How does Weir convey the difference in culture in his film Witness? The difference in culture is emphasised through distinctive ideas and characters in the film ‘Witness’ directed by Peter Weir. He uses themes and film techniques to further emphasise the difference in culture in the film, especially in the “Happy Valley” scene and the “Barn-Raising” scene.
Weir attempts to emphasise the moral of the film which is that the mainstream western society has lost its way as it results to violence and “unclean” values in order to bring peace compared to the Amish, who believe there is no such thing as violence used for good and that there is always another way to protect the good. Weir emphasises the moral by demonstrating this distinct idea of the collision of the two cultures and, furthermore, through the comparison of themes displayed by both cultures such as the comparison of the pacifistic attitudes of the Amish and the violent attitudes of mainstream western society.
Nonconformity to the rules of the Amish Ordnung is dealt with without violence by shunning the uncooperative member until their behaviour is modified. This set of rules emphasises the pacifistic attitude of the Amish whereas the law, in this film, represents violence and corruption and it is this contrasting technique, used by Weir, which emphasises the idea of the collision of the two cultures. In the “Happy Valley” scene, John Book, a detective of the Philadelphia police played by Harrison Ford, acts violently as he slams a suspect into the window of the backseat of his car in an alley way behind a bar in attempt to solve the case.
After Samuel tells Book that the suspect is not the murderer, Rachel demands that her son won’t be exposed to this sort of violence again. John Seale, the cinematographer of the film, brilliantly uses artificial lighting, close-ups, point of view and low angle shots to emphasise Samuel’s fear of the violence that his culture is foreign to. The door that Samuel is behind in this scene is symbolic of a barrier which stops him from entering a world that he does not belong in.
This scene is very effective in contrasting the pacifistic attitude of Rachel and Samuel and the violent attitude of Book. Weir uses distinct characters in Samuel and Rachel, in this scene, as they represent the innocence of the Amish and this is emphasised through the techniques he demonstrates. He also uses distinct characters in John Book to represent the violent western society so he can effectively contrast the differences in their culture. The “Barn-Raising” scene helps show how comfortable the Amish are with their old-fashioned, community-minded ways.
It also shows how Book is accepted as part of the Amish community as he works with the Amish men building the barn. This scene demonstrates Book’s developing understanding of the pacifistic attitude of the Amish. Seale uses long shots and natural lighting to display the whole Amish town coming together to build a barn for a newlywed couple, and it is obvious by their smiling faces and enthusiasm that they feel happy and privileged to do so. The fact that the sky is so clear and beautiful is another way that Peter Weir has added to the joyous mood of the scene.
Weir shows the Amish community in a more positive light than the city culture, where he has chosen to film cloudy and rainy days. Weir also uses symbolism in this scene as Rachel watches Book work with the men from the inside of the house and this window barrier is also symbolic of one culture that is unable to merge with another. Maurice Jarre, the musical director, plays relaxing and spiritual music in most scenes that are in the Amish setting, especially in the “Barn-Raising”.
This is very effective in emphasising the pacifistic attitudes that the Amish have. Weir again uses distinct characters in Rachel to represent the innocence of the Amish as she refuses to merge with another culture. Ultimately, both the “Barn-Raising” and the “Happy Valley” scenes demonstrate distinctive ideas and characters which is very important in differentiating the culture of mainstream western society and the culture of the Amish.