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One Wonderful Sunday: In Search of a Theme

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    lawless

    Vili has suggested, as have many of the analysts, that the central theme of this movie is the need for dreams or hope versus the hopelessness of reality. It’s a contrast we see played out in the conflicts between Masako and Yuzo.

    I’d like to posit an alternate theory: that the movie’s theme is whether it is useful, or even wise, to retain one’s honesty and integrity in an environment that rewards neither, with the dream/reality divide used to frame this theme.

    This theme surfaces throughout the film, including when Masako admonishes Yuzo for attempting to smoke the cigarette someone else has thrown on the pavement without stamping it out, when Yuzo criticizes the price and shoddy workmanship of the model home they look at, when Yuzo refuses the money he’s offered at the cabaret, when Yuzo pays for the damage the baseball he hit caused, when Masako refuses the orphan boy’s offer to pay for the rice ball, when Yuzo chastises the concert ticket scalpers, when Yuzo accepts the inflated bill at the cafe even though they hadn’t ordered the more expensive coffee for which they were charged and leaves his coat as surety for further payment, and when they imagine the cafe they’d like to open.

    This list is illustrative, not exhaustive. Let me know what you think; I’m interested in your reactions.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless, I agree with you entirely on this. I think its wrong to think of this film as ‘humanist’ in the way Kurosawa’s films are usually assessed. Vili is right in the other thread to note the emphasis on fantasy as a way of surviving, but i think the particular theme with which the film is bookended (the cigarette butt), is that they are both fighting to maintain their integrity.

    It is more than just a matter of Yuzo staying honest – integrity goes deeper than that. They will not lower themselves to the level of beggers, or indulge in the semi-legal world of the black market, or backscratching (i.e. calling in old favours when Yuzo visits the dance hall). Masako makes it clear to Yuzo that she would rather be dirt poor than to lower her standards – even if it means walking in broken shoes and never seeing a Schubert concert again. But rather than seeing this as a noble sacrifice – as it would no doubt have been portrayed in an Ozu film – they use fantasy as a way of brightening up their lives, and keeping positive about the future.

    I think the role of Masako is key in this, and I agree with Vili too as he speculated in the other thread that she should be seen as a ‘Kurosawa hero’. She is the one who is constantly fighting to stop Yuzo falling into despair and/or criminality. She is no passive Japanese lady – in the context, she is fighting as hard as any samurai warrior for their honor.

    I’m not sure this is the right thread for this, but I’m toying with the notion that the couple are intended as a quite deliberate allegory for the inner conflicts of Japan. Yuzo is poor, defeated, and torn between a future that may offer a choice between maintaining integrity, and accepting poverty as the price of this, or giving in to a sort of subservient criminality, which (as we’ve discussed elsewhere) is often associated with western, and specifically American, influences. Masako represents a more noble vision of Japanese society – proud but not arrogant, weak in body but not in spirit, poor but with integrity. I think Kurosawa was explicitly playing out the conflicts facing Japanese society with this couple.

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – I agree with your last paragraph. And your point (and Vili’s, although I don’t remember him expressing it in quite the same way) about Masako being a ‘Kurosawa hero’ is exactly what I was getting at when I called her the main and viewpoint character of the movie as well as the character with the most agency, even though it’s Yuzo who decides to conduct the imaginary symphony.

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    Vili Maunula

    lawless: I’d like to posit an alternate theory: that the movie’s theme is whether it is useful, or even wise, to retain one’s honesty and integrity in an environment that rewards neither, with the dream/reality divide used to frame this theme.

    In my earlier post on the film, I suggested something similar, namely that by giving us a couple that strives for honesty and decency but only suffers because of it, the question is put forward what sort of behaviour the social system in which they live nurtures, or intends to nurture. In One Wonderful Sunday, only cheaters seem to profit.

    But are you suggesting that the film is questioning whether it is wise to retain these standards for an individual? That everyone would be better off giving up honesty and decency, and only thinking about themselves? If so, I don’t think that I quite agree with you there, as I don’t really see the film encouraging the kind of behaviour that the yakuza for instance take part in.

    Ugetsu: I’m not sure this is the right thread for this, but I’m toying with the notion that the couple are intended as a quite deliberate allegory for the inner conflicts of Japan.

    This is an interesting idea! I’ll have to think about it before I can respond, here or elsewhere.

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    lawless

    Vili – I don’t see the film openly encouraging the kind of behavior the yakuza engage in either, but by showing the effects of rejecting such behavior, the film seems to posit a dichotomy between honest but unrelenting poverty and dishonest wealth that it doesn’t directly resolve. I think the film suggests something within society has to change before honest people can survive and thrive. In the meantime, they have the power of their own imagination to lift them out of the doldrums, but you can’t eat imagination, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some people left the movie thinking (or confirmed in their belief) that there was no alternative but to engage in dishonest, black-market activities.

    This brings up something this film made me wonder: when did the yakuza first appear in Japanese society? Was it a post-war phenomenon or did they exist before that? And what social structures and organization preceded it? Were they, for example, the successors to renegade ronin?

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    I think the film suggests something within society has to change before honest people can survive and thrive. In the meantime, they have the power of their own imagination to lift them out of the doldrums, but you can’t eat imagination, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some people left the movie thinking (or confirmed in their belief) that there was no alternative but to engage in dishonest, black-market activities.

    I’m not sure I’d agree with this – while some of the dishonest people in the film are clearly doing well materially, most are shown to be in various ways, degraded – the rat like touts, the drunken hostess, the disturbing boy, etc. The one who seems to be a success, the unseen friend who runs the nightclub, is never seen. The final scenes show the couple as quite triumphant in their own way.

    This brings up something this film made me wonder: when did the yakuza first appear in Japanese society? Was it a post-war phenomenon or did they exist before that? And what social structures and organization preceded it? Were they, for example, the successors to renegade ronin?

    So far as i know, the modern Yakuza mainly arose in the late 19th Century – they were certainly a powerful force in pre-war Japan, although arguably not as powerful as they were later. They certainly liked to style themselves as Samurai, but I think the main crime families arose from petty urban criminals in the big cities.

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    Vili Maunula

    lawless: I think the film suggests something within society has to change before honest people can survive and thrive.

    I, too, think that this is what is at the very heart of the film.

    lawless: when did the yakuza first appear in Japanese society?

    I think that the history of yakuza goes back all the way to the 1600s or thereabouts, but unless I’m mistaken all of the main groups active in Japan today were founded between 1900 and 1960. Yakuza is said to have a samurai background, but at least today’s members are apparently largely composed of the burakumin.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    Lawless: I think the film suggests something within society has to change before honest people can survive and thrive.

    I, too, think that this is what is at the very heart of the film.

    I would consider it to be the inverse of this – at no time in the film do the main characters try to change society, or even suggest it can be changed.

    For me, the heart of the film is that society changes for the better only when individuals (or in this case, couples), maintain their integrity and refuse to be pulled along with the negative flow in a rotting society. In other words, it is honest people staying honest that changes society, not the other way around.

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    cocoskyavitch

    I’ve been on the road, then work was crushing, so late to join.

    Ugetsu, please clarify:

    Masako makes it clear to Yuzo that she would rather be dirt poor than to lower her standards – even if it means walking in broken shoes and never seeing a Schubert concert again. But rather than seeing this as a noble sacrifice – as it would no doubt have been portrayed in an Ozu film –

    Please give me examples of what you mean in terms of how Ozu might portray this as a noble sacrifice. (thanks in advance).

    Ugetsu, Vili, lawless, Ugetsu said:

    …the heart of the film is that society changes for the better only when individuals (or in this case, couples), maintain their integrity and refuse to be pulled along with the negative flow in a rotting society.

    Feels right to me. Indeed, that’s where we get that “humanism” tag on Kurosawa. I understand why earlier, Ugetsu says, “

    I think its wrong to think of this film as ‘humanist’ in the way Kurosawa’s films are usually assessed.

    I understand it because he so forcibly depicts choices…as lawless said,

    …you can’t eat imagination, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some people left the movie thinking (or confirmed in their belief) that there was no alternative but to engage in dishonest, black-market activities.

    But Ugetsu says

    …while some of the dishonest people in the film are clearly doing well materially, most are shown to be in various ways, degraded – the rat like touts, the drunken hostess, the disturbing boy, etc. The one who seems to be a success, the unseen friend who runs the nightclub, is never seen. The final scenes show the couple as quite triumphant in their own way.

    So, Ugetsu in the course of this discussion runs the emotional/intellectual gamut from thinking this is not humanist to confirming this is a humanist film. I find that truly fascinating. I agree with Ugetsu’s conclusion, but am once again astonished by the depth of this old chestnut of a film to be so rewarding to sustained consideration, and to our friends’ willingness to think deeply enough to allow their ideas to evolve. Who said “the head is round so ideas can change direction more easily” ? I dunno, but I like it.

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    Ugetsu

    Coco

    Please give me examples of what you mean in terms of how Ozu might portray this as a noble sacrifice. (thanks in advance).

    Little known Ozu film, ‘Tokyo Late Winter Rain

    Scene:

    Train slowly approaches platform.

    *cut*

    Yuzo stares sadly into space

    *cut*

    Close up of Trash can

    *cut*

    Masako looks away with a small smile on her face

    *cut*

    Yuzo and Masako stare somewhere into the distance.

    Yuzo: Remember that cafe we once hoped to open?

    Masako: Its ok, coffee is over rated, I like water.

    *pause*

    Masako: It would have been nice to go to see the Schubert concert.

    Yuzo: A waste of money to go to a concert that isn’t even finished.

    *cut*

    Camera pans back very slowly. Masako is smiling gently, Yuzo is inscrutably peeling an apple.

    *cut*

    Train arrives.

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    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: Little known Ozu film, ‘Tokyo Late Winter Rain’

    Haha! 😆

    Ugetsu: For me, the heart of the film is that society changes for the better only when individuals (or in this case, couples), maintain their integrity and refuse to be pulled along with the negative flow in a rotting society. In other words, it is honest people staying honest that changes society, not the other way around.

    Do we actually see evidence of this anywhere in the film? I agree that through their integrity and honesty, Yuzo and Masako are able to maintain a life that satisfies them morally, if not financially. I do not, however, see any sign that their actions, or the actions of those like them, would contribute to a change in society. In order for that to happen, surely the actions of the wrong-doers would need to change, and the film does not particularly seem to be campaigning for that.

    On the contrary, the film seems to say that whatever honest people do, the society at large is not functioning properly, and the initiative is therefore not with the common people, but with the individuals who have the power to make larger changes through better government, fairer policies, and stricter maintenance of law and order. The dishonest people are not the problem, only the symptom: it is difficult to blame the players for cheating if the core rules are rigged.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    Do we actually see evidence of this anywhere in the film? I agree that through their integrity and honesty, Yuzo and Masako are able to maintain a life that satisfies them morally, if not financially. I do not, however, see any sign that their actions, or the actions of those like them, would contribute to a change in society. In order for that to happen, surely the actions of the wrong-doers would need to change, and the film does not particularly seem to be campaigning for that.

    I agree there is no direct evidence that this is the intention, but I’d argue that every one of the dishonest people in the film are shown in some degree to be miserable and failing – the drunken hostess in the cabaret, the filthy young man, the sleezy ticket sellers. The only characters that might be seen as succeeding – the owners of the cabaret, or the rip-off coffee house, are unseen, which I think is significant. They are the puppet masters, but the people who do the dirty work for them are not happy or even all that materially successful. They have swapped their integrity for a handful of yen. As a friend of mine once said in a different context – ‘if there is one thing worse than someone who gets rich from corruption, its someone who is corrupt, but too stupid to get rich from it‘. I think the generally un-Kurosawa like ‘happy’ ending, rather than being humanistic as Coco implies elsewhere, is an attempt to show that simply maintaining ones integrity is a victory in itself – this is consistent with the ending of Scandal and also (more arguably) Rashomon. I think sometimes Kurosawa’s more upbeat endings are a deliberate attempt to avoid nihilistic conclusions (i.e. Rashomon), but in this case I think it was a distinct message, part of the theme of the film.

    On the contrary, the film seems to say that whatever honest people do, the society at large is not functioning properly, and the initiative is therefore not with the common people, but with the individuals who have the power to make larger changes through better government, fairer policies, and stricter maintenance of law and order. The dishonest people are not the problem, only the symptom: it is difficult to blame the players for cheating if the core rules are rigged.

    I can’t quite square this conclusion with the Yuko and Masako’s dreams of a ‘peoples cafe’ – fair prices for good coffee. That does seem to be suggesting that ordinary people can undermine the system from below, simply by being honest.

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    Ugetsu

    Coco

    So, Ugetsu in the course of this discussion runs the emotional/intellectual gamut from thinking this is not humanist to confirming this is a humanist film. I find that truly fascinating. I agree with Ugetsu’s conclusion, but am once again astonished by the depth of this old chestnut of a film to be so rewarding to sustained consideration, and to our friends’ willingness to think deeply enough to allow their ideas to evolve.

    Interesting point! I think this comes back to a matter of definition – perhaps one of you can help me out on this, but when I first started reading up on Kurosawa and the term ‘humanist cinema’ kept coming up, I searched for a definition of what humanism means in this context, and I couldn’t find one. I guess this is another of the terms I bridle at when I see written, because I’m inclined to think of it in terms of being a sort of ‘well, its all about people being nice to each other and everyone benefits from that’ approach, which of course goes nowhere near the subtlety of Kurosawa’s ideas.

    So yes, One Wonderful Sunday is humanist cinema, in that it has a message of individual integrity triumphing against the odds… but it is so much more than that too.

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    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: I’d argue that every one of the dishonest people in the film are shown in some degree to be miserable and failing … The only characters that might be seen as succeeding – the owners of the cabaret, or the rip-off coffee house, are unseen, which I think is significant. They are the puppet masters, but the people who do the dirty work for them are not happy or even all that materially successful.

    This is an interesting point, but are all the dishonest people really unhappy in the film? I’m not sure if the boy is unhappy, for instance. (I’m still not sure what he is.) And are the yakuza members unhappy? I’m not sure.

    But I do agree that they are nevertheless in one way or another portrayed as failing. Even if they are not unhappy (and maybe they are?), they are not people in whose shoes we would like to be.

    Ugetsu: I can’t quite square this conclusion with the Yuko and Masako’s dreams of a ‘peoples cafe’ – fair prices for good coffee. That does seem to be suggesting that ordinary people can undermine the system from below, simply by being honest.

    For me, the crucial point here is that it is just a dream, and as far as I can see it, there is no way for Yuzo and Masako to actually materialise that plan as long as the world around them is what it is. They don’t have the means to initiate such a project, and even if they did, it is questionable whether such an enterprise could stay profitable in direct competition with the underworld. With the over-charging café, for instance, the deliberate inclusion of the yakuza member at the end of the scene could suggest that the place is not over-charging because the owner wants to over-charge, but because they need to pay for the yakuza protection.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Thank you, Ugetsu for reprising the Ozu scene. Please specify how you believe this to be an example of showing a noble sacrifice in Ozu’s cinema as opposed to Kurosawa’s. Thx.

    I agree that “humanism” is one term I would like to shoot. We use it in reference to the Renaissance, but danged if there isn’t a wide variety of scholarly definitions-enough to create a fair degree of confusion and “blurriness”.

    And, as applied to Kurosawa, even more muddled. Yet, here is a def. that works, for me:

    Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

    That quote may be found here: http://www.americanhumanist.org/Who_We_Are/About_Humanism

    Vili is arguing whether or not it is the individual maintaining integrity that can change society. I think actually, that is precisely the point of Kurosawa’s films. That an individual maintaining or achieving an ethical life that aspires to the greater good of humanity is how society changes. He is always about the individual-in fact, his characters are engaged in “the Temptation of St. Anthony” with the protagonist replacing the saint and with plenty of devils. Of course, minus the religion.

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    lawless

    In this discussion, I come down on the same side as Vili. Are the dishonest characters really aware of their own depravity, and do they care about it? Just because we think they should be miserable doesn’t mean that they are. They at least have enough to support themselves, unlike Yuzo and Masako, and their hopes and dreams may in fact be more realistic than Yuzo and Masako’s.

    What I like best about Kurosawa is the way he places distinctive individuals within specific social settings. His movies aren’t only about the individuals or about society; they’re about how each affects the other. To take a different example, while the intervention of the samurai in Seven Samurai was integral to the defense of the village, in the long run, the days of the samurai are numbered. So even though their actions were heroic and decisive in this case, it does nothing to stop the tide of history from consigning their class to irrelevance.

    To my mind, One Wonderful Sunday doesn’t ultimately resolve the tension between the integrity of people like Masako and Yuzo and the society in which they live. Only societal changes of a sort that are not entirely within the grasp of individuals can do that. Perhaps the English-labeled trash can in the final scene is in part a suggestion that misplaced priorities of the occupation play a role here.

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    Vili Maunula

    Coco: Vili is arguing whether or not it is the individual maintaining integrity that can change society.

    Perhaps this is semantics, but I am actually arguing whether One Wonderful Sunday is suggesting this. Unlike Ugetsu, I don’t really see it doing that.

    I do agree that Kurosawa’s films promote the type of ethical life that you describe. Whether it is enough to change society, however, is a tricky question, and I think one that Kurosawa wrestled on for the best past of his career. One Wonderful Sunday, it seems to me, takes a rather grim (and critical) look on the situation.

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    Vili Maunula

    lawless: What I like best about Kurosawa is the way he places distinctive individuals within specific social settings. His movies aren’t only about the individuals or about society; they’re about how each affects the other.

    This, I think, is an important point. They are two intertwined threads.

    We could perhaps say that in his films, individual triumphs do not necessarily translate into societal triumphs, nor does societal progress equal automatic individual happiness. However, individual failings do affect society much more directly, and in a negative way. It is harder to build than to destroy.

    In other words, you do not necessarily make the world a better place by being a better human being, but you do make it worse by being a worse one. Or, is this perhaps a little too pessimistic a reading of Kurosawa’s films (let’s say, the ones made before Dodesukaden)?

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    With the over-charging café, for instance, the deliberate inclusion of the yakuza member at the end of the scene could suggest that the place is not over-charging because the owner wants to over-charge, but because they need to pay for the yakuza protection.

    Are you referring to the guy in the black jacket who asked ‘how much did they owe?’. I didn’t get the impression that he was yakuza, unless I was missing some subtlety there. But I take your overall point.

    coco

    Thank you, Ugetsu for reprising the Ozu scene. Please specify how you believe this to be an example of showing a noble sacrifice in Ozu’s cinema as opposed to Kurosawa’s. Thx.

    I would have thought almost all Ozu’s films are suffused with the notion that submitting to ones faith (as opposed to fighting it, or losing yourself in fantasy) is an act of dignity and nobility. Ozu’s characters rarely distract themselves with dreams or fantasies of the future, they are mostly firmly focused on the realities of contemporary life. Those who do not are generally depicted as less sympathetic. There are examples right through his work, but an obvious one I’d point out would be Noriko in Tokyo Story, who, in Mellens words (p.36):

    .‘… in this new, deformed Japan such a woman must support herself, Noriko never complains, nor does she allow the world to perceive her suffering. Through her, Ozu expresses how the ideal woman behaves, even in these troubled and chaotic times. The director’s affection for Noriko is apparent. It records his nostalgia for the passing of an ideal that includes a passive acceptance of one’s station and fate…. In Tokyo Story the dignity of forebearance is allied to the nobility of doing one’s duty in accord with obligation…’

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    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: Are you referring to the guy in the black jacket who asked ‘how much did they owe?‘. I didn’t get the impression that he was yakuza, unless I was missing some subtlety there. But I take your overall point.

    Yes, that’s the guy. While he is not explicitly identified as yakuza, I’m not sure why else he would be so interested in the cafe keeper’s business, if he wasn’t there to make sure that he is properly “protected”. His leather jacket also hints of yakuza. And he sits alone, next to the door.

    On the other hand, looking at the scene again, the way in which the cafe keeper looks at the young man does not really suggest familiarity. Neither does the way the young man addresses the cafe keeper. So, perhaps I am just imagining things here.

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    cocoskyavitch

    lawless, I concur with your statement :

    To take a different example, while the intervention of the samurai in Seven Samurai was integral to the defense of the village, in the long run, the days of the samurai are numbered. So even though their actions were heroic and decisive in this case, it does nothing to stop the tide of history from consigning their class to irrelevance

    . I would also say, we might conclude that the victory may be partial, fleeting, or minimal, but that the actual prize of a moral victory is the moral victory. It must be fought by every individual in every generation, under every circumstance. You don’t do it once then done. The specificity of the “temptation” is different as is the response of each “St. Anthony”.

    What is the result of being a devil? It isn’t clear that they will suffer. I don’t think that impacts the salient message, well, except to make it more realistic, more convincing, and more nuanced.

    Is Kurosawa urging some particular response to life in One Wonderful Sunday? I think, yes.

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    lawless

    Vili wrote:

    In other words, you do not necessarily make the world a better place by being a better human being, but you do make it worse by being a worse one. Or, is this perhaps a little too pessimistic a reading of Kurosawa’s films (let’s say, the ones made before Dodesukaden)?

    I don’t think that’s too pessimistic a reading. Being a better human being only makes the world a better place if others are also affected and changed by it, even in Kurosawa’s pre-Dodesukaden movies. Dr. Sanada in Drunken Angel is able to cure the high school student who is his patient because she follows his treatment regimen, but he can’t save Matsunaga because Matsunaga refuses to do as he’s told. As I recall, Matsunaga’s heroic actions toward the end are motivated by his loss of faith when he learns how little he means to the gang he’s a member of, not Sanada’s influence, though perhaps Sanada’s influence makes him bolder than he would be otherwise.

    The effect Kambei’s goodness has on others leads to the formation of the collective of the seven individuals in Seven Samurai. The force of collective over inidividual action is epitomized by his lectures as to why it is more important to defend the village as a whole than every single house within it and why Kikuchiyo’s going off on his own to steal one of the bandits’ rifles was not praiseworthy when Kyuzo’s doing so at his request was.

    Individual nobility that doesn’t affect enough other people, as in One Wonderful Sunday, where Yuzo and Masako represent similar couples throughout Japan, by itself cannot change things. On the other hand, one person’s evil intentions and another’s weakness can cause all manner of harm (Throne of Blood). And what can seem comforting, even inspiring at first can turn out to be destructive, as is the case with the false hope offered by the pilgrim in The Lower Depths.

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