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Witness Themes

Two Themes in the Film Witness
by

Jose Correa

on 5 October 2012

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Transcript of Witness Themes

Witness Themes Acceptance Of Violence in Western Society Nature Of Man - Good Vs Evil Themes In Witness The film Witness(1985) explores many themes and concepts, Peter Weir its director has made decisions regarding these themes and conveyed his commentary on these themes using the story, characters and setting to his advantage. Two themes within Witness are; the acceptance of violence in Western society and the nature of man: Good vs Evil. Both these themes deal with the nature of the main characters, especially John Book. The acceptance of violence in western society is brought about the sudden rise in 80s action films where the fighting would always be dramatized and display an unrealistic view of violence. Weir uses this to make commentary on how society has been influenced by these action films and find violence entertaining. The second theme of the nature of man: Good vs evil deals with the nature of man and how everyone has both evil and good inside them and how these perspectives affect the way we view people and society as a whole. The view of western society is a dramatized view on violence which paints it as entertaining and less harmful than it really is. Weir uses three specific scenes to convey his view on this subject. The first scene and the center for the rest of the film, is the murder scene where violence is first seen in the film. The second scene is the "my way" scene in which Book bashes a local kid of the town, here Weir paints a specific view on violence. The third and final scene is the final climax scene where Books faces Schaeffer, McFee and Fergie. Within these scenes Weir takes into consideration everything from music and positioning to dialog and actions. These scenes formulate almost all of the violence displayed in the film, Weir does this as each scene marks an important point in the film. Within all scenes the violence displayed ends very quickly and does not drag out like in traditional action films. The purpose of including this theme within Witness is to get people and society to realise that violence should be treated as a dangerous thing which is not a form of entertainment and for society to see a 'realistic' view of violence and the effects it can have on different characters. Acceptance of Violence In Western Society Weir plays the classic Good Vs Evil theme but instead of using it as an overall theme he subtlety insert it into the nature of man, that is we are not perfect and have both good and evil within us, the world as a whole is not black and white rather it is different shades of gray and cannot have one definition. An example of this is the Gun of the hand scene in which Samuel is educated by both Book and Eli on the gun and taking of human life. A second scene to explain this theme is the final scene between Book and Schaeffer where Book doesn't use his normal ways but adopts a non-violent way to deal with the situation. The third scene can be seen as overall portrayal of the Amish and Western communities, with the 'Good' being the Amish community who have high morals and ethics and accept a pacifist lifestyle, while Western society is the 'evil' which the emphasis on self and can be seen through the use of violence and guns. Within these scenes Weir is able to communicate his themes to the responder through the use of characters, props and situations. Nature Of Man -Good Vs Evil The Murder scene is the first scene in which violence is exhibited to the audience, it also sets the story for the rest of the Film. The murder scene is watched through the eyes of Samuel, an Amish boy who does not understand the world, let alone why someone would be killed. Weir uses Point-of-view shots to switch between Samuel's reactions and the murder taking place, Weir does this to allow the audience to watch the reactions of an innocent child. The murder itself is quick and shows a large amount of blood on the victim, in traditional action films the blood lost would be minimal and sometimes none would be shown thus Weir portrays a realistic murder where the violence is not dramatized. The commentary Weir is making on violence may also include the presentation of violence to children. Today younger children are being exposed to violence and violent acts, this is mainly through the entrainment industry with movies and video games. Weir employs unusual music in this scene which was used in horror films in previous years to Witness, the music is high in pitch and gives off an eery feel and is designed to instill fear into the audience. The music completes the scene as it perfectly fits the murder and conveys how frightening a murder can be. Another point of the theme is the acceptance of the violence being viewed and this is represented with Samuel who later changes his Amish views to be more accepting of violence and even reject his pacifist background and "kill the bad man". Thus Weir has strongly conveyed the theme of violence to his audience in the beginning of the movie and has set up the story for the rest of the film. The Murder Scene "My Way" Scene The "my way" scene is a perfect example of how Weir is able to convey a realistic view of violence and the consequences it brings to the individual. Within the scene Book comes across a local bully and after hearing the death of his partner he releases his anger on the local kid, bashing him and breaking his nose in the process. Before the violence takes place, Eli urges Book not to use violence to solve the problem saying "Its not our way" to which Book replies "But its my way". This shows how western society is reliant on violence as a solution to solve a problem, it accepts violence uses it before considering other solutions. When Book bashes the kid again it is over in a second it is not dragged out or dramatized instead Book breaks the kid's nose with one hit and ends it. Again Weir emphasis the danger of violence and how it should really be portrayed. The large amount of blood is again used to show a realistic view of a broken nose and emphasize the danger of a fight. Book after the fight walks away with his head down and returns to the carriage, Weir is not glorifying Book in any way as this conveys that there is no glory in fighting. In an action film after the fight the victor would always stand straight with his head lifted and would be glorified for his action this does not happen in Witness Weir's aim is to portray a realistic view and he does this with Book's body posture. The acceptance of violence can be seen from this scene, as Weir creates a sense of vigilante justice within the audience as they see the local kid bully the Amish, the audience feels the need for something to be done about it. When Book bashes the kid the audience feels justice has been done, however this is not what Weir wants, it is this act from the audience that shows Weir's theme on acceptance of violence in western society. Therefore the "my way" scene is one where Weir is able to freely make social commentary on the acceptance of violence and he accomplishes this through the character of Book. The Gun in the Hand Final Scene - Book And Schaeffer Acceptance of Violence in western society
Murder Scene
"My way" Scene
Final Scene The Final Scene As final scene of the film, the audience would expect a good final fight between Book and McFee, however Weir does not grant this instead he creates a cat-and-mouse game that ends quickly. In action films of the 80s the final scene would be the big fight between the hero and villain, which would be dragged out and overplayed. Whereas in Witness Book and McFee chase each other around the farm, only seeing each other at the end where Book shots McFee and the fight ends. Weir is portraying a more realistic "end fight" and showing how quickly a fight can come to an end. Weir also uses a bizarre death in this scene which is the death of Fergie who dies when the grain tanks are opened, this could possibly be a reference to bizarre unrealistic deaths in action films, Weir uses close-ups of Fergie to show how frightening that sort of death would be, we see Fergie slowly suffocating and then dieing thus Weir conveys the horrors of a bizarre death. Within this scene Samuel who has been influenced by Book says "But you don't have your gun" to Book when he's being chased by Fergie and McFee, this shows the acceptance of violence from Samuel's part but also the notion that Book cannot defend himself without his gun and will be caught by McFee. Weir also uses music to build suspense in the audience as the chase goes on and eventually changing to a lighter mood once the Amish arrive. Thus Weir's final scene is a well composed scene which conveys the acceptance of violence in western society, done through the story and characters and contrasted with 80s action films. The gun in the hand scene is significant to the development of the characters throughout the film, but shows the boundaries between good and evil as well as touching on the nature of man. When Samuel finds the gun he is curious and tries to handle it however he is immediately found by Book who takes the gun. When Samuel is with Eli they discuss the gun Eli tells Samuel the dangers of the gun and describes it is an "unclean thing" he asks Samuel if he would kill a man he replies "I would only kill the bad man" Weir is conveying the effect of violence on Samuel which has now transformed into a conflict between good and evil within him. Samuel believes it is right to kill but only a bad man who is represented by this actions. Eli corrects this by saying one cannot simply judge a person on actions alone but must be able to "look into their heart" which is only reversed for God and therefore killing is an evil that should not be committed. Thus Weir has conveyed the theme of good vs evil using the nature of man which contains conflict that Samuel is experiencing from viewing violence in such an open way. In the final scene between Book and Schaeffer, Book reveals his "good" side and resolves the final conflict using non-violent methods. The final scene has Book surrendering to Schaeffer, however the rest of the Amish community has arrived a stand in 'witness' to Schaeffer. Normally Book would have resolved to violence and tried to fight and beat Schaeffer however after he's experience with the Amish community he changes and is able to move pass his violent self and instead shouts and tells Schaeffer off, this the combined presence of the Amish Schaeffer has no choice but to surrender. Thus Weir is portraying how man by nature changes and is able to take on different values he also expresses the "good" side by having Book take on Schaeffer without physically hurting him, this can also be extended to the acceptance of violence where everything can be solved by violence. Book's final portrayal is conflicted he is seen as a hero in some sense but the ending does not build on this instead Book leaves and returns home to Philadelphia. Thus Weir has successfully conveyed the theme of the nature of man good vs evil though his development on the character of Book and his situation. Conclusion Amish And Western Societies. Weir is able to communicate both the themes of acceptance of violence in western society and the nature of man-good vs evil to the responders, he does this through the use of film techniques and specific scenes, such as the murder scene where he displays the effect of acceptance of violence on a young mind, the 'my way' scene conveys a realistic view on violence and how frightening it can really be rather than a stylized dramatic version commonly seen in action films. The final scene also display how a real action chase would occur rather than a dragged out long fight. The Second theme explores the nature of man related to good and evil, the gun in the hand scene represents this in a direct way Eli teaches Samuel the dangers of the conflicting nature of man and how one should not stray from a good path. The final scene shows how one can change his ways as Book uses non-violent methods to deal with Schaeffer and finally the contrast in societies shows how one can be portrayed in a good or evil light. Thus Weir conveys his social commentary effectively through the themes explored in his film. The Amish and Western societies both contrast each other, Weir conveys the natures of both the societies and communicates the social values of each of the societies to the responder, thus giving the responder an insight into the nature of man, how we choose how we life our lives and how our views can be influenced by other perspectives or cultures. The Amish community is given exclusive emphasis, focusing on the pacifist view of the world and the lack of technological use. While the western society focuses on the self and can been seen as an 'evil' society when contrasted with the Amish world. This paints Book who comes from the Western society as an 'evil' man who will only present a threat to the Amish community, Weir does not paint this mindset in black and white while Book does have an impact on the Amish and changes the social values and views of Samuel and Rachel he also adds to the society showing the Amish he can bring good as well. This can be seen in the barn building scene where Book is a key character in building the barn for the Amish family, we can see in this scene how the Amish welcome Book and while cautious at first accept him and let him help on some of the major parts of the barn. In contrast to this Book also brings western views with him to the Amish community, this is highlighted in the beginning of the gun in the hand scene and the dancing scene between Rachel and Book. Firstly when Book talks to Samuel about the gun, he says it's fine to handle as long as he is there, Weir uses the prop positioning as well as character positioning to display this to the responder. Book is openly inviting violence into Samuel's world and is teaching him values of the western world, that is it is okay to handle guns and view them in a normal way rather than a tool for death. During the dancing scene Book influences Rachel and forces Eli to remind Rachel of the Amish ways, however it is too late Rachel feels she can make her own choices and ignores Eli this causes the rest of the community to have unacceptable rumors between Book and Rachel. Thus Weir is able to convey the different views of society and how these have an impact on the other if they clash, Weir is making commentary on the rapid changing nature of man, that is we desire new things everyday and are easily influenced by new views or perspectives.
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