How does the film ‘Witness’ show the clash
The film ‘Witness’ is about an Amish woman called Rachel and her son, Samuel, on a journey, from their Amish home in Pennsylvania, into the city to visit an Amish cousin. Whilst waiting for their train Samuel witnessed a murder in the toilets of the station and as he was the only witness they were not allowed to leave the city. They were forced to stay with John Book’s sister for a couple of days so that Samuel could identify suspects. John Book was the detective investigating the case. Things took a turn for the worse when the murderer was identified as a police chief.
When the police chief found out that John is on to him, he tries to kill him. John is shot in the arm and in the realisation of the danger that Samuel and his Mother were in he was forced to go on the run with them. He took Samuel and his mother back to their Amish farm, where he stayed to recover from his injury. The film outlines the transition from the Amish way of life into the modern American culture and the differences and contrasts between them. It is an interesting film, which is very educational about the Amish way of life. The Amish world and the modern world are different in many ways.
They are a complete contrast to each other. Modern American technology is not heard of in the Amish world. The Amish people dress in plain, usually black and white, old-fashioned clothes. The men are not allowed to shave and the women cannot cut their hair. All Amish people must wear a hat whether it is a bonnet or a bolter. They have strong religious beliefs and they are taught to follow the rules of the bible and the Ten Commandments. The Amish see it as wrong to marry outside of their culture and anyone doing so is considered an outcast.
The Amish are totally peaceful people and never resort to violence or raise their voices in anger. The contrast between Amish culture and modern American culture is important in the film because it demonstrates the way in which people react to a different culture and the cultural challenges it creates. For example, the Amish do not like to communicate with the modern world for fear of destroying their culture. When the film started with a view of the Amish community in the countryside I was struck by the fact that it looked as though it was from another time period.
Throughout the film different objects and things are used as symbols for each world. Objects like the coke machine, cars and televisions in the American world indicate that it is much more modern, more advanced and fast moving whereas the Amish have homemade lemonade, horse and carts and basic toys as means of entertainment. At the beginning of the film it was striking when the camera was following the horse and cart along the highway and then it panned out to show an articulated lorry and a string of traffic behind it. This was the first contrast in the film between the interaction of the modern and Amish cultures.
As another example of this, when Samuel and Rachael are travelling on the train, Samuel is amazed to see a hot air balloon floating past but Rachael does not encourage his interest and wonderment. This indicates that the Amish want little to do with the outside world. Other contrasts such as the water fountain in the train station that Samuel was playing with is also a symbol of the difference, also the bell on the Amish farm that is rung at the end as a cry for help. The bell is used to call for help from neighbours whereas in the modern world a telephone is used to summon people.
In the Amish world violence is frowned upon in a big way. When Rachael found John’s gun she must have been very shocked and scared. The way in which she picked it up with a finger and a thumb after taking it off Samuel and john, and hid it, told us this. The gun is a symbol of the interaction between the two worlds and the reaction that it provoked. Samuel shows John how to use the water pump and john is made to milk the cows by hand. These are symbols of the Amish world as they are very rarely found in use in the modern world and must have seemed very strange to John.
In the same sort of way, John mentioned a quotation from a television advert while he was at breakfast in the Diner with Rachael and Samuel. They had looks of utter confusion on their faces when he said it, probably because they do not have televisions. Also Rachael and Samuel took their hats off to eat, but could not find a hook to hang them on, and said grace before starting, John looked as though he found this very strange. In the modern world we almost entirely rely on purchasing food and clothes from the shops, but in the Amish world they are completely self-sufficient and make their own clothes and grow their own food.
For example, at one point in the film, Rachael was seen preserving fruits and also all the workers were seen in the fields harvesting the crops. The Amish lead simple lives, they are close to nature and close to god. In the modern world a persons clothes are as individual as they are and people are allowed to freely wear what they wish. In the Amish world the types of clothes are much more basic; the women generally wear Long black dresses with petticoats, bloomers, boots and a bonnet, the men wore black trousers, white shirts, braces, a bolter hat, a black jacket, and all in one underwear.
The Amish like their clothes to look ‘plain’ and are described as this many times in the film. An example of this is when Rachael gives John her husband’s clothes, she says that ‘they do not have buttons because they are not plain enough, they have eye and hooks’. Later on when John appears in the Amish clothes they do not fit him at all, Rachael laughs at him playfully, this is an early sign of her fondness of him. The clothes are significant in the sense that she may imagine him as her husband. John probably feels silly and out of place, but he knows wearing the clothes will help him to blend in and lay low.
At the end of the film when Rachael runs up to John she takes off her cap. The cap is the sign of her being Amish, and to show John she loves him she takes it off. This also was to show him that she was willing to leave her Amish world. There are some parallels between the two worlds, such as they seemed to wear different clothes to work in, to go out in and to be casual in, much in the same way that we do. The sounds that we heard in each world were significant and different as well. A good example of this is the scene when they have been taken to the police station.
You can hear many voices, typewriters and phones ringing in the background. I think that Rachael and Samuel may have been quite alarmed and found it strange because they are used to the sound of birds and the nature around them. When they were taken out on to the streets this was probably even worse because of the loud cars, horns and sirens. Their equivalent of this would have been horses neighing, cows mooing and the sound of a cart being dragged over a bumpy stone track. Equally John was not accustomed to the peace and tranquillity that he experienced around him on the farm.
Music is very important to a film and is usually heard as a background, and used to create a different atmosphere such as suspense or wonder or used to create emphasis on a mood. In the Amish world the music is more tranquil and steady. The music is very affective at the time of the barn raising. As the barn slowly takes shape, more parts are added and John relationship with the Amish men greatens the Music builds up to get louder and sound more triumphant creating an effect that involves the viewer. Without this music the scene would become very boring and would quickly become boring, not having the same effect.
The same occurs again when the Amish neighbours respond to Samuels ringing of the bell. The Music is quite upbeat and gives the sense of unity between the people. Sad music is used in the final scene as John leaves Rachael, this silences the audience into sympathy for her. The music used in the modern world scenes is different but still gives the desired effect. For example, in the scene where John realises the danger to Samuel a feeling of danger and shock is cast, the same sort of music is used in the scene where Samuel recognised the murderer in the Photo the music creates a tense atmosphere.
Upbeat and faster music is rare in this film but there is some in the scene where John’s partner retrieves Samuels police file. This shows that it is more of an action scene and the task must be completed quickly under complete stealthily, at all costs. The lighting in the modern world is very artificial and feels rather gloomy when the scenes are set inside, this makes it feel very compacted closed off and claustrophobic. In the murder scene the toilets feel very clod and overcast due to the electrical lighting above, and the lack of windows. The lighting in the police station is set slightly different.
There is more glare, and everything is slightly discoloured. Sunlight is used in the cafi?? scene through large windows. This shows everything as it is supposed to look like instead of looking slightly orange like it would if it was lit by light bulbs. In the Amish scenes no artificial light is used, only gas lamps and candles. Gas lamps and candles don’t give off much light so the effect that is created in a dark room is a very soft light that feels warm, cosy and inviting. In the Barn scene only the centre is lit by the car’s headlamps, this gives focus on the car and has a very dramatic effect of something that should not quite be there.
The outside shots are breath taking and overwhelming due to the open flat land lit by the natural sunlight, where there are no street lamps, or ugly buildings. This gives the sense of being very close to nature and being very free. The framing of shot is one of the most important features of the film. If everything was taken form one view with one angle then you’d never get a good sense of what was going on so directors use every angle and view to make the film as interesting as possible.
Camera views and shots are also used to create a sense of atmosphere but can also be used to create a desired effect in relation to what is going on. The director has to think in the terms of the camera is the viewers window when they are watching the film, and is important to get as much information in to the window at one time but also not too much at times when the focus must be put upon a certain character of scene. In the Amish world the views are more panoramic to capture the farmed landscape. A good example of this is the opening shot where we are given a wonderful view of the countryside around the Amish farm.
Scenes like the one at the fast food cafi?? use medium – long shots, picturing the whole table and things outside in the background to give a sense of the busy town atmosphere and the contrast of the Amish people being there. At the end of the film the view is one that allows you to see john walking away as well as seeing Daniel comforting Rachael in the foreground. This gives the effect of sympathy and sadness as they are parted. The film is very good at contrasting the clothing, lifestyle, food, amusements and the general way in which the two world live.
The film is more based on john Book in the Amish world rather than Rachael and Samuel in the Modern world. This is probably because the film is created for the modern world and this method is more affective in getting the message across. Before watching the film I knew little of the Amish people’s existence, The theme does contribute to the success of the film because it would be pretty boring without the contrasts and would be a lot less educational, interesting and informative. Overall I think that this film is an excellent contrast between the modern and Amish ways of living and the ways in which we react to each other.
Get access to
Guarantee No Hidden