How does Weir’s portrayal of the relationship between Book and his world move us into a deeper understanding of power? The 1985 film ‘witness’ directed by Peter weir is a crime/drama that develops the theme of conflict though individual power on a social, cultural and personal level. These areas of power are highlighted through the use of film techniques such as; camera shots, camera angles, lighting and costume. The film outlines the juxtaposition between mainstream American society and the Amish community in regional Pennsylvania, the theme of power between Book and his world precisely emphasize this juxtaposition. The competent American society is seen as a violent and arrogant group of people, whereas the Amish community is seen as the defenceless peaceful, religious group of people. Peter weir is careful to portray power realistically; he does this though the use of violence.
Weir uses three basic groups when it comes to violence. The Amish, who refuse violence in all circumstances, men like John Book who use violence to achieve justice, and the perpetrators of violence, people like Schaeffer and Mcfee, who use violence to achieve outcomes and power. Books life is one abundant with violence that is the consequence of his line of work, which essentially is present due to his authorised general level of power, he is a police officer so by law enforcement is required to exert his power though violence and literal means in order to protect and support the community in which he lives, even if this means extermination of one’s life. Weir presents the violence in the film in a graphic, confronting way.
This is done to emphasise to the audience the bloody consequences that come from negative use of power to achieve justice or commit crimes. By not sensationalising violence, weir creates a realistic mis en scene; however Weir presents that violence, as used by people like John Book is necessary, as long as people like Mcphee and Schaeffer exist. The impracticality of the Amish view is presented when they are shown being harassed by tourists. Eli’s statement “it happens, we ignore them”, show that it is a regular occurrence.
The idea of not using violence, even in self defence is shown to be impractical in the wider world. The Amish are community is here portrayed as one in absence of power, even though they could possibly defend themselves or use violence they choose to accept the disturbance by the modern society, and use pacifism to be genuine to their culture, being respective but vulnerable. However accompanying them is John Book, being a stereotypical police officer he possesses the power in violence and is unafraid and unrestricted to making use of it. By utilising the power he has hold of, he attacks the hecklers as he is ambiguous to achieving a sense of justice for the Amish, demonstrating the conflicting use of power when Eli says “it’s not our way” and John Book replies “but it’s my way”.
Courtney from Study Moose