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 most replies have been satirically pro-Leave, readers being what they are, and Vander Weyer asked for more Remainers to have a go, 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.’

cf. Former Bank of England Governor Lord King’s analysis of ‘the most dispiriting campaign in my lifetime’, in which he thought both sides made reckless and insupportable claims.

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

cf. Lord King again: ‘The only honest answer about the long-run consequences is we don’t really know’ and it’s ‘not a bed of roses—no-one should pretend that—but equally it is not the end of the world’.

In other words, Brexit is unlikely to redeem or damn us, and by and large Leavers and Remainers probably aren’t devils or angels. Life will continue. There are no sunlit Brexit uplands, hell doesn’t lie at our feet, there is just ordinary life to be got through.

I’ll leave the last word with Kurosawa—this is how he 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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