RC 1

CAT 2001 RC – Analysis by Rahul Sir, Bfactory Director

The narrative of Dersu Uzala is divided into two major sections, set in 1902 and 1907, that deal with separate expeditions which Arseniev conducts into the Ussuri region. In addition, a third time frame forms a prologue to the film. Each of the temporal frames has a different focus and by shifting them Kurosawa is able to describe the encroachment of settlements upon the wilderness and the consequent erosion of Dersu’s way of life. As the film opens, that erosion has already begun. The first image is a long shot of a huge forest, the trees piled upon one another by the effects of the telephoto lens so that the landscape becomes an abstraction and appears like a huge curtain of green. A title informs us that the year is 1910. This is as late into the century as Kurosawa will go. After this prologue, the events of the film will transpire even farther back in time and will presented as Arseniev’s recollections. The character of Dersu Uzala is the heart of the film, his life the example that Kurosawa wishes to affirm. Yet the formal organisation of the film works to contain to close, to circumscribe that life by erecting a series of obstacles around it. The film itself is circular, opening and closing by Dersu’s grave, thus sealing off the character from the modern world to which Kurosawa once so desperately wanted to speak. The multiple time frames also work to maintain a separation between Dersu and the contemporary world. We must go back farther even than 1910 to discover who he was. But this narrative structure has yet another implication. It safeguards Dersu’s example, inoculates it from contamination with history, and protects it from contact with the industrialised, urban world. Time is organised by the narrative into a series of barriers, which enclose Dersu in a kind of vacuum chamber, protecting him from the social and historical dialectics that destroyed the other Kurosawa heroes. Within the film, Dersu does die, but the narrative structure attempts to immortalise him and his example, as Dersu passes from history into myth.

We see all this at work in the enormously evocative prologue. The camera down to reveal felled trees littering the landscape and an abundance of construction. Roads and houses outline the settlement that is being built. Kurosawa cuts to a medium shot of Arseniev standing in the midst of the clearing, looking uncomfortable and disoriented. A man passing in a wagon asks him what he is done, and the explorer says he is looking for a grave. The driver replies than no one has died here, the settlement is too recent. These words enunciate the temporal rupture that the film studies. It is the beginning of things (industrial society) and the end of things (the forest), the commencement of one world so young that no one has had time yet to die and the eclipse of another, in which Dersu has died. It is his grave for which the explorer searches. His passing symbolises the new order, the development that now surrounds Arseniev. The explorer says he buried his friend three years ago, next to huge cedar and fir trees, but now they are all gone. The man on the wagon replies they were probably chopped down when the settlement was build, and he drives off. Arseniev walks to a barren, treeless spot next to a pile of bricks. As he moves, the camera tracks and pans to follow, revealing a line of freshly built houses and a woman hanging her laundry to dry. A distant train whistle is heard, and the sounds of construction in the clearing vie with the cries of birds and the rustle of wind in the trees. Arseniev pauses, looks around for the grave that once was, and murmurs desolately, “Dersu”. The image now cuts farther into the past, to 1902, and the first section of the film commences, which describes Arseniev’s meeting with Dersu and their friendship.

Kurosawa defines the world of the film initially upon a void, a missing presence. The grave is gone, brushed aside by a world rushing into modernism, and now the hunter exists only in Arseniev’s memories. The hallucinatory dreams and visions of Dodeskaden are succeeded by nostalgic, melancholy ruminations. Yet by exploring these ruminations, the film celebrates the timelessness of Dersu’s wisdom. The first section of the film has two purposes: to describe the magnificence and inhuman vastness of nature and to delineate the code of ethics by which Dersu lives and which permits him to survive in these conditions. When Dersu first appears, the other soldiers treat him with condescension and laughter, but Arseniev watches him closely and does not share their derisive response. Unlike them, he is capable of immediately grasping Dersu’s extraordinary qualities. In camp, Kurosawa frames Arseniev by himself, sitting on the other side of the fire from his soldiers. While they sleep or joke among themselves, he writes in his diary and Kurosawa cuts in several point-of-view shots from his perspective of trees that appear animated and sinister as the fire light dances across their gnarled, leafless outlines. This reflective dimension, this sensitivity to the spirituality of nature, distinguishes him from the others and forms the basis of his receptivity to Dersu and their friendship. It makes his a fit pupil for the hunter.

  1. How is Kurosawa able to show the erosion on Dersu’s way of life?
    1. By documenting the ebb and flow of modernisation.
    2. By going back farther and farther in time.
    3. By using three different time frames and shifting them.
    4. Through his death in a distant time.

 2. The film celebrates Dersu’s wisdom

  1. by exhibiting the moral vacuum of the pre-modern world.
  2. by turning him into a mythical figure.
  3. through hallucinatory dreams and visions.
  4. through Arseniev’s nostalgic, melancholy ruminations.

SOLUTION SECTION: 

Passage reading:

Central idea exercise – just scribble the main points as you read. No need for sentence formation. Focus on the “what” part of reading. These are the points I wrote when I ran through the passage. [Do not get overwhelmed by the content of the passage. Just read and move on – noting down the “what was I reading about part”.

  1. Narrative of Dersu Uzala
  2. Different time frames in the narration
  3. Dersu Uzala is the heart of the film
  4. Dersu immortalized
  5. Modernization
  6. Arseniev’s memories and nostalgia

Question solving:

  1. How is Kurosawa able to show the erosion on Dersu’s way of life?
    1. By documenting the ebb and flow of modernisation.
    2. By going back farther and farther in time.
    3. By using three different time frames and shifting them.
    4. Through his death in a distant time.

Refer to this line, “Each of the temporal frames has a different focus and by shifting them Kurosawa is able to describe the encroachment of settlements upon the wilderness and the consequent erosion of Dersu’s way of life.” Option c talks about three different time frames and is the precise answer.

Option a) True according to the passage but not relevant to the question. The question is specifically on “erosion on Dersu’s way of life” – This quoted part is the “WHAT” of the question. This is what needs to be answered according to the passage.

Option b) Irrelevant and not mentioned that the flow has just been going back and back.

Option d) Not mentioned as the reason for the WHAT being asked here. 

  1. The film celebrates Dersu’s wisdom
  1. by exhibiting the moral vacuum of the pre-modern world.
  2. by turning him into a mythical figure.
  3. through hallucinatory dreams and visions.
  4.  through Arseniev’s nostalgic, melancholy ruminations.

Refer to the line “The hallucinatory dreams and visions of Dodeskaden are succeeded by nostalgic, melancholy ruminations. Yet by exploring these ruminations, the film celebrates the timelessness of Dersu’s wisdom.” Hence d is the right answer.

Again refer to the “WHAT of the question” – the “WHAT” lies in “how does the film celebrate Dersu’s wisdom?

a) and b) are irrelevant to the context. C) looks a possibility but if you carefully read the referred sentence, d is the precise answer.

Level of difficulty analysis:

Reading: Tough

Questions: Easy


Hope you learnt!

See you with the next one tomorrow!

Happy learning!

Rahul sir

CAT Coach

[We will walk the last miles together! Keep the spirit going fellas]

You May Also Like

12 Comments

    1. Just focus on the central idea and not on the overall content. What did you read is important – why and how are not important in RC reading.

    1. Both c and d are right facts. But d is the right context. Refer to this line, “Yet by exploring these ruminations, the film celebrates the timelessness of Dersu’s wisdom” – Note: by exploring these ruminations – celebrates wisdom. Hence d over c.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *