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Ridley Scott's The Last Duel will be Rashomonesque

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    Vili Maunula

    Apparently, the upcoming Ridley Scott film The Last Duel (starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck) will follow a “Rashomonesque” structure. Or so say this Tweet and this talk.

    The film is based on the book The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France and involves a medieval tale of an alleged rape and a sword duel. Sounds familiar? The script is by Affleck, Damon and Nicole Holofcener. I think it’s the first film since Good Will Hunting where Affleck and Damon are collaborating on the script.

    A new Ridley Scott film is always an event for me, so I’m definitely looking forward to this one.

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    Ugetsu

    Oh, that is interesting.

    Matt Damon became quite a feature around Dublin when he got stuck here doing the final filming on the first wave of Covid. I looked up the true story its based on to try to work out why they were filming in Ireland (I’ve still no idea), and became intrigued by the story, I can see why Scott thought it had movie potential.

    From what I’ve read, the only thing we know for certain is the outcome of the duel, historians still argue over whether there was a rape or if it was some sort of set-up. It hadn’t crossed my mind that it was suitable for a Rashomon type structure, but now that I think of it, it seems ideal. I can’t wait to see it.

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    Ugetsu

    The film is about to be released. The trailer certainly looks interesting.

    Scott is quoted as follows:

    “We chose to use the device of telling the story from several character’s perspectives in order to examine the immutable fact that although often multiple people who experience the same event come away with differing accounts, there can only be one truth.

    Well, that certainly sounds Rashomoneque. I can’t find any other comment though in relation to it being based in any way on Rashomon. Legal reasons perhaps?

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    lawless

    Except Rashomon takes the position everything is subjective and the truth is ultimately unknowable. Or at least it, unlike pretty much everything following it, can’t be resolved, reasoned or smoothed out into one clearly correct narrative. The narratives remain contradictory and unresolved.

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    Vili Maunula

    I saw the film this week and it is very much a Ridley Scott film in both the good and the bad. For me, as someone who goes to see a new Ridley Scott film for much the same reasons as he goes to an art museum, it was mainly in the good. I do love Ridley’s visuals.

    The Last Duel tells the same story three times, from the perspective of three different characters, two men and one woman. Although the events in the narrative(s) span something like a decade or more, the story ultimately centres on a rape and the trial that follows. In some sense this is quite like Rashomon, but in one important aspect it is not: although each chapter is presented as “the truth according to”, this film very much underlines that one of these truths is the objective truth, namely that of Marguerite, the woman who is raped. While perceptions of events may be subjective, and we certainly see this in both bigger and smaller details throughout the film, the film stresses that an objective truth exists. And that it is a moral truth as well.

    While I think this is a little heavy handedly presented in the film, I do applaud the message.

    This got me thinking about what the reaction to Rashomon would be today. lawless has previously talked about her discomfort with both the subject matter of Rashomon, as well as how it is presented. Re-reading that thread now makes me think about how much our world has changed in the decade since those posts, how much my understanding of it has changed, and how much both still need to change.

    I think if released today, aspects of Rashomon would be heavily criticised by audiences. And largely for good reasons, most of which have been discussed by lawless and others in the thread linked to above. In my eyes, this doesn’t make Rashomon a worse film or invalidate its brilliance, but it is a good reminder of how we perceive things and how we should question why we perceive them as we do.

    I want to believe that there comes a time when Rashomon could again be released without such criticism as it would probably draw today. Not because we would step backwards with the progress that is (hopefully) happening around the world in terms of dismantling the disproportionally white male dominated social and cultural structures, but exactly because we have progressed to a point where these questions no longer need to be at the forefront of all cultural discussion, as they do today (for a good reason). Someone, I forget who, once said that they hope to see the day when coming out as transgender or gay is no longer news to anyone, but entirely on the level of someone saying that they are cisgender or heterosexual. This is very much how I feel, as that to me sounds like a healthy society. Hopefully we’ll get to a place one day where people are just people, unique individuals, a richness of diversity and all with equal opportunities.

    But that’s not today. And this is probably also why The Last Duel doesn’t dare to leave the audience guessing or creating its own interepretation of who to believe. Instead, it emphasises that there is a need for objective, moral truths.

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    lawless

    A quote from Ridley Scott recently made the rounds on Twitter in which he blamed the negative reception and small box office for this movie on young uns being too used to watching everything on their phones, and I suggested the problem was maybe it wasn’t such a good film. (I had forgotten about this thread, so I didn’t make the connection with Rashomon.)

    There are some things societal change might be able to fix, like non-white characters being villains no longer serving to reinforce assumptions of criminality or with LGBTQ characters, assumptions of depravity. But that’s because in the real world non-white and LGBTQ people aren’t all perfect angels; they have the capacity to do wrong and be evil just like anyone else, the problem being the assumption that that’s all they are. Same can be said about which characters are killed off; once a more representative number of white cis men are killed off, killing off non-white, female and queer characters won’t have the same significance.

    In the case of Rashomon, the narratives other than the woman’s contradict what actually happens in such circumstances. It’d be one thing if a counternarrative denied there was any sexual contact, but that’s not what’s presented.

    So yes, I think Scott’s presentation is the right idea. As I said before rape isn’t the right subject for a narrative that denies the ability to establish objective truth because that will always involve a narrative that casts doubt on the woman’s veracity. That doesn’t mean all accusations of rape are true, but the likelihood one is false in a situation where those involved had sex is slim.

    (It’s certainly true that men sometimes think they had consent when they didn’t, but that’s a different matter.)

    And to circle back to Rashomon: the only plausible explanation for Mifune’s character’s story is that the wife was fed up with the husband and decided to use the opportunity to get away from him.

    Also thank you Vili for the shoutout/callback to the thread I started!

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    Vili Maunula

    A quote from Ridley Scott recently made the rounds on Twitter in which he blamed the negative reception and small box office for this movie on young uns being too used to watching everything on their phones, and I suggested the problem was maybe it wasn’t such a good film.

    I thought it was a fairly good film.

    As I recall from the Marc Maron interview that I think you refer to, Scott wasn’t really criticising people for watching things on their phones, but more broadly talking about a generation that has grown up with a relationship to media that phones and social media have taught them. In Scott’s view, the younger generations are either not interested in or capable of sitting through a more didactic feature film experience. Like he says in the interview, this is of course a broad generalisation, but I think if taken as a generalisation, he is not wrong.

    That said, like Scott (I assume), I am looking at this from the outside, as I don’t use social media, don’t really know any younger people, and find it very difficult to enjoy most mass entertainment these days, be it popular music, popular films, games or TV series. So, perhaps I’m just starting to be totally out of touch with the times. A little like Scott’s film certainly was. But I don’t think it made Scott’s film a bad film. Just like I hope it doesn’t make me a worse person.

    Also thank you Vili for the shoutout/callback to the thread I started!

    And thank you for that thread. It’s actually been on my mind quite often these past couple of years. I remember not quite getting your point at the time, as you can probably see from my replies in that thread, or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I certainly understood and agreed with what you were saying, but at the same time I wasn’t entirely convinced that it was as big of an issue as what you made it to be. But now, ten years later, with everything that has happened and the conversations that we as a society have been having, I definitely understand your point and its implications much better.

    A similar thing happened earlier this year in another context. For some years now, I’ve been working on a video game. It’s sort of a narrative puzzle game that has an interactive story through which the player moves as they play. Recently, I went back to the script that I had originally drafted something like six years ago, and did a more or less final rewrite as I started to implement it into the otherwise largely finished game.

    At the beginning of the game the player is given the choice of choosing their character’s name and gender. I remember how back when I first wrote the script, I was even a little proud of myself for not only allowing the player to play a female character, but also offering it as the first option. I think this was around the time of the “gamergate” insanity, so I guess I thought I was very much on top of my game there.

    But looking at the script in 2021, the idea of giving the player what is basically a hard binary (female/male) choice of genders immediately and understandably felt wrong. I’m still not entirely sure how I will handle it, but at least I’m now aware that I need to (or at least want to) do it better.

    With these kind of experiences, it would be tempting to observe that the world changes around us and we need to adapt to it, but perhaps that’s not quite the right lesson to learn here. Instead, I suppose the point that I am personally more interested in is that the world itself hasn’t actually changed that much, but rather our understanding of it has. The issues that you raised in your thread, or the issues related to gender identity for instance, have always been there. And it’s taken a pretty loud and at times quite painful public conversation to make many of us properly notice them and to begin to realise their importance.

    It makes me wonder what else I, as someone who thinks of myself as an open minded, progressive and accepting individual, have missed. What are the things that, ten years from now, I look back at and realise how blind and naive I was.

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