The Opening Sequince of Witness by Peter Weir
“Witness” is an American film made in 1985 produced by Australian film maker Peter Weir; he has successfully conveyed many themes, issues and concepts in this film. The opening scene of the film “Witness” establishes many features of the film. These features include the camera shots, camera angles, light, sound, and dialogue, positioning of characters and setting.
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The opening scene is significant as it examines the concepts of ; how the peaceful Amish communities are marginalised and isolated from the modern world; the sense of unity and affinity the Amish culture have with the land; and the contrast between the two different worlds of the slow paced and peaceful life style of the Amish and the fast paced, materialistic, hectic lifestyle of the modern world. In the peaceful Amish community, the examination of marginalisation and isolation from the modern world in which they co- exist is examined.
The Amish culture differ from modern day culture dramatically as they are virtually fundamentalists and live very simply and do not have any material goods as we do. The Amish people reject modern conveniences such as cars,, television, electricity and the telephone, living self sufficiently from the land working together to make everyday necessities such as their simple clothing, food, furniture and housing.
Weir shows the audience that the alternate lifestyle of the Amish is not “weird”, but strangely enlightened. The terms isolated and marginalised are often used to describe the social process of becoming or being alienated from the society around them. When placed into the society in which they are marginalised the ideas, values, habits to which these individual Amish members are accustomed are challenged or contradicted by the ideas, values and customs of the modern day group or community they enter.
In the film “Witness” Peter Weir has created two different worlds with different value systems. The close up shot of individual Amish faces in the cramped room at the funeral creates a sense of close community, but also highlights the fact that they are confined from the outside world. Culture is also evident as the mysterious German language in which they speak represents a religious tradition, confinement and isolation from the English spoken society around them.
The Amish widow Rachel Lapp is taking her young son Samuel to Philadelphia for the first time, to stay with her sister whilst she morns and recovers the loss of her husband; The long shot of the Samuel at the train station, trying to work out how the bubblers works, highlights his fragile and innocent personality, it emphasize the differences of the two worlds due to the isolation and marginalisation of the Amish community.
The mid shot of Rachel trying to perchance a train ticket when another person pushes her out of the frame suggests that the different worlds can’t work together and that there are existing conflicts between the Amish and people modern world, it implies that the modern world has rejected her and her culture, creating a sense of isolation and marginalisation.
The examination of the contrast between the two worlds of the slow paced and peaceful life style of the Amish and the fast paced, hectic lifestyle of the modern world is shown through the collision of two worlds; the idealistic world of the Amish comes into conflict with the ugly main culture of the modern world. The camera is set at Samuel’s head height showing the fast paced movements of the passing modern society and its people. At the start of the movie, before the murder scene, we see Samuel exploring around the train station, walking slowly in indifference to everyone else who are rushing about to be places.
This reinforces the concept that the Amish community live a simplistic slow paced lifestyle. The slow paced opening credits relate to the Amish world as they are black and white, this echo’s the values and the slow pace of the Amish culture. The close up of the wheels on the Horse and buggy highlights the Amish’s pre-modern form of transport, The shot of the Horse and buggy which moves to long shot of a semi trailer following close behind, juxtaposes the difference between Amish and the modern American world, it highlights the difference in pace, in which the individuals feel they have to move.
After close analysis, Peter Weir’s “Witness” successfully portray fascinating ideas to the audience. The idea of their unity and affinity with the land is suggested. Through the opening scene the sense of unity and the peaceful nature of the Amish community is examined through the wide shot of long, luscious grass, with the Amish emerging from as if they’re from the land itself. This shot is accompanied by natural abundant lighting, again suggesting there natural ifestyle and highlighting the gentle nature of the people thus establishing the Amish effectively as peaceful people who are in harmony with nature. Weir uses the techniques of the long shot in the opening scene where human figures walking together, whilst only seeing half of their body as if they are coming from the earth, the next shot of the close up of the human figures clearly demonstrating that they are Amish people, with this angle shot Weir has demonstrated the unity of the Amish community as they walk as one together with the earth.
Throughout this film Weir has clearly presented the concepts of,; how the peaceful Amish communities are marginalised and isolated from the modern world; the sense of unity and affinity the Amish culture have with the land; and the contrast between the two different worlds of the slow paced and peaceful life style of the Amish and the fast paced, materialistic, hectic lifestyle of the modern world.