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Witness In the 1985 film witness director peter weir explores the sharp cultural conflicts between the old Amish society of western Pennsylvania and the modern American world of crime and violence. The main character, Philadelphia police detective John Book (played by Harrison Ford), is forced into hiding by a group of corrupt fellow officers looking for a little Amish boy (played by Lukas Haas). The boy witnesses a brutal killing and identifies the policeman who did it from a photograph on the wall at headquarters. John Book and his witness hide in the house of the boys's mother Rachel (played by Kelly McGill is) on a farm in the Amish country.
The detective and the Amish widow gradually enter into a frustrated love affair, over objections of her father and neighboring youth (Alexander Godunov) who sees Rachel as a potential wife. The Characters of witness are strong drawn images of people from two different worlds. Book is very blunt and aggressive, but he is honest and decent enough to earn the respect of the Amish people. Rachel is very simple and sweet, But also very intelligent and independent enough to fight for her freedom to love an outsider.
Her son Samuel is quiet and observant, but he plays a key role in going to the rescue after the three corrupt cops come to the farm to kill Book and the boy and eliminate the only witness to their crime. But it is really John Book who is the hero of the story. He escapes and then battles his would-be killers in an unlikely manner, and only leaves Rachel and her family after they are safe and secure from all harm. The cultural contrasts portrayed in witness are perhaps the most obvious element of the story.
Book and his world are full of violence, guns corruption, but the Amish world of Rachel and her family is quiet, gentle and deeply religious. Her son Samuel is fascinated with this strong, friendly policeman from the big city, but Rachel and her father are alarmed at the idea of having a gun in their house. This violates everything that their pacificism represents. John Book is forceful and strong enough to overcome their objections, and he shows that not only he is a good cop but is also a good man in the Amish sense. Now the director just doesn't tell you that he is a good man in the Amish sense, but actually takes on some of the Amish mannerisms. He fixes a nice wooden birdhouse and proves himself a good farmhand, and also assists the Amish neighbors in avery dramatic barn raising scene.
The use of camera angles and continuity editing further enhanced the sequence. We see the whole community work in a collective project that is rarely found outside there society. The corruption and violence of modern America are not entirely a product of urban society. In the most direct cultural confrontation of the film, Book goes to the nearby small town disguised as an Amish farmer. When a local though taunts the gentle Daniel for refusing to fight, Book administers a severe beating to the bully.
Book's poorly-fitted clothes and his aggression startle the townspeople, who ever imagined that one of the pacifists would fight back. In the end, it is Amish culture which triumphs. Although Book defeats and kills tow of his attackers in combat, is only when a full crown of Amish farmers surrounds the last armed killer that the battle ends in surrender. Witness is also rich in symbolism, and incorporates interactive elements which support the main theme and plot of the story. The boy Samuel is wide-eyed and innocent, but his keen sight and good memory provide the key to solving the crime.
Book's world is the opposite of innocent, but we soon learn that he is incorruptible, hardworking and clean in his morals. His handgun becomes a major symbol of violence and a force that he brings from the big city to the quiet Amish world. But he adapts to the new way of life and learns other ways of dealing with enemies, an example of character evolution. In the last sequence of the movie Book actually kills his attackers by using the mechanisms of the grain silo, rather then shooting them with a.
38 pistol. Many other symbols of the interaction between old and new, such as peaceful and violent, corrupt and innocent are the be found in this film. Book's carpentry birdhouse represents his determination to earn respect and love from Rachel and her family, which I though was great film communication. There was many other ways to convey this message but the way this was used was very profound. The way a hammer replaces his pistol at his side, he proves his manly abilities to everyone's satisfaction. The social relations between Book and the Amish are symbolized by his change of clothing.
Book adopts the plain Amish dress oh his sanctuary, and the emotional weight of being her potential lover and husband as well. But the clothes fit him very poorly, making him look something like a scarecrow and amusing even put back on the grey suit and tie of the Philadelphia police detective. Form a cognitive perspective, Witness is a more complex and difficult film then it appears on the surface. The story is not seen through any single pair of eyes. It opens at the funeral of Rachel's husband, and the reaction of Rachel and Samuel to the big city is seen strictly from there perceptive, making great use of subjective camera at certain points. But after Book enters the picture and takes charge of the case, the cognitive viewpoint shifts quickly to his perspective; the view of a hard working detective following the clues which reveal a pattern of corruption and murder within his own department.
The fear and tensions of the threat are felt equally by book and Rachel's family, but basic mental perception of their condition is now his. He is strong and compassionate, but willing to use violence against evil. The cognitive 'dissonance'; that enters into the film is the result of the clash of cultures. The most important conflict, of course is that between Book and Rachel. The yare overwhelmed with physical and emotional desire for each other. We see their mutual attraction from two different viewpoints.
Books perspective concern is mixed with natural sexual urge, while Rachel's passion is mixed with a different protective drive. She sees that Book is the one man who can protect her and her son from the violent world outside. Book's perspective on Amish society shifts gradually. Although he is never drawn into their religion and pacificism, his mental outlook adapts readily to rural life, Amish folkways and the honest simplicity of their world. The great achievement of the film is to draw the view into this cognitive shift. Witness is one of those rare films that works on so many levels without becoming to confusing or complex without boring you.
One the cultural level, it is the story of a conflict between a society that still lives in the 20 th century, and a brutal violent society that for no good reason intrudes into that world. The Amish culture is entirely self contained and wants nothing to do with modern day cars, guns and materialism. Book's world is violent and cruel but it is more open to change, and his job moves him between cultures. On the symbolic level, Witness examines that meaning of dress, food, work, love relationships and shows how they operate very differently in two cultures.
Ultimately, Book's crude disguise as an Amish farmer cannot work and he is forced to leave this dream world. , but while he is there he adopts the dress, tools and in some ways the ideals of the Amish. He is honest enough to realize that he cannot take Rachel from that world, and finally gives way to a more suitable marriage partner for her, the Amish boy played by Godunov. Witness is a love story and a morality play seen threw the eyes of three different people. A little boy witness, a policeman, and a beautiful widow. After seeing this movie for the first time I was moved by its well thought out plot, character shifts, editing, motif, and shot selection.
Being told the story by 3 different people gave you an overall sense of being informed on every account and not missing a thing. Witness combines all these things without being to flashy or over bearing, I can plainly see why it is on the top 100 films of all time.
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