The Presentation of the Amish Community in the Film Witness

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The Presentation of the Amish Community in the Film Witness

In this essay I am looking at how the use of lighting, music, camera
angles, tension and comedy all contributed towards highlighting the
differences between the Amish community and the normal American
public. I will do this by looking at these different devices that the
director Peter Weir uses in the film. He uses all of the above
techniques to influence the audience into seeing the Amish and
American presented as direct contrasts.

Throughout the film there is an ongoing thriller/drama genre, with
certain aspects of romance in it. We can see that it is mainly a
thriller/drama because at many points during the film the director
makes good use of tension, such as at the start of the film where
Samuel Lapp the young Amish boy is witness to a murder from a lavatory
cubicle. The tension rises as the killer checks each cubical for him
but at the last minute Samuel darts into the one next to him, evading
the killers grasp. The target audience for this type of film, I can
guess would be of a mature age range, mostly adults. I think this
because it is a very sophisticated film that requires a fair amount of
thought to understand what is going on and why. The audience also have
to find out about the different cultures involved in the film so that
they could fully understand their ways of life. The Amish culture
avoids all modern appliances and try to have a very simple way of life
compared to the highly commercialised American culture.

The director uses many devices throughout the making of the film
'Witness'. Firstly he uses colour to very good effect. The Amish are
always dressed in black and white, which represents their simple way
of life and that they are a community as every one has to wear the
same 'uniform' so they all look the same everyone is treated equal.
Colour also takes part in the contrast between the city life and the
Amish way of living.

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The Amish surroundings are all very natural,
therefore there are many 'natural' colours such as greens, yellows and
blues. This again symbolises their simple way of life as all of the
colours around them are simple and do not stand out. Whereas the
colours in the city are bright lights, greys of buildings and flashy
red cars. These are all much harder colours than the softer more
mellow colours that the Amish are used to. This affects the audience
by making them think that the Amish are a very basic culture and that
they do not need anything but what they have to live their lives.

Setting plays a large part in how the Amish are presented as again
they live in a very remote, basic, pretty place. They are surrounded
by blue skies and fields of corn. Also in the film whilst they are at
John Books sisters Samuel is in a bed with 'Garfield' on it. This
shows how simple they are as he doesn't know who Garfield is. The
cartoon character has no relevance in his life.

There is one single barely used road going out of the village, only
carts use it and it is the path to the modern world. This is why it is
hardly used in the film as the Amish have no need to leave their own
close knit community. It also represents that the link between the
Amish and the modern world is very small and is rarely used. This I
believe would make the audience think that again they have a very
basic way of life and that they don't have any need for the modern
world.

The pace of the film varies depending on which culture the director is
focusing on at the time. In the city for example just, after the
murder, he shows the mother and child in a busy coffee shop with
people and cars rushing outside. Also, the police station is very
noisy and everyone looks very rushed. When the action transfers to the
Amish community the pace of the film becomes much slower. Shaeffer is
shown on the front porch swing for example, seemingly having plenty of
time. Transport is by horse and carriage, a slow and calm form of
transport, and when they are building the barn it is very calm and not
frantic activity.

These periods of calm help the director to deliver shocks to his
audience by introducing violent and frantic moments into the Amish
scene which appear really out of place and heightened because of the
contrast. For example, when

the killer is in the grain hold and fires the gun. Guns are not
allowed in the Amish community and yet are part of life for many
Americans, and when the killer fire the gun this seems particularly
obscene as it is so against what the Amish believe in.

The lighting is another major factor in how the Amish are presented as
they only use natural light, i.e. candles and lanterns for light,
whereas in the modern world they use electricity for light. This shows
how basic the Amish community are and how they only like to use
natural resources in their lives. The lighting inside the Amish house
is always very dim. This may be to show how far behind the Amish are
with the modern world. We can see the contrasts of the Amish house
with a modern house when Samuel Lapp stays with John Books sister and
the whole house is illuminated. The director specifically highlights
this by showing the mother and Samuel in the bedroom where they have
turned the light off as this is their way of trying to keep with their
own lifestyle.

The music is another device that is used in making the film more
enjoyable, it also goes in conjunction with how much tension there is
building up. This happens when the police officer is murdered. As soon
as they jump on him to kill him the music suddenly gets very loud so
as to make the audience 'jump'. Then as the tension lessens so does
the tempo and the sound level of the music.

The comic elements of the film are very important as in a thriller
film the director sometimes has to find other ways to decrease tension
and to make the film more light hearted in certain places so that the
audience is not on the end of their seats the whole time. It also
helps to catch the audience off their guard so that the director can
then start to again increase tension. An example of this is when after
the murder, John Book is questioning Samuel, Samuel calls Books
partner 'schumpic' (a runt). This releases the tension from the murder
and now the tension can build up again.

Tension is used to great effect in the film as. As soon as the tension
decreases, it then immediately starts to build up again. The director
uses this tension in many different ways. One way is when the car
comes over the hill near the end of the film. The car symbolises the
modern world invading the Amish way of life, and the tension rises as
you cannot see the men's faces. This creates an air of mystery and
suspense as to who they are. They then proceed to walk down to the
house, they fill up the road to represent that no one can escape the
modern world and no one is safe. Also they are wearing suits and smart
shoes, which makes them even more out of place as they are on a farm.

The camera technique used in the film is very important as it can give
the audience a certain perspective of a character or place. For
instance the pull back shot in which we fist see an Amish carriage,
then see a huge articulated truck bearing down on it. This represents
that the truck is the size of the modern world and the small Amish
carriage is the Amish community, which is so much smaller than the
modern world. It also shows that the Amish are going to make the
modern world come to a stand still as the carriage is holding up the
traffic. This is portrayed throughout the film as the thread running
through it is the reluctance of the Amish community to become involved
in the murder inquiry and yet the inquiry cannot proceed with the only
witness, the Amish boy. It is also shown by the desperate measures
taken by the chief of police to try and find the witness and kill him
so that corruption can carry on. In his view this small, insignificant
child and community are holding up something much bigger.

Other ways which the director tries to portray the differences in the
significance of the different communities using size, is in the
railway station. Samuel is looking up at the statue at the station and
we see the shot though both Samuel's eyes and the statues. This
firstly makes the statue seem far bigger than Samuel although it
really isn't. It also represents how the Amish are thought of out of
the modern world, small and insignificant.


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