Sexing the Nation: Articulating the Female Representation in Ishmael Bernal’s “Lagi Na Lamang Ba Akong Babae”
SEXING THE NATION: ARTICULATING THE FEMALE REPRESENTATION IN ISHMAEL BERNAL’S “LAGI NA LAMANG BA AKONG BABAE”1
It has become an obvious notion that films were regarded as a window to reality, or that it is a manifestation of reality fed on fantasy. The onset of many waves of directors gave way to multiple ages of film appreciation varying from the heavily censored film to the film that found its way through liberation and emancipation. In actuality, films catered into many aspects that did not center only on the intention of the filmmaker; as films are constantly affected by different contexts that force it to appear as a final commodity ready to be consumed by the people. There was a time in the history of Philippine film that filmmakers only followed what tended to be favored by the people or what is sure to be a “box-office hit” rather than plotting their own way to commercial and aesthetic success (or the non-commercial success, paved the way to the artistic maneuvering of the film as eligible for prestigious filmic awards)2.
Because of the reign of films only being classified as either commercial or non-commercial, films only gained a one-sided appreciation in the form of awards or in the form of monetary basis3. Films that were commercial will win no award possibly, but it catered so much to the public that it was accepted and rendered as a “maganda” or that which has an aesthetic quality because of the effects undergoing a superfluous reception by the mass audience. This is of course, against the formalist trend in the fallacy of affectivity which dictates that the effect of any medium, here in the form of a film, should not be a basis in the appreciation of the film’s quality but it should focus on the content solely4. The non-commercial one, on the other hand, is the film that goals to gather numerous awards but is often not winning any box-office because the audience wasn’t able to either understand it or the appreciate it because it did not fully cater to their expectations or as to what their consciousness wanted the film to appear as. Lacaba stressed that this is due to the onset of commodification and consumerism that he attacks the notion of the non-existence of the bakya5 crowd and articulated that there is actually what is called this type of crowd, that can also be coined as the “mass” crowd that affects the film industry at a great extent6. The ironic notion is that, the “mass” crowd is not filled with the reigning people, or the people of the upper class as a general notion people would think if associated with “popular culture” as articulated by Isagani Cruz’ essay, “Ang Kabastusan ng mga Pilipino.” The bakya crowd is actually a powerful class that did not need to struggle for any class ascension because they controlled the media already, and the power that were construed by them is the quantifiable aspect, not in complete quality. The notion of the non-existence of the bakya crowd according to some producers can be concluded that the power of the bakya crowd makes itself unknown, or to be non-existent7.
As articulated earlier, censorship also became an avenue of the many changes that a film can absorb. Censorship cannot be dismissed as a timeless office, or that which is not susceptible to changes depending on the context and milieu. In fact, historically, films and literature gained different censorships throughout time starting from Rizal’s two novels that were both published by the foreign press8. Censorship changed through time varying from the extreme way of censoring that even limited the display of violence and gore, to the films that paved the way to be an “escapist” trend that featured fantasies of the bakya crowd in the sexual world. Censorship became an intermittent challenge to many filmmakers that most of their works were devoid of its intended meaning, just like Bernal’s “City After Dark” which is originally named as Manila By Night but was renamed through the office of censorship because it went against the conception of Imelda Marcos’ “City of Man.”
Females were subject to different representations in the film history of the Philippines. The surge of bomba9 films undoubtedly objectified women as a commodity that is being catered to many male gazes and perverted minds. Women protruded their breasts as if it is a normal thing to be projected to the people, and spent sexual acts with male on the screen, arousing the audience with its titillating scenes. These type of films, of course, became only an avenue of the imagination that resisted reality, or that wanted reality to appear as such10. The Hispanization of the Philippines also gave way to the locking up of the female persona as the Birheng Maria, revealed through the power of Philippine machismo. In the history, it is portrayed that women served as the initiator of Christianity in the Philippines by the time the wife of Raja Humabon accepted the “Sto Nino” given by Magellan symbolic of the acceptance of the conversion of religion as well. Due to this “progenitor” mentality that was forcefully attached and then equipped by the Filipinos, women were boxed into the representation of the suffering one, or the women who cannot portray herself against the machismo culture, were she her attributes center on Christianity—chastity, perseverance, humility, and the like11. But even in this films, there is a discrimination among women, centering on many aspects of beauty, class struggle, and social relationships. In class struggle, we see the oppressive nature of the society that dictates the pauper as a female that waits her prince to be saved from the misery of poverty12 . Beauty almost prioritizes that which is not exoticized as a Filipino but rather casts women of American origin embodied in the persona of Gloria Romero. But the notion of film-makers should be also taken into consideration that film-makers were exclusively male during the 70s and that most of the crowd to be catered are also male, because of the machismo nature of the Philippines. Thus, it does not merit that a female should be nice or harboring exclusive qualities of being industrious or such, as even mirrored in Ishmael Bernal’s Pagdating sa Dulo (1972), everything is rooted for the fame and money. If the cast of Bernal’s film would appear as a woman deprived of what is culturally constructed as beautiful for the Filipinos during the 70s, no one would watch it (hyperbolically, as some would for unknown reasons) because it does not cater to the desire of the bakya crowd that a woman should embody beauty. The absence of a Caucasian blood deters a star from being casted for a major role, as those who have a native blood are more on the side of being comedians, just like how we make fun of the contemporary comediennes like Kakay, Pokwang, and others. The machismo culture of the Philippines centers completely on the idea of beauty to be of surfacial value, or that regards the value of the body greater than the personality13.
These being said, the paper does not goal, however, to be an in-depth study of the films that attack the femininity of the women during the 70s. This paper goals to form the constructed representation of women and how they are seen as objects of the oppressed, that originated from the many years of colonization by the Spaniards. This will construct as well on how the bakya crowd became the primary constructors of filmic appreciation of a certain film. This paper would focus on Ishmael Bernal’s “Lagi Na Lamang Ba Akong Babae” in which the title itself questions the construction of female identity or that which envelops the stereotype of femaleness. This paper would both analyze the surface value (or what is then projected visually) and then the substance or that which is being presented by actions or scenes in the film.
Man as the Locus of Innocence
The start of the film portrayed the anger of a wife because of her husband’s pambababae or search for a mistress. The anger of the wife of course intensifies with her words like “papatayin kita” or her desire to kill the mistress. In figure 1, we can see the husband stopping his wife from making any war even it is the man who first came in contact with the female. We can clearly see here how the man is imbued with much innocence that instead of him being the one punished for his wrongdoings, it is the mistress because of the faulty assumption of female seduction clustering into the male’s mind—that, the husband was only tempted by the provocative looks of the female and the anger of the wife intensifies clearly because of jealousy and insecurity that her husband is unable to look at her that way. This is a clear picture of what Virginia Woolf characterizes as female relations not embedded through harmony but always on social conflicts (deterred from lesbianism).
The Rural and Innocent Female
Even in the present time, it is the rural female we always see as somehow innocent or embodying a “Maria Clara” projection. It is true if we consider its implications that the Filipino women were seen as the acceptors of Christianity that instigated the machismo and Catholic culture of the Philippines. Because of this, we first see the manifestation of rurality which is very pre-colonial in nature as people were devoid of fully civilized life (as compared today) because of their savage nature and preference for the worship of deities and false gods (totems or idols). In Figure 2, we see the protagonist female carrying a batya, which characterizes her as a typical woman who washes clothes in the river. But the irony lies primarily that Alma Moreno here looks partly Caucasian, or that which is the harbinger of beauty. We see this in contemporary films that beautiful women are just turned into ugly being (e.g. Anne Curtis in Kampanerang Kuba) because it still lies with the mass crowd their preference for the lead role despite any ugly rendition made to their favorite star. The figure shows as well the innocence of the protagonist as she watches the rage of the wife from Figure 1 that she looks so innocent and deprived from any sexual perversions which is perhaps only on the surface as the substance is not yet portrayed.
One of the problems of the Philippines is that Filipinos tend to associate roles based on gender. Again, this is to blame to machismo culture that triumphs into the notion that male should do what is categorized as hard labor, and that the female should do what is associated with house works. Children will be used to the notion that teachers should be female as many teachers are really female, and some male teachers are homosexuals that leads to a construction of notion that what is rendered to be a teaching job should be exclusively female, and that if ever, a male would assume such role, he is reduced to his homosexual sense. In Bino Realuyo’s “The Umbrella Country,” we see the image of the yantok as a “straightener” or that which is the one responsible for transforming soft boys into real men, or how Daddy Groovie (the father in the novel) construes the maleness of a boy. In the Philippine setting, gender roles are constructed based on the roles people assume. Even the same novel constructs Estrella (the mother) as weak, silent, and unresisting because of her role as a wife. Figure 3 presents Alma Moreno as a waitress, which is typical jobs for female. We can even see on websites such as Jobstreet.com that there are seldom jobs that require “Male Only” or even dormitories and apartments requiring “Male Only” tenants. Some cellphone sellers in the website Sulit.com.ph attaches the label “lady-owned” to gadgets. This is not to fully say that females are empowered or rendered to be fully glorified in a sense. This is to say, sadly, the weakness of female—devoid of any strength or voiced resistance. Alma Moreno’s female gender as a waitress does not empower her, but rather buries her into the notion that she is not a resisting one, that male employers would find their Alma Moreno not resisting or easy to be controlled, that the men who needs to be services would find it easier to command Alma Moreno to get this and that for them. That, in its most absolute sense, females are associated with the house works—a typical maid or muchacha. The female is associated with such that it’s easier to order the woman to do jobs with due obedience. In fact, after this scene in this figure, the manager caresses Alma Moreno’s hand before she hands the change to the customers, and then another set of customers flirt with her but she is unable to resist because as a maid to her employer, it is considered to be “rude” to do any resistance or when you do, you are gonna be unemployed.
The waitresses in the restaurant are as well all thin, not because they are just the sole manifestation of beauty but because thinness equate to weakness, and then equal to obedience14. Obviously, thinness is also a manifestation of slight sexiness which is needed by the employer himself through his wandering gazes, as well as the customers. We can see that the body politics present in a restaurant actually matters, that it is not just a straightforward assumption that they need to be thin because they’ll be able to move properly. It is that the female body is commodified and appears to be a site of sexual pleasure for all males in the restaurant space. The female thinness serves many roles which are often unseen or subliminal in messages because it is only through the fixation of male gazes and perversion that the messages are then unraveled. We cannot, however, opt to force the female to design her own image because it will take courage and independence to do so, and so the female herself is forced to go with the flow of how the society sees her—a sexual meat15.
During sexual intercourse, we can always see that females are receptors of pain—that they accept it by putting herself as the “bottom” which is a sex position in general terms, or that which is being penetrated by the man’s power. In terms of pain however, the female was able to experience many harrowing points of pain come her menstruation (dysmenorrhea) even the unnatural ones like plucking the armpit hairs, wearing high-heeled shoes, and such are manifestations of pain for they are the preparation for the higher types of pain a woman will experience when she will be able to make love and have a family16. It is ironic, of course, as to why women is pleasured less when it is her who experience much pain. The idea is that the roles of females during sex is already fixed, already etched in the history of all histories, that women are the recipient of that manhood, the one being entered, the one receiving the pain greater than all the sets of pain she was able to experience, for it is a horror when the male assume the female role, that it humiliates the male prestige and the female identity17.
In Figure 4, Alma Moreno is being kissed all over by her man, but she is just there unresisting. She idealizes the power of being the bottom, sunk down from the deepest part of the sexual world. She accepts the man knowing that because she is sunk to the bottom, the man becomes her idealization of reaching the top—the climactic point of achieving her prestige as a woman, wanted by the male ones. She does not embody the female aggressiveness, the female who is excited to be penetrated or to receive a blow of man’s love. Alma Moreno here embodies the passive female of embodying a certain weakness. The problem here is that Alma Moreno can resist, can be the one to initiate the sexual intercourse, but she is encaged in the mentality of femaleness, on how culture was able to portray the male subversion of female’s mind towards sex, that she is to accept everything, because sex is not a form of pleasure, but a form of power, of authority, of the masking of the female persona into a weaker woman to accept the colonizer of her very own femaleness18. This is not to say that the female is but a role-player, but this is to emphasize that the female sensibility is so corrupted by the inception of machismo that she is using the past or history as her own way of sealing of feminine fate, which goes against Anzaldua’s notion in her book, “Borderlands/La Frontera” of forgetting the past (which is because of the Aztec conquest of Hernan Cortes to Malinalli or Malinche, that the female identity of the colonized or the female who submitted are rendered as puta, in the case of Malinche, “The Great Puta”)
The Human Mannequin
In the malls, mannequins are displayed with such sexiness and emphasis on its breast size to entice the female to look like them, to be like these mannequins who are so white and thin, and perfect that they want to be them that they want to replace their bodies with a mannequin one. This mentality is obviously straightforward or garnering critical opinions of high negations, however if the implications of the female dream towards sexiness and perfection is twisted, it is as if they want to venture on being a mannequin. A Korean-Pop Group, “SNSD” or Girls Generation had a music video for their song, Gee. The music video started with them displayed as mannequins then they danced with their music after. Obviously, they were displayed as mannequins because they are the embodiment of beauty and perfection, that they are the supreme idea of sexiness they want to be seen—the mannequin of femaleness. But the mannequin should not always be resorted to the mentality of a female towards her selfish motive, because there is a time that male themselves transform the woman into a mannequin by objectifying them as a form of clothes they wear, a watch they flash, or just basically, a human-size figure they want to boast to the people.
In Figure 5, Alma Moreno is actually dressing up and already combing her hair when her man went to her and told her why is she wearing such thing. Alma Moreno challenges herself and the world of course to truly see her as who she is, an attempt to display her own way on how she wants to be seen by the people which is equated to her own triumphant goal as a woman19. However, when her man went upstairs, he forces her to change what she wears, because this is obviously an idealization of the man’s desire to display Alma Moreno according to his likes, to render her as a mannequin to show to his friends because they are having a drinking session and he wants to exclaim to his friends regarding this “girlfriend” who is controlled and hopelessly manipulated by her man. Alma Moreno, using a simple dress and simple look to project herself to be natural is already beautiful, that she is already superb and breathtaking, but it is not according to her man’s standard as she is lacking, that she needs to go beyond the beauty that she had constructed, or that she have to succumb to the construction of beauty by her man20. The problem lies in the aspect that the woman is always subject to the gaze of the man, that she needs to adhere to beauty as not what she thinks but as to what the men thinks, as afterall, it’s safe to assume that Alma Moreno lives in a men’s world. The female mentality is then subverted to male control that she is truly a mannequin, a plastic, or a Barbie doll being continuously played by men. In this context, how can we problematize then, on how the female mentality is actually working when stripped away from the dehumanizing gaze and culture of machismo21?
This scene (Figure 6) from the film projects another “mannequinfication” of the female identity where is treated as a show. She projects herself to be beautiful and to be enticing to the men and she does her best to prove that she’s worthy to be brought back home for sexual gratification. She is being debased, however, that she is becoming a puppet or a circus show, a carnival girl that dances like an animal. Her costume even adheres to a leopard print, which is exotic or that can be seen in the wild safaris that constitutes her wild image dancing. She projects numerous images and like photographs, scattering them to the audience to be able to judge what would they see fit as a form of entertainment for them.
In this regard, we can see how the women are exoticized like safari girls or amazons who are hunted. They are animals who cannot even bare fangs but at the certain extent, fully are under the power of these male personae categorized as colonizers who are hunting these women to become their prized possessions, and to finally render them as a collective piece that they can display to people. Though inherent or intrinsic into a machismo power, the authority does not fully exclaim ownership, but it is power, or the ability to emancipate the woman from her savage mentality, or the ability of the man to strip the woman from her wild ways in order to be unresisting, in order to be fully maximized by the man through sex and pleasure—which is yes, very wild.
Hierarchical Classification of Femininity
In Figure 7, we can see Alma Moreno just staring, absorbing what her man continuously saying about her. In this scene, we actually hear from the man, “Babae ka lang, probinsyana pa. Ano ba ang kaya mong gawin?” (You’re just a woman, and rural girl even. What can you possibly do?). The notion is that the vague message of being “just a woman” is instilling that it is hard to construe what it means to be a woman. In the male psyche, the man has already defined femininity according to his beliefs, or to his sense of constructing the femaleness. Perhaps he constructed it as just a sexual object, a bearer of children and nothing more. She is just a condom that after its usage has been maximized, it is nonetheless thrown away and not reusable. The man inhibits the costume of wearing the uniform of authority—of a police, an army officer, a lieutenant, or a general. He enforces his own consciousness of power, and maximizing it to make a woman bereft of her own sexual consciousness and the only way to liberate herself from this evil is to strip the man his uniform, to remove his machismo thinking, and to strip is patriarchal notoriety away from him, which is deemed to be impossible and like a broken bridge, impassable—to the extent of denial of entry or authority in the first place to do so22. First, we problematize the definition of being a woman, and then we also problematize the definition of being a woman from the rural area. In actuality, both of these terms are neutral and do not actually render one’s identity to be degraded. But it is the man who constructed the notion of degradation and he is incapable of doing so because he has the authority, and authority is associated with the construction of most of the things in our lives like laws from the ancient times bordering from the lands of Hammurabi.
In this sense, we return to the politics of the body that the female is just a basic commodity in which labels are erroneously attached. The female body is just a vessel in which the patriarchal order constructs on how it will become a woman. By default, we see the female as a person, but in this twisted patriarchal ideology, the female body is but an object in which he attaches label such as beautiful, rural, urban, and even “woman.” But in this regard, however problematized even in the recurring centuries of patterned female oppression, there is nothing revolutionary or resistance involved where the female body is under control, because even the countries we have are regarded as mother, as well as nature, people exploit it, control it, colonize it with ideas and oppressive authority as the female body is where the flag of patriarchy is erected in full glory23. Thus, the hierarchy of the female is pinned down to the bottom just like in a sex position, that it is constantly a low class level or authority, or no authority at all, that it’ll always stay at the bottom deprived of any hierarchical power.
Conclusion: Women are Women
In the certain aspect, women are always women—and that line depends on who views it. Feminists will have a different view, while male will have their other view as well. The film depicts one of the most important parts of the film in which the female will always be subjected to her man, as much as this scene, Figure 8, will always be picturing the weakness of female power. It will always be therefore, that the woman’s sensibility be forged through her own ways, that she needs to wake up and fight for her self—to speak for herself and the greater human goal, as if she suppress her voice even further, she will never be emancipated by the colonizing power of male patriarchy24.
1. This is a paper required for our Literary Theory class in my undergraduate. This paper has been haphazardly done for only an hour and 30 minutes (excluding fully watching the film, reading sources, etc) and it may appear trashy. I will be revising this in the future. ↩
2. Jose F. Lacaba, “Movies, Critics, and the Bakya Crowd,” in Readings in Philippine Cinema, ed. Rafael Ma. Guerrero, (Manila: Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, 1987), 176↩
4. William Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, “Affective Fallacy,” in Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism, ed. Vincent Leitch, (New York: Norton, 2001), 1232-1261↩
5. Bakya crowd is also called a mass crowd or the crowd that has a cultural taste and level differing from the crowd that appreciates true aesthetic qualities of a film.↩
6. Jose F. Lacaba, Movies, Critics, and the Bakya Crowd, 177↩
7. Guy Debord. Society of the Spectacle, trans. David Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books, 2006), 129↩
8. Guillermo De Vega, Film and Freedom: Movie Censorship in the Philippines. (Manila: Self-published, 1975), 6↩
9. Softcore pornography↩
10. Petronillo Bn. Daroy, “Social Significance and the Filipino Cinema,” in Readings in Philippine Cinema, ed. Rafael Ma. Guerrero, (Manila: Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, 1987), 97↩
11. Rafael Ma. Guerrero, “Tagalog Movies: An Understanding,” in Readings in Philippine Cinema, ed. Rafael Ma. Guerrero, (Manila: Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, 1987), 114↩
13. Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 152↩
14. Ibid, 187↩
15. Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (London: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2002), 165↩
16. Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating (New York: Penguin Books, 1974), 115↩
17. Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch, 287↩
18. Ibid, 293↩
19. Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth, 290↩
20. Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth, 177↩
21. Ibid, 76↩
22. Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch, 335↩
23. Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born (New York: Norton, 1995)↩
GATE OF MEANINGS: RECONSTRUCTING RASHOMON
“A man sometimes devotes his life to a desire which he is not sure will ever be fulfilled. Those who laugh at this folly are, after all, no more than mere spectators of life.”
― Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Rashomon and Other Stories
Over the years, cinema screens have flashed and faded different films that have open endings. Films like those depended on its audience to construe different versions of endings, to which people will be debating that the ending is this, or the ending is that. The problem with films with open endings is that it is hard to determine the truth; or in another sense, the real ending of the story. Different people or groups of people have their own versions of endings that have no empirical basis to render it as truth; but I firmly believe it is this difference in opinion or this babbles of debates that contribute to the beauty or aesthetics of a film.
Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” featured a really unique style of presenting a mystery to its audience, not its usual cliché that there is this knowledgeable detective that will be able to pinpoint the murderer, including the almost-impossible tricks involved (especially with locked-room mysteries). The film featured primarily the aesthetics of being black and white which is significant because it enables its audience to imagine the color embossed thus enticing them into the first process of being involved in the film. The film appears to be sucked of its life without its colors—looking dull and boring. Thus, the audience of the film serves as one of the biggest makers of the film because they are the one adding the colors to it.
The plot of the film centered on four major characters’ testimonies (the woodcutter, the thief/rapist, the samurai, and the samurai’s wife) and included two other characters (the priest and the commoner) that also served as the honing agents of the film’s mysteriousness. The four characters who gave their own versions of the stories represented different perspectives, however true or not, while the priest and the commoner served as the listener and as well, the judges of the four. The film basically had an ending, but it was somehow “hanging”—in the sense that there are many unresolved questions which was not really presented by the film itself; but by the audience who are perhaps nonplussed. The film showcased the rain stopping, and showing the whole gate in itself and ending with its sign etched with the text, “Rashomon.” This paper goals to critique the film through a hermeneutical approach using the texts of Wolfgang Iser (Interaction Between Text and Reader) and Stanley Fish (Interpreting the Variorum) bordering on the internal and external aspects of the film—the internal which is the characters themselves and the external which is the audience (in this case, this critic). This paper would not, however, gear towards the explication of the truth of to construct a final reading of the text itself but it gears towards to be as a contributing piece to the incomplete jigsaw puzzle of the film as argued by Fish when he articulated, “[they] are not meant to be solved but to be experienced… any procedure that attempts to determine which of a number of readings is correct will necessarily fail” (Fish 2072).
The film presented a complex web of perceptions of each character’s witnessing capability that from a single scene that objectively happened, it was construed through the different perspectives of the characters. Wolfgang Iser emphasizes that “central to the reading of every literary work is the interaction between its structure and recipient” (Iser 1673). This is applicable primarily to the internal agents (referred to as the characters) presenting on how subjectivity encages the objective treatment of the truth; or how the characters viewed the happenings itself because each person reads (in this sense, critiques) a text differently and there will be a point in time a person reads the same with the other eventually forming the conception Fish’ interpretive communities (Fish 2088). It is important to note as well that when one is drawn into the events, a character will primarily rephrase what is said; and thus, the character would rather state what is meant (Iser 1676) because the memory is in itself fallible; and sometimes, people tend to add, subtract, or modify. Fish supports Iser’s statement where he emphasizes that “…what is being specified from either perspectives are the conditions of utterance, of what could have been understood to have been meant and said” (Fish 2081). This case can be presented in the recounting of the woodcutter of the court litigation. It is possible that the woodcutter is constructing his own version of what the other characters testified. But this idea will be debunked with the idea of the priest, being with the woodcutter during the court hearings. However, the film made us aware that the woodcutter finally revealed what he really saw narrating it only to the priest and the commoner. Since only the two are left to judge, it is impossible to clearly identify whether the woodcutter tells the whole truth or he waited only for the chance to be able to recount all the stories woven and knit it together, and forming another story (which we are unsure whether it is true or not) using the other testimonies as his base story. The woodcutter, however biased, for he is not really part of the clash of the trio but in fact, he did discrediting plots that may foil his own words: (1) lying during an official court litigation; (2) stealing an important evidence [which is the dagger]; (3) hiding the fact that he stole the dagger. These three reasons would be enough to denigrate three times the credibility of the woodcutter now. What if, he actually lied about the last story, or he wasn’t able to see any of the other characters at all? Thus ending in a paradox, I believe this is the reason that it’s the experience of a text’s explication which is contributive to the further enrichment of a text and not the presentation of truth.
The characters appeared not to fully know each other, including the samurai and his wife since both of them appeared first as romantic lovers but in their own respective testimonies, they are seen to be resenting to each other. In the wife’s testimony, it’s the husband who is constructed as the evil one with his demeaning, looking down on the femininity of the wife. As seen in the film, the eyes presented so much resentment and stillness in its demonizing gaze that it was able to debase the wife’s self-identity. This testimony presented the power of the male eyes as something powerful enough that he (the samurai) had the guts to use the power of his eyes to look down on others despite his incapacitated state of being shackled with ropes. On the other hand, the husband’s testimony presented how the woman looked down on the man as weak and eloped after with Tajomaru. These scenes only provided of each other’s interpretation but not perception (Iser 1674) because both of them wasn’t able to experience each other, and therefore formulated their own sets of constructing the other (Iser 1675).
There are two readers in the film: the three characters at the Rashomon gate (the priest, the woodcutter [also a witness], and the commoner) and the audience/critic of the film itself. Iser presented the concept of “gaps” or which he coined in his essay as the “blanks” that were present in the film but it’s the duty of the readers to fill it. Iser explains that “whenever the reader bridges the gaps, communication begins” (Iser 1676). Thus, the first communication opened when the three characters are seeking for the truth behind the murder mystery through the testimonies given as they communicate with the synthesized sets of testimonies (which are, of course, contradicting each other). The second communication opened when it’s the reader’s turn to interpret what the characters was able to interpret. Because of this mirroring of repetitive interpretations, more perspectives arise and more gaps are being opened because there is a clash (or combination) of the author’s implications and the reader’s visualizations. Fish asserts that “…analyses generated by the assumption that meaning is embedded in the artifact will always point in as many directions as there are interpreters” (Fish 2073). When the readers, the internal one (the three) and the external one (the critic) focus that there is only a sole embodiment of truth, the truth will be debased into relativity and subjectivity, as all other readers will have their own embodiments of their own truths.
Readers will eventually be confronted by the problem of misunderstandings. The problem will lie in a reader’s inability to where associate a given scene that causes a dilemma for the fear of misinterpretation (Fish 2078). It is safe to assume that misinterpretations can also be collective, or rather a shared experience between all other people. The tendency of misinterpretation will always arise when a person is conflicted intrapersonally; in a sense that the reader fears that there is a given scene but is unable to decide whether it is interpreted literally or literarily. Given for example is the weather occurrence of the rain. Primarily, there is no sight of rain in all other testimonies aside from the place where the three are staying. It is hard to discern now whether there is an impact of the loss of the recurrence of the rain or it’s just the director didn’t want any rain for the scenes of the testimonies. The rain also ran throughout the film but it ended just after the woodcutter confronts the priest of his plans to take care of the baby. And so, is there are meaning to the rain? I, as the reader, would signify the essence of rain as the wavering faith of the priest. After all, when the priest finally decided that his trust would go back to the humanity, the rain stopped. A second instance would be the recurrence of the light or the sun. The murder happened under the sun; and the temptation of the samurai’s wife brimmed the sun by the camera’s angle. The sun signifies then as an agent of determining the goodness or the evilness of an act. The third instance will be the baby’s cry (or simply the baby). Is there any significance of the baby? Why did the baby cried, even covering the heavy thudding sounds of the rain? Perhaps, the baby became the voice of faith that was able to finalize realizations in the film. The priest realized faith in humanity; the commoner realized that humans are bound to do evil deeds and all other people that will judge us are just the same; and the woodcutter realized his wrongdoings that eventually, he is one of the focal points of the film. The fourth, which I render to be final, will be the Rashomon gate itself. Why is the setting grounded in this place—a run-down place that needs to have a heavy reconstruction which is then joined by the sign of the Rashomon, which is intact and readable. Perhaps it could mean the identity of the people; that their names are forever etched in the history and it remains. However, it’s only the names that are being unaltered, but the one signified by the name (in this sense the gate itself) is destroyed already, metaphorical for the human person embodied throughout the film. Though I have provided all of these, I may or may not have the same interpretations with others, as they might just interpret everything literally. We must, however, remember that “…what is important is not the information itself, but the action of the mind which its possession makes possible for one reader and impossible for the other” (Fish 2080). But what is intrinsic to any given creative piece is our ability to interpret it because we have noticed it; not because it was just supplied causing a nonplussing effect but it is made noticeable through an interpretive strategy (Fish 2084).
In order to further problematize the notion of gap-filling, readers will eventually be affected by the concept of vacancies which Iser posited as the “important guiding devices for building up the aesthetic object, because they condition the reader’s view of the new theme, which in turns condition his view of previous themes” (Iser 1679). Iser also introduced primarily the concept of the referential field that conditions two positions related or influencing one another (Iser 1678). Though not expansively, Fish supports Iser’s assertion by saying that, “whatever he has done, he will undo it in the act of reading the next line, for here he discovers that his closure…was premature and that he must make a new one in which the relationship…is exactly the reverse of what was first assumed” (Fish 2082). Before the murder, the characters primarily interpreted all other characters with their own theme in mind. After the murder, they contradicted each other and had another theme in mind on how they now interpret one another. Because of the existence of vacancies, the readers themselves are influenced by external factors that pave the way to a change of interpretation or a theme in mind. This was also evident in the three people in the Rashomon (the gate). The priest is guided with the principle of religious belief and he abided with his own conception of “faith” as signified trust to other people or humanity. He had his own external factor of religious affiliation or affinity affecting the course of his judgments for the testimonies. However, the testimonies also acted as external factors that debunked his belief altogether of the truth behind the case, rendering him unable to discern who is the one telling the truth. He finally gave up on his “faith in humanity” when the woodcutter revealed his intentions and thus, the woodcutter acted as another external agent that affected the priest that may influence his belief never to trust people. The concept of vacancies acted as a continuous stream of thematic influences though external agents are forms of circumlocution, it was able to alter belief-after-belief of the priest ending with his faith restored just because the woodcutter wanted to adopt the child for he was already feeding a lot of children (of his own) at home.
Thus, we formulate the concept of standpoints or biases—or, that tendency to formulate own bias to accept a standpoint based on differing totalities of each person. For the totalities would mean that it is the life of a person encompassing all that constitutes to his humanity—culture, environment, philosophy, gender, religion, etc. The value of viewpoint is seen through the changing positions, which of course will not be gender, ethnicity, and the like since they are presumably fixed. Iser asserts that “the discrepancies continually arising between perspectives of hero and minor characters bring about a series of changing positions, with each theme losing its relevance but remaining in background to influence and condition is successor” (Iser 1680). The film presented different discrepancies between the characters because they had a fluctuating perspectives influenced by external forces that would again influence another one causing the character to switch viewpoints differently.
On the other hand, Fish’s conception of the interpretive communities renders the importance of each other’s difference; that, all of us have different gender, different culture, different experiences that would constitute of our way of reading a given text, in the sense or writing it to form criticism. There is already a pre-conceived notion of things around us, and as we grow up and learn more, we acquire ways of interpreting (Fish 2088). Let us analyze first Tanjomaru, the thief/rapist of the film. We can see that he recreates the scene as if he was some kind of hero. He reconstructed the truth into something objectively subjective because of his acquired ways of interpreting the happenings. Primarily, he was able to deceive the samurai and his wife immediately which is contrasted on how foolish he acts like laughing and rolling unexpectedly. He also showed that despite his notorious standing, he was able to seduce and rape the samurai’s wife. Thus, it is based on his masculinity and patriarchal ideology that he is superior and he shapes the testimony that he is superior and won at all costs. His affinity for his own patriarchal tendency geared towards the anti-feminist aspect of (1) the stupidity of the wife for being gullible; (2) the wife unable to land any hit on him, thus showing the subjection of women over men (or in the sense of rape, a showcase of power and not of sex); (3) the eventual subjection of the wife to her sexual desires, submitting herself to the love-making of Tanjomaru; (4) and the women’s affinity for being the center of men’s feud.
The statement of the wife now centered on her femininity which she have sputtered continuous cries all throughout the litigation and pronounced even her multiple attempts of suicide. The wife uses her gender as an advantage to turn the truth to her side. First, she was subjected to the male gaze from her husband that eventually debased her femininity, on which she remarked to be offended. She also offers to be just killed taking away the blame from her in a sense that a woman can’t kill a man for she is a coward (or how she construes such assumption). Throughout the film, she uses the female cry as a form of melancholic depression—a form of psychotrauma that arises from the oppression of her environment towards her. She cried even in the testimony, as well when she was in court, even stating, “…but I even failed to kill myself. What should a poor, helpless woman like me do?” possibly gathering sympathy and in the course of court litigation subjected into law, she is committing the fallacy of argumentum ad misericodiam (appeal to pity).
The statement of the samurai used the folk elements of perhaps Japan to embody his statement through a medium, presumably a shaman. The samurai presented a melancholy by not using his gender but by using his code of honor (perhaps the Bushido code) as a samurai. He first narrates how he is just firm in place, watching helplessly how his wife is being oppressed by the bandit. He acted according to his principle and presented betrayal in its truest form: the philandering act of his own wife. He presented the value of loyalty which is very important for the Japanese that in the end, he committed his own lovely seppuku or hara-kiri.
Thus, even though the film’s ending is hanging, the film reaches its absolute performance of completion through the experience of the reader; thus, Iser articulates, “in this respect the images hang together in a sequence, and it is by this sequence that the meaning of the text comes alive in the reader’s imagination” (Iser 1682). The film in itself had many scenes that can’t be made available so profoundly in a written text. A lot of images and scenes depended on how the reader was able to construct it, using the principles of how he believes one should properly critique a work and respond to it properly.
Fish, Stanley E. “Interpreting the Variorum.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Gen.Ed. Vincent Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2001. 2067-2089. Print.
Iser, Wolfgang. “Interaction Between Text and Reader.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Gen.Ed. Vincent Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2001. 1670-1682. Print.