Peter Weir’s Witness is certainly a successful film that contains distinctive ideas. Through the use of clever and innovative cinematic techniques Weir explores interesting concepts, such as the clash of cultures and forbidden love, as well as corruption in the modern world.
At the heart of this police drama about corruption and murder is a unique story where two different cultures clash. These two cultures are of course the Amish world and modern American society. This clash is established in the opening sequence of the film where Weir juxtaposes the words “Pennsylvania 1984” with characters that appear to be dressed in eighteenth century period costume on a tranquil rural setting. His use of visual juxtaposition can also be found in the scene where Eli’s traditional horse and buggy is holding up a long line of ‘honking’ traffic headed by a large semi-trailer. There are many other examples in this film where modern American society and the Amish culture come together in an uncomfortable mix. When Eli lectures Samuel about finding and handling Book’s gun, it is clear that these two society’s have very different views. A symbol of protection and justice in the hands of a good cop in the modern world, the use of a gun is not accepted by the Amish and is in fact a symbol of evil. As Eli says, “what you take into your hands, you take into your heart…touch not the unclean thing”.
Another prime example of the clash of cultural values can be found in the scene involving the hooligans in town who start harassing the Amish, in particular Daniel, for their different appearance and beliefs. Holding firm to their pacifist ideals that forbids any form of violence, Eli says, “it happens sometimes, do nothing. It’s not our way”. However, being the product of a very different culture, an agitated Book replies, “but it’s my way”. Weir uses a tracking dolly shot where we as a modern audience travel with Book to the scene of the conflict. The resulting fight leaves the hooligan...