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Essay on Peter Weir's Witness

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Peter Weir's 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 McGillis) 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 Godunuv) 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 Ami...


... middle of paper ...


...nt 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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