Degradation of the Natural Order – Dersu Uzala, by Akira Kurosawa (1975)

Still from Akira Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala

Still from Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala

The subject of the film is the dependence of man on, and the integration of man with, nature; and the destruction by mankind of both, through its misplaced sense of dominion over, of superiority to, and through the imposition of artificialities, such as cities, the displacement and degradation of, the natural order.

There is considerable critical commentary that claims that the bipartite structure of the film weakens the narrative; but the second part presents the loss of awareness, through the clearing of the forest, the shooting of the tiger, and the decline of the eyesight of, and murder of, the huntsman, of the natural order that is respected, understood, and aligned with, in the first part of the film, which culminates with the huntsman’s awareness on the frozen lake as the winter sun sets that action is required, in the form of building shelter, to remain alive. Civilization, wherein the rules of conduct are arbitrary and derived from the human proclivity of the imposition of social power, is not, and cannot be, a substitute for the natural order.

The commentators focus on narrative, the focus of the film is nature of man’s inescapable relationship to nature. The film opens and closes with the death of the huntsman, and it is crucial to observe that his death is unnatural; he is killed by his own. Nature makes clear that men are weak and are without the significance they attach to themselves, and men themselves act in a manner than is yet more weak and with a sense of significance that is illusory and irrelevant.

What have we done? We are hubris. We have destroyed ourselves.

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