Good and Evil is a Matter of Perspective

“In order for these ordinary values (good/evil, true/false, essence/appearance, inside/outside, etc.) to be in opposition, each of the terms must be simply external to the other, which means that one of these oppositions (the opposition between inside and outside) must already be accredited as the matrix of all possible opposition”

Jacques Derrida, The Pharmakon, 103.

Good and evil is a binary but it is a matter of perspective. Derrida suggests that for ordinary values such as good/evil to be in opposition, they have to be external to one another. Yet in the case of Princess Mononoke, we have no one who is truly evil and no one who is truly good, the forces of good and evil shift back and forth due simply to the perspective of which character’s eyes we are looking through. We always think good should triumphant over evil; that evil should not prevail. This usually happens in movies especially when you have the obvious archetypes of hero and villain. Princess Mononoke does not have the usually hero/villain binary or archetypes thus causing the good/evil binary to break down. All we are left with is a grey area, the systems are broken down, the order has erupted into chaos and nothing is a simple binary anymore.

Ashitaka is supposed to be the protagonist, the hero of the story. He is not your typical hero though as I mentioned in my post before. He acts as a mediator between two sides of the same coin. If he saves anyone, he saves everyone. Eboshi and San are still alive at the end of the story; the men and women of the iron works are alive and able to rebuild; Jiko-bo is alive (the only one who may actually be a antagonist); the forest is alive but the gods are gone although the kodama come back to show the restoration of health to the forest. Ashitaka is only unable to save the gods, Moro, Okkoto, and the Deer god. His intentions are pure thus it could be suggested he is on the side of good and thus the hero. His desire is to be healed by the curse he received from the boar god, and for the forest and the humans to live together in peace. He mentions this twice, once to Moro and once to Eboshi and Jiko-bo: “Can’t humans and the forest live together in peace? Can’t this be stopped?” (1:20:43) “Can’t the forest and the ironworks live together?” (1:45:20). Derrida says repetition orally is important and Ashitaka repeats the question to those who can stop the fighting, who are in charge of leading but neither side is willing to budge in their opinion of the other. Ashitaka strives to take the middle road and push towards peace between everyone as its his only way to save everyone as the hero.

Eboshi, San and Moro are neither good nor evil. The three female characters are only evil to one another because of their intentions. Eboshi wants the land and the forests to burn thus she is an enemy and evil to San and Moro. San and Moro are trying to save the forest and thus see Eboshi as evil. Moro has one more reason to view Eboshi as evil, due to the bullet that Eboshi puts into her. Moro does get her revenge when her head bites off Eboshi’s arm (a little surrealism going on there – a wolf’s head should not move after its body is dead). None of these women are evil, they just want to further their goals. From a viewer’s perspective, we want to view Eboshi as an antagonist because she wants to further, what appears to be a greedy, goal towards expanding the iron works and destroying the forest. In a way, she is an antagonist because she wants this but she does not go into full battle against the forest, the animals and the gods until Jiko-bo arrives. In the end, she sees the error in her ways and says, “We’ll start over again. We’ll build a good village” (2:08:08). She has changed from being an antagonist, to being someone who can be a protagonist. In contrast, San could be considered both an antagonist and a protagonist for many viewers, as she does attempt to kill Eboshi but is stopped by Ashitaka but she also is trying desperately to save the forest and protect the Deer god. She helps Ashitaka give back the head but it is too late. She knows she cannot forgive the humans despite her fondness for Ashitaka. She has started to see the world differently then before. For these three female characters, it is their intentions, their actions, and the decisions of those around them who shape whether they are protagonists, antagonists or something in between.

Jiko-bo is the only character I would call a true antagonist in Princess Mononoke. He befriends Ashitaka to send him to Eboshi; this is probably because Ashitaka “fight[s] like one possessed” (15:46). He wants to use Ashitaka to help Eboshi get rid of the Deer god. From there, he hires all the best hunters and trackers, using the order of the Emperor, to collect the Deer god’s head. Knowing the men he has hired do not have the courage to actually kill a god, he acquires Eboshi’s help. He knows he will be paid greatly by the Emperor for procuring the head of the Deer god which is thought to “confer immortality”. His greed and manipulation skills make him appear evil as he does not appear to have any good intentions for anyone or anything. His last words are, “I give up…you can’t win against fools”(2:08:14). I would like to think he has changed his ways, that he will not be doing things for the Emperor out of greed (who he may now think is a fool).

In the end, good and evil are not really good or evil. The changes that happen in the end of the film suggest that even people who appear to have evil intentions (which from Okkoto and Nago turning into demons suggests hatred is the true evil in the film) can see the world differently and change their intentions, their ideals, and their actions to produce good for all. The only evil is hatred and everyone then is inherently good.


For the GIF above, I asked permission from Studio-GIFs on Tumblr if I could use the GIF. Therefore it does not belong to me but to Studio-GIFs. If you are interested in seeing more awesome GIFs check out: