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The Idiot: Seeing, Representing

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    Vili Maunula

    Have you noticed that The Idiot is full of references to seeing and showing? Not only visual ones, like most memorably Akama’s eyes being superimposed on Kameda (around 1h 30min), but also numerous times of characters commenting on other people’s eyes or staring.

    Repeatedly, we also have characters looking if not directly at the camera, almost. My personal favourite comes 7min 45sec into the film, when Kameda and Akama look at a picture of Taeko (their reflections actually looking towards us), and Taeko’s eyes looking directly at us, the audience.

    I don’t know what to make of this, but I was thinking along the lines of representation, adaptation, that sort of things. Acting out something for us to observe, rather than just being something.

    Speaking of which, The Idiot actually takes a curious position at the beginning of the film. It seemingly refuses to be an actual adaptation of The Idiot, but rather a representation of it. Or that is how I would interpret the first text card that we are shown:

    “Dostoevsky wanted to portray a genuinely good man. Ironically he chose an idiot for his hero. But a truly good man may seem like an idiot to others. This is the tragic story of the ruin of a pure and simple man.” (around 00:04:15)

    There are at least two notable things about this piece of text. One is the mention of Dostoevsky. With it, the film acknowledges its source outside of the world that it is representing, thereby noting its own status as a piece of fiction. Secondly, the card gives us the outcome and the overall message of the film, further suggesting that the story itself is not as important as the fact that it is now being acted out.

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    NoelCT

    I hesitate to analyze the meaning of the title card because we don’t know if it was put there by Kurosawa or whoever further trimmed the film without him. If it was added by him, he could have felt the theme had been compromised by the cuts and wanted to make it clear to people what he was trying to say. If it were added by the studio, then they may have thought the final product was too disjointed and needed clarity. It’s yet another interesting question about the making of this film that we’ll likely never find the answer to.

    As to the theme of seeing and being seen, I definitely agree. I read the book just before I watched the film and one of the themes I noticed was that everyone in this society is putting on a false face, either to boost themselves up, befriend those who would likely hate them, or shield their weaknesses. The talent of the Prince Myshkin character is that he can see through these social barriers to the true person underneath, and it’s his revelation of these truths that either win people over or turn them against him. His “idiocy” comes because he isn’t aware of the social implication of publicly addressing these truths, of bearing these inner hearts and souls to the very friends and family members those people would rather keep in the dark. He doesn’t know how to lie, even when it’s in the best interests of those he cares for.

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    Vili Maunula

    That’s a good point about the Idiot character being able to see through the fac(ad)es.

    I don’t personally think that it needs to be relevant who put the card text there or why. What matters from the point of view of an interpretation is that it is there.

    Not that the question itself isn’t interesting, or that the answer couldn’t tell us something about the movie Kurosawa intended to make.

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