Book's Character Journey in "Witness"
March 30, 2014 at 11:46 am #354Hannah KingsleyParticipant
“Witness” is composed of several narrative elements: it is a thriller, a love story, a tale of cultural collision, but most interestingly, a narrative of self-growth and exploration.
The film begins on an Amish farms, setting up the viewers understanding of the main characters, Rachel and her son Samuel, and their way of life in the community-oriented religious settlement. The Amish are a self-sustained, and relatively isolated community, devoted to specific moral and cultural practices that deviate from those of the world outside the farm.
Samuel and Rachel leaving their familiar Amish community, and entering the foreign “English” world, in which their values and appearances are seen as a quaint gimmick. Almost immediately upon their departure from their familiar home, Samuel witnesses a gruesome murder, and his status as a key witness leaves him and his mother stranded in the city for an undetermined period of time. Harrison Ford plays Book, a hardened big-city detective assigned to the case.
After the discovery that the crime had been committed by well-respective police officers, Book must now flee the city and take refuge in the Amish community. It is a situation situation paralleling that of Rachel and Samuel’—both introductions into a new place are marked by danger, foreignness, and a lack of welcome.
Although initially (and granted, for most of the film), Book is very opposed to his new environment and has trouble fitting in, he begins a period of self-discovery and newfound respect for his environment. Near the beginning of the story, Rachel conveys his sister’s assessment that Book is self-righteous and cannot work well with other people: “she thinks you like policing because you think you are right about everything and you’re the only one who can do anything, and when you drink a lot of beer, you say things like ‘none of the other police know a crook from a bag of elbows!” This is clearly presented as one of Book’s primary character flaw, and it is one that conflicts with the Amish way of life. In order to function in their society, he must learn to work with others, and tame his sense of superiority and stubborn independence. By the end of the film’s narrative, he has, to some extent, achieved that: he gains a surprising respect for not only the people in the Amish community, but also their way of life. He begins to help them with chores, develops, to the best of his ability, comradery with the people. Even in the climactic battle between he and the dirty cops, the quintessential “thriller hero” section, he is dependent on the help of the settlement to ultimately prevail.
However, despite his marked personal growth and the, somewhat expected, love story within the narrative, the film circumvents overt moralizing and cliché endings. Book may have been changed by his experience on the settlement, but he nevertheless maintained his own values and “English” way of life. He was still using excessive force on teenagers and killing criminals without visible remorse until the end of the film. Consequently, it’s no real surprise that he didn’t end up renounce the city-life and live a happy, fulfilled life with Rachel on the farm. Nor is it surprising that Rachel didn’t leave her familiar life to join Book. This is not to say that they didn’t change—both accepted ways of life and values that had initially been laugh-worthy to them, and developed a deeper understanding a sense of respect for each other, and an affirmed set of personal values. However, unlike many love-stories, there was no unified happy ending. Instead they embarked on individual paths.
Despite the many elements of this film, I believe it was ultimately a story about people, most notably Books, whose exposure to a foreign world helped affirm their personal values and their individual sense of dignity and belonging.March 31, 2014 at 12:50 pm #360Kristen DruseParticipant
I agree that at its core, Witness is about people and their capability to react and adapt to unfamiliar situations and environments. I think that this reality makes the prevalence of the “male gaze” even more significant. Throughout the film, Rachel is portrayed through a very apparent and specific lens. This is even more fascinating because of her internal struggle over her role as a religious woman. Book clearly is attracted to Rachel and she develops feelings for him as well, and the growth of their relationship is shown almost entirely through camera work rather than dialogue or physical contact. One such example is when Book first wakes up after his recovery from his gunshot wound and watches Rachel sleeping in the chair next to him. He is able to blatantly stare at her without her knowledge, which makes her seem ignorant to her power as a beautiful woman. The male gaze is also utilized during the barn raising, when Rachel is pouring drinks at the table, and more than a few of the men shamelessly watch her complete her task. She seems slightly more aware of being watched during this scene, but in the moment she still seems very naive. It’s fascinating that Peter Weir chose to portray the Amish Rachel as such a magnetic force of attraction.April 1, 2014 at 10:33 am #362John TjartjalisParticipant
Although I do agree with a lot of what you are saying about John Book, I believe that Book ultimately belonged with the Amish. From the bits and pieces we are given about Books past, he has always felt a sense of superiority over everyone in Philadelphia. From acting as a parent to his sister’s children because he can’t find a family of his own, to criticizing the whole police department, We get a sense that maybe Book doesn’t belong in the world he has grown up in. Although it does take him some time to get use to Amish lifestyle, understandably for such a dramatic change, we end up getting the sense that he would be happy living there. First, there is his carpentry skills that match all the Amish, especially in the toy he made for Samuel. Then there is the fact that he seems to respect their system of living much more that the police system he has been a part of back in Philadelphia. He gives them his gun without question and follows all of their rules, with the occasional wisecrack. More importantly we can see that over the course of the film the Amish begin to accept him. A significant moment to exemplify this is when Daniel shares his drink with Book when they are building the farm. This shows that Daniel has begun to respect Book and maybe treat him as one of their own. Another significant moment is when Eli risks his life to warn Book the the corrupt cops have come to the farm. He could have easily just let them take Book and keep his family safe, but instead he decided to save an outsider that he has grown to care. Taking all of this into account, it’s safe to say that Book would have been happy living his life with the Amish. He would not be the man who just “drinks a lot of beer” and criticizes all those around him. However, the fact that he made the wrong choice going back to the Philadelphia does not take away from the ending. In fact, it makes the ending a little more realistic in that people don’t always make the right decisions in life.April 1, 2014 at 11:06 am #363AnonymousInactive
I really like what has been said about John Book, specifically I want to discuss John’s comment about the film’s ending. As was previously stated the movie consciously emphasizes the “male gaze”, significantly on Rachel as viewers are in essence placed in Book’s eyes. However the film complicates this male gaze due to the fact that Rachel is Amish and it is highly looked down upon by her community if she were to have relations with an outsider, in addition to this male gaze being somewhat taboo. I believe it is because of this that Book in the end must ultimately leave the Amish, out of respect for both Rachel and her community. Despite the fact that Book does not wholly belong to the real world, in part due to his impressive carpentry skills which essentially match those of the Amish, it is almost as if as the viewer we know he cannot stay. I disagree in saying that Book made the wrong choice to go back to Philadelphia due to the fact that Book clearly is a huge asset to the police department through his ability to detect corruption and put an end to it. In addition to this, I do believe that the ending concludes in a realistic manor, seeing as Book could not simply join the Amish leaving his past behind him—that simply does not happen. As the audience we know the life he lives with the Amish is simply temporary, and through the ending the film concludes through both closure and realism.April 1, 2014 at 11:37 am #364Dorothea KuntzeParticipant
I agree with a lot that was said here, but I wanted to emphasis the fact that we are not just shown the “male gaze” through Book’s character. I think it is interesting and important that members of the Amish community see Rachel in a sensual manner. As Kristen pointed out earlier, “the male gaze is also utilized during the barn raising, when Rachel is pouring drinks at the table, and more than a few of the men shamelessly watch her complete her task.” While the Amish community definitely contrasts the corrupted city life of Philadelphia, even in this community there is undercurrents of sensuality. Like the city, these undercurrents are portrayed through male eyes and Rachel’s own desire is dismissed and reprimanded by the threat of banishment. The fact that even the Amish are susceptible to viewing women as sensual objects and are willing to shun Rachel, a harsh punishment that she believes unjust, portrays the idea that even though the Amish community is depicted as a serene environment it too is not perfect.April 1, 2014 at 2:49 pm #365Michael AugelloParticipant
I think that from the very first scene, the male gaze is present, and it is not subtle at all. The opening scene is the funeral and Hochleitner expressing his condolences to Rachel. Then, before we even meet Book, the camera follows Hochleitner around. That made me believe he was going to try and make a move for Rachel, and he was doing so before the funeral was even over! After, he moves slowly in his courting, by talking with Eli, and drinking lemonade on the porch. Then, out of nowhere comes this Englishman, who Rachel spends every waking moment with. This presents a certain amount of jealousy because Book is new and a lot more interesting than Hochleitner, but of course it is not outwardly addressed (we see in the horse and buggy “fight scene” that the Amish are a bit passive when it comes to that kind of conflict, likely based on beliefs that I don’t know enough to speak to), but is seen subtly when Hochleitner and Book meet and Hoch says he is going to see Rachel. From then on, the dynamic between those three presents an undeniable background storyline of “Who will Rachel end up with?”April 1, 2014 at 3:04 pm #366Quinn WrightParticipant
I agree largely with what is being said here, but if I may shift the conversation slightly, I would like to talk about the general themes of seeing and being seen. Not only is there an undercurrent of male-centric gaze, but also the ways in which the amish are watched and observed plays a narrative function as well. They are viewed here less as people and more as a commodity or attraction. No where is this more clear than when the tourists ask to take a picture with Harrison Ford, mistaking him for one of the genuine Amish people. Much like the concept of the male gaze, this act of seeing dehumanizes the individual and transforms them into a form of visual entertainment, an action that Ford’s character Book would not stand for, exemplified by the royal beat down he gave to those teenagers (juvenile adults?). In this way, because Ford’s character is male, one can say that the retaliation is expected, but a question I pose would be that if Rachel’s character reacted in such a way, would this reaction be as immediately acceptable in a general audience? Keeping in mind the concepts of male gaze and general themes of female passivity.
- The topic ‘Book's Character Journey in "Witness"’ is closed to new replies.