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The Lower Depths: Purpose of the Final Act

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    Vili Maunula

    I don’t fully understand the fourth and final act of The Lower Depths. The characters that were responsible for creating action in the first three acts do not appear in it, and so we are left with stillness.

    The last act is necessary, as it shows the effect of the old man’s departure and brings forward the gambler, who could be seen as the old man’s opposite. Yet, it runs for a good 22 minutes, which I find a little too long and, when compared to the rest of the film, rather uninteresting. This does of course make the sudden ending all the more powerful, but I doubt that this effect alone can be the primary reason for the change of pace. There is song and dance in these 22 minutes, but it all seems quite devoid of actual content that couldn’t be put forward in less than five.

    What are your thoughts regarding the last act? Why in both Kurosawa or Gorky it has to be this long and uneventful? What is it that I am missing?

    Also, can someone tell me whether Anton Chekhov said that he liked or disliked the last act in his letter to Gorky?

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    cocoskyavitch

    Vili, What A Treat! Loved having the letter from Checkov to Gorky! Thanks!

    As I read it, Checkov is telling Gorky to be careful because the last act may seem boring and long when the best characters (save the actor) are gone. It’s a cautionary bit in a letter of appreciation.

    I don’t find the last act boring at all. I find myself missing the characters I became intrigued with: and yet, we retain the actor, and he becomes the final exit…and gambler plays the role of commentator. It wraps up just beautifully for me-there’s a symmetry and soundness to it. But then, I am a BIG fan of this piece.

    The song and dance with Watanabe cracks me up completely. My eyes pop out of my head accompanied by the “Awooogah” cartoon sound. Just ridiculous and unbelievable little piece of action that never fails to surprise me. That the fat strongman has injured himself-(at this level an injury is like an injury to a wild animal-they become more likely to fall victim to disease, and cannot run with the rest of the pack…more likely to die) makes me worried, and that the gambler commits suicide is the slap of cold water that snaps me out of my humor.

    I believe the purpose of the final act is to wrap things up. We have a good long time to get over any suspicion that this is a melodrama or potboiler or romance. And, it must have appealed to Kurosawa’s sensibilities to have the concluding piece of kabuki theatre in the parody of dance and song. It’s as he revisited the concluding scene of Enoken dancing in They Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail-a praodic dance in itself-and now, have made it even more burlesque and somehow, fantastic. The gambler’s final words and clapper bring us back harshly.

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    lawless

    It’s been awhile since I saw this and I don’t have access to a copy, so could someone remind me what starts off the final act? Somehow I thought there were only two acts, the first of which ends with the tinker’s wife’s death.

    In any event, I love the song-and-dance reprise (it has similarities to the rap at the beginning of the second act during the card game). Even my fifteen (then fourteen-year-old) daughter found it hilarious. So my reaction to that bit, at least, is very much like Coco’s. Then again, I’m beginning to wonder if we were twins separated at birth. We at least seem to like the same Kurosawa films, with The Lower Depths and Seven Samurai being cases in point.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ha! Lawless, probably, as someone with a Juris Doctorate, you placed somewhere in the range of INFP in the Meyer-Briggs personality indicators! (Professions suitable for an INFP include: lawyer, artist, professor…!)

    The last act is the whole part after Mifune’s character is whisked off to jail, and the daughter, landlady and pilgrim are out of the picture. We’re in the tenement again, and at one point the fat guy is nursing a wound with Buddhist holy water. He at first refuses drink, but gives in and then the singing and dancing begin.

    Vili said:

    There is song and dance in these 22 minutes, but it all seems quite devoid of actual content that couldn’t be put forward in less than five.

    Actually, I believe that the length of the scene is necessary to the satisfying conclusion of the film. After all, if we have lost our main characters through their own stupid passions and motivations and the film just ends, than who gives a rat’s behind about them? What are we to believe about this tenement, about poverty, about hope and about life and the potential for goodness in the world? I believe that what we are supposed to do is observe the tenement, and the fact that the life of poverty continues. We need time to understand that just because one set of stories is over, the whole story is not, necessarily over, and we need time to get used to the loss of our main characters and accept the story continuing. I think the length is so that we can achieve that detached god-like view in order to ponder some of the above questions about poverty, causality, consequences, hope and despair. And that clapper SLAP at the end has the same effect of the metal door slamming down in High and Low-except that instead of Gondo and the Criminal reflected, it is the Gambler and ourselves(metaphorically in the film, but in reality watching it on a television) reflected in the suddenly black screen. We are meant to reflect on the meaning of some pretty big issues!

    Again, though, as is usual with Kurosawa-we are not given comfy solutions. Just questions. That sly old frog!

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    lawless

    FYI, the one time I took the full-fledged Meyers-Briggs battery I tested out as an INTJ, which I was later led believe was a paradigmatic result for lawyers, as 7/8ths of the partners at the law firm I used to work at had the same result. At the time I joked that the results explained why they had such trouble getting along – INTJs are notoriously opinionated and independent thinkers who believe only they are right. 🙂 I have since, in online versions that claim to replicate Meyers Briggs but which aren’t nearly as long or complete, tested as INFJ and INTP, but in both cases my results for the axis that changed was nearly identical to the one I’d had before. For whatever it’s worth, I suspect my recent stab at creative writing has changed some of my results.

    Anyway, I had the sneaking feeling Vili was referring to the part after the thief’s arrest, but I never would have guessed it lasted as long as 22 minutes. I find it passes by rather quickly. Even though the thief, landlord, pilgrim, landlady and the landlady’s sister are gone, the actor is still there (although not for long), as is the gambler, the tinker, the samurai (pretend or otherwise) and the prostitute plus the minor characters who do the song and dance. Still find that hysterical.

    In addition to acting as a coda or epilogue of sorts showing that life goes on much as it had before despite the drama, isn’t this also where the actor finds out that his dream of becoming sober is just that and the gambler waxes cynical even before the shocking ending with the discovery and announcement of the actor’s suicide and the gambler’s cynical lament that the news, and by extension the actor himself, ruined their good mood?

    I guess although I’m expressing it in a different way I’m agreeing with Coco again. If anything it shows that life not only goes on but that it can be enjoyed even after all that has happened. It is the news of the consequences of the shattering of the actor’s dreams that brings them back to earth; in the meantime they were all living in their own world which might not be the same as the real one but which had more laughter, happiness and comfort.

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    lawless

    FYI, the one time I took the full-fledged Meyers-Briggs battery I tested out as an INTJ, which I was later led believe was a paradigmatic result for lawyers, as 7/8ths of the partners at the law firm I used to work at had the same result. At the time I joked that the results explained why they had such trouble getting along – INTJs are notoriously opinionated and independent thinkers who believe only they are right. 🙂 I have since, in online versions that claim to replicate Meyers Briggs but which aren’t nearly as long or complete, tested as INFJ and INTP, but in both cases my results for the axis that changed was nearly identical to the one I’d had before. For whatever it’s worth, I suspect my recent stab at creative writing has changed some of my results.

    Anyway, I had the sneaking feeling Vili was referring to the part after the thief’s arrest, but I never would have guessed it lasted as long as 22 minutes. I find it passes by rather quickly. Even though the thief, landlord, pilgrim, landlady and the landlady’s sister are gone, the actor is still there (although not for long), as is the gambler, the tinker, the samurai (pretend or otherwise) and the prostitute plus the minor characters who do the song and dance. Still find that hysterical.

    In addition to acting as a coda or epilogue of sorts showing that life goes on much as it had before despite the drama, isn’t this also where the actor finds out that his dream of becoming sober is just that and the gambler waxes cynical even before the shocking ending with the discovery and announcement of the actor’s suicide and the gambler’s cynical lament that the news, and by extension the actor himself, ruined their good mood?

    I guess although I’m expressing it in a different way I’m agreeing with Coco again. If anything it shows that life not only goes on but that it can be enjoyed even after all that has happened. It is the news of the consequences of the shattering of the actor’s dreams that brings them back to earth; in the meantime they were all living in their own world which might not be the same as the real one but which had more laughter, happiness and comfort.

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