Both Sides Now1

My wife and I have been working our way through a several-year-old TV show on Netflix, the place where old TV shows go to die. This particular show titles all of it’s episodes “The <something> Job,” and last night was “The Rashomon Job”. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Oooh, the Rashomon job.

Her: What’s Rashomon?

Me: Oh my. Honey, I have clearly failed you. Akira Kurosawa?

Her: Who?

Me: Oh my. Seven Samurai, the movie on which The Magnificent Seven was based? (She starts to nod.) Yojimbo, the movie on which Fistful of Dollars is based? (Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy is spoken of in my house with a reverence reserved in other circles for Citizen Kane, so she definitely knew that one.)

Her: Oh, right, yes, yes. But what’s Rashomon?

Me: Oh my.

I hold myself totally responsible. How we could have gotten thirty years into this relationship without her seeing or knowing about Rashomon is a travesty of biblical proportions, and one that I will have to address in short order.

Several years ago I got into a conversation with my friend William about the greatness that is Casablanca. He pshawed it and said, among other silly things, that it was cliché-ridden. (It should be pointed out that William was a mere child at the time, still in his twenties as I recall.) “Cliche-ridden?! Dude, those are clichés because of Casablanca!” (William holds a lot of other questionable (where by “questionable” I mean “wrong”) opinions, many of them about Superman being superior to Batman, which is of course absurd and shows he’s a man whose opinion cannot be trusted, which is a shame since he’s a pastor.2)

Rashomon is like that. The concept has now been done a thousand times (I remember a Thirtysomething episode many years ago), but in 1950 it had never been seen before. The movie tells the story of a murder in three flashbacks by three different people. The problem is that the flashbacks disagree wildly in pertinent details. This hadn’t been done before — flashbacks in movies were supposed to be sacred, they were supposed to show you what really happened.

Yet here were three (technically four, if you count the dead guy telling his version through a medium) very divergent flashbacks from three people who had nothing to gain by lying (all three claimed to be the killer), so the assumption was that their flashbacks were true. But they couldn’t all be true.

Which of course, was Kurosawa’s point. When we tell a “true” story, we bring our version of reality and biases and past into the telling. We’re not lying, at least intentionally. (To paraphrase another movie, “It’s accurate, but it’s not true.”)

I have a long-held philosophy that, although it did not begin with the viewing of Rashomon, it was certainly confirmed by it.

There are ALWAYS two sides to a story.

That sounds obvious enough to be it’s own cliché, but we seem to forget it at the most inopportune times. When our co-worker is telling us about the fight with their spouse the night before — there are always two sides to a story. When our friend is telling us how terrible their boss is — there are always two sides to a story. When our sibling tells us how boring their pastor is — there are always two sides to a story.

The reason we forget it is because it’s our co-worker, our friend, our family — they wouldn’t lie to us! And, as in Rashomon, they’re (probably) not. They’re telling us the truth, at least their version of it.

How do we determine what’s true and what isn’t? Honestly, we can’t always. But the Word “judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” and the Holy Spirit helps us use that discernment. For that reason and many others, prayer should be a part of every conversation we have, but most especially “difficult” ones.

However, discernment begins with realizing that there are always two sides to a story. That what we’re hearing might not be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That things can be accurate without being true.

I would tell you all about Yojimbo, but you probably wouldn’t believe me.

  1. If you have a Joni Mitchell song running through your head right now, two things are true: you have great musical taste, and you’re old.
  2. As you’ve hopefully figured out by now, sarcasm, hyperbole, and irony are three of my spiritual gifts. William is a great friend, a great pastor, and my Hebrew teacher until he ran away to DC. He is still, however, wrong about Casablanca and very, very wrong about Superman.

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