Witness Band 5 2009

Witness Essay

Examine the way in which various techniques employed in your text has added to your understanding of the values and contexts of the narrative.

Witness directed by Peter Weir is the telling tail of two different societies caught up in the maws of justice. Evident through filmic techniques these have been able to convey the complex themes of trust, romance, relationships, technology and beliefs allowing the audience to learn about culture and the existing violence in the modern world.

Technology is a force of corruption that brings destruction and disruption into the otherwise perfect world of the Amish. An establishing shot of a cart traversing through green fields of rye visually represent the wholesome and content lives of the Amish. Here the use of a soft, swelling background music conveys to the audience the simplicity of their life. As the cart travel onward however, symbols of civilisation begin to appear, first power poles; then the carriage and the horse is seen in a long angle shot juxtapositioned between an idyllic pastoral world and a long line of modern vehicles. When the cart finally reaches the city, it is swallowed by a mis-en-scene where it is placed centre screen among a wild cacophony of wires, signs, adverts, and moving vehicles. This symbolically represents the chaotic pace of the urban city life as juxtaposed against the idyllic country life. The lack of signs in the Amish community, and the mass of signs in the urban district represent the uncomplicated contentment of the Amish. Furthermore the open skies of the Amish countryside emphasises the community’s freedom and sense of tranquillity. This is contrasted with the dark enclosed space of the cark park, reinforcing the modern world’s insecurity and sense of entrapment. The clash of naturalism and technology make evident the clashing ideals of the Amish and the modern world.

Relationships allow individuals to find a place in which they feel comfortable and secure. Book who is always alone, finds a sense of personal and familial belonging with Samuel and Rachael, yet ironically becomes disassociated in his quest to protect them. What allows the audience to emotionally invest in the characters are the relation bonds they forge. Book is initially uncomfortable and awkward towards Rachel and Samuel. An edited shot shows Book staring confusedly at the praying mother and son while he eats hot dogs. Another scene shows Book attempting a joke “That’s great coffee!” without success. As he continues to engage with the Amish however, he becomes more familiar. Through the key scene of John Book’s Amish barn building, it conveys that he has become a part of their community. The use of low angle shot as the men thrust the barn scaffold vertically conveys a sense of empowerment. Book, whom has never had a family and is a loner in the city – has found a place here. The powerful, organic pastoral flute music creates a soothing sense of community and commonality. This is reflected by the long shot of the Amish people walking together, clad in similar black costumes, a field of suspenders and rice coloured hats working in unison. Thus film explores the power of relationships, and its definition of our role in life.

Justice is seen as a double edge blade that can pervert integrity, or become its instrument. The corrupt cops are an example of corrupt justice, just as Book’s murder of the ‘bad men’ raises questions of if what he does is just. Witnessing the murder; an ultra close up on Samuel’s eye is a central motif not only in this scene but also in the film itself. The witnessing of the killing is both a metaphor for the death of innocence as well as fundamental to his statement “But I have seen the bad men.” A statement that cements the irony that Samuel is willing to kill, because he has ‘witnessed’ the ‘evil’. An editing shot flip frequently switches between Samuel’s innocent face back towards McFee and his partner in crime. This shows how shocked and scared Samuel really feels. The music in the background grows to a high-pitched fever, inducing tension and anxiety in the audience as they observe the actions of Mcfee kicking down the toilet doors. This creates a sense of fear for Samuel, and allows the audience to emphasize with the boy. The irony of the hand washing is symbolic as the blood can never be washed away. This shows that it will stay with him forever. However by washing his hands McFee suggests that the job is done and there would be no evidence. This is one of the key scenes where the duality of justice is seen, as the very men who uphold justice commit the crime. Here it is evident that Weir attempts to reflect the duality of justice, that one must sin to uphold their values.

The modern obsession with violence is one of the allegories taught to the audience in the film. This is most evident in the scene where Eli teaches Samuel about the symbolisms of the gun. The connection he has built with Rachel and Samuel is ironically lost when he defends their lives – for killing is a sin, and to preserve his loved one, he must commit the one crime that will take them away from him. The eye level medium shot of Eli and Samuel conveys the film’s critique of violence in society. He mentions to Samuel “the gun of the hand is for the taking of human life”, using the gun as a symbol for the sin of murder. Furthermore Eli elaborates on the irony of justice, “you must fight, you must kill, it’s the only way to preserve the good”. The camera zooms to encompass a eye level close up of Samuel looking into the worried expression of Eli. “Will you kill?” He asks rhetorically. Samuel replies to Eli’s comments, “I would only kill the bad man,” displaying that he does not understand the symbolism of the gun as a murder weapon. Furthermore the eye level close up shot of the gun conveys to the audience how detrimental an instrument of death can corrupt the Amish way of life. This is evident when Eli says, “what you take into your hand, you take into your heart,” emphasising on the modern society’s view that violence is a solution to all of man’s problems.

Conclusion –

Thus we are able to perceive how the director utilises a variety of filmic and literary techniques to communicate to our understanding of the film. The themes of violence, justice, the power of relationships and the corruption of modern society by technology are all evident in the masterful portrayal of the film and its engaging narrative.






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