Brexit: the movie

Rashômon poster. Credit: Akira Kurosawa/Daiei (1950).
Rashômon poster. Credit: Akira Kurosawa/Daiei (1950).

The Spectator’s affably pro-Remain business correspondent, Martin Vander Weyer, invited readers to answer the party-game question ‘If Brexit was a film…?’ Naturally the replies have been partisan, either pro-Leave or pro-Remain, but then I got to thinking…


In Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film, an incident is described—somewhat inconclusively—from four perspectives. Each of the three directly involved characters gives their version, and then an onlooker gives his.

As Wikipedia has it, ‘The film is known for a plot device that involves various characters providing alternative, self-serving and contradictory versions of the same incident.’

In Rashômon the truth is shifting and unclear, while there are no heroes, or at least there are no heroic heroes. None of the self-aggrandizing narratives stand up. The truth is more prosaic, grubbier, more ambivalent.

This is how Kurosawa explained his script to his confused assistant-directors:

Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing. This script portrays such human beings–the kind who cannot survive without lies to make them feel they are better people than they really are. It even shows this sinful need for flattering falsehood going beyond the grave—even the character who dies cannot give up his lies when he speaks to the living through a medium. Egoism is a sin the human being carries with him from birth; it is the most difficult to redeem. This film is like a strange picture scroll that is unrolled and displayed by the ego. You say that you can’t understand this script at all, but that is because the human heart itself is impossible to understand. If you focus on the impossibility of truly understanding human psychology and read the script one more time, I think you will grasp the point of it. (Taken from The Criterion Collection)

Paul Fishman (Windermere, January 2017)

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