Witness: Amish and Modern American Society

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Year 12 HSC English, Close study of Text- Witness, Peter Weir Australian director Peter Weir’s film ‘Witness’ is set in 1985 and depicts a clash between modern American society and an idyllic Amish community. Maeri Saeli describes it as “the two worlds meet, but never merge”. Weir has a number of main ideas including violence, passivism and direct action, relationships and clashing cultures. Weir ensures that his ideas impact on the audience and their understanding through an interaction of ideas, characters and techniques. Weir highlights stark differences in cultural values and ideals through differing perspectives on violence. The main character of the modern American society, John Book is originally situated in a society that uses violence to achieve whatever is necessary. Weir depicts the seedy and corrupted nature of this violent society visually through the repetition of dark frames shot in night, only aided by harsh artificial light. The unpleasantness of life in a violent society is further evident through the use of crowded frames in an attempt to increase the audience’s understanding of the cramped modern American lifestyle. These ideas culminate in the scene of the Happy Valley nightclub. There is an intense juxtaposition between Book, who grabs a suspect and slams his face into a car window depicting typical behaviour of the brutal city, and the shocked faces of Samuel and Rachel, who represent purity and innocence. On a symbolic note, it is important that the light coloured car that Samuel and Rachel wait in belongs to Book, suggesting that although Book depends heavily on violence he has a heart and sound morals and is a good man. This becomes clearer as the film continues and the audience understanding increases. Another negative aspect of the violent society that Weir illustrates is that trust has been lost. Schaeffer, who Book believes is a ‘friend’ and loyal family man, has been corrupted by the lure of a quick dollar and...
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