake – wait, what?), but what if we can only make a set number of choices or take a set number of actions based on our what our character dictates? I suppose this is my worry (it’s Kurosawa’s too, according to Sato) – that people are the way they are and that they’re locked into their own identity. I suppose that to a certain degree, this is true. We can only make the decisions that we’re comfortable with, the ones we can live with. I guess what I’m squeamish about is that this means that a bad man will always be bad and that we can only ever count on him to do bad things. I already feel defeated when I say that I refuse to accept this as the general rule of thumb, since it’s firmly ingrained in my nature to believe in the inherent goodness of humanity. I make the decision to have faith in people because my character is an idealist, or if you prefer, naive.
As far as I can tell, there isn’t a good way out of this loop.