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Witness Analysis

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HSC English Standard - Module B 'Witness'

By Aiman Ahamad


John Book and Rachel Lapp could never have a successful permanent relationship. Do you agree?

Relationships may be permanent or temporary. Different relationship will experience obstacles but may receive considerable rewards. There are many factors that can affect the relationship between people like clash of cultures, their inability to conform to alternate societies and the fundamental values upon which they base their lives. John Book and Rachel Lapp could never have a successful permanent relationship. "Witness" (1985) directed by Peter Weir. The clash of cultures between Rachel and John is a major factor that affects their relationship deeply. Their inability to conform to alternate societies is also a key factor that influences the effectiveness of their relationship, along with the fundamental values that underpin their lives. The clash between Amish pacifism and modern American societies attitude towards violence also affects their bond. These components have affected Rachel and John's ability to have a long-lasting relationship.

The clash of cultures is a significant component that results in the breakdown of their relationship. The way John and Rachel live is so far removed from one another that it serves as the backdrop for the film as it explores the clash of cultures. John Book is polite and respectful towards Rachel, Samuel and others. A close up was used when John sat at the same level with Samuel to reflect that he respects him. John is labelled by Eli as 'the English' the minute he crashes into their bird house. The car crashes to the bird house is symbolic as he crashed to the Amish community uninvited. This implies that his presence is not welcome. Rachel and Samuel look out of place when they were saying grace while John eats the hotdog looking uncomfortable. The opening of the film itself reflects this clash of culture with an extreme long shot to show the buggy holding up the lines of traffic. The clash of cultural identity between Rachel who is living in the Amish society and John who is living in modern American society is also one of the main reasons that will always affect their relationship. Rachel appears more resistant to accept modern American culture than John willing to explore the Amish culture. It is evident that the clash of cultures is a significant factor that affects John and Rachel's relationship.

'Barn rising' is a major scene in which shows John trying to fit in by participating in the community activities. He also wants to demonstrate his gratitude and his kindness by participating at the barn raising. John is proving to the Amish that he is helpful. In the barn raising only John wears a white shirt, it reflects that he doesn't belong and is different. The gender division of women doing the cooking, serving and the men doing the labor duties reflect the Amish values of the gender roles. The stolen glance between John and Rachel shows that their relationship is not welcome in the community. The use of long shot is to show the progression of the barn and prove that they are united. Rachel is impressed by John as he is exceeding the Amish expectations. Daniel is impressed by John as he proves his worth through his building prowess. The fact that John is at the highest level working on the barn scaffold shows that he's trying to prove himself. Low angle shot is used to show that the barn is big and demonstrate their collective attitude which proves that they are unified. It is apparent that the Amish community knows about the bond between Rachel and John as the Amish woman said "Everyone has an idea about you and the Englishmen, Book". Rachel replied "All of them charitable, I'm sure". The Amish woman replied "Hardly any of them" to point out that Rachel and John are being inappropriate. This reflects that John presence is not welcome and is disturbing the Amish community. Rachel serves John first at the lunch table; she is deliberately disobeying the conventions of her culture. This is reflecting how she is being influenced by John's presence and not conforming to the Amish values. Rachel is determined to not be negatively influenced by the 'idle gossip' about herself and John. In the final moment of the scene John is sitting on the back of the cart while the rest of the men were singing a song in German. This emphasise that he doesn't belong. This scene exhibits John's desperateness of trying to be accepted into the Amish community. It also reflects the growing connection of John and Rachel's relationship as Rachel devalues her culture in order to get closer to John.

Rachel's attraction to John leaves her with an inner moral dilemma as to conform to and uphold the Amish values, or to give in to her desire and break the cultural rules and be with John. There are several scenes that reflect Rachel's nonconformity. In the 'Barn building' scene where Rachel serves John first emphasise that she is breaking her cultural values in order to be close to John. There are also signs of nonconforming when Rachel removed her bonnet before embracing and kissing John. When Rachel dances with John to the music in the 'breaking the rules' scene, she is taking a large step in devaluing her culture as she dances with an 'English man' who is not her husband. In the 'bathing' scene where Rachel deliberately exposes herself to John, she is inviting him to take advantage of his attraction to her.

The Amish are critical of John as he does not 'fit in', meaning he does not conform to the Amish ways. As John makes positive contributions within their community, he becomes more accepted. Ultimately, John cannot conform to the Amish ways permanently, so he leaves. But John tries his best to conform to the Amish ways temporary by milking the cows and engaging in daily chores and does not use violence against Schaeffer in the end in order to be accepted by the community. He also wears Amish clothes to make him more accepted physically or on the surface. He participated in barn-building and mended the bird house. Whilst John makes efforts to conform, there are significant moments when he does not. Perhaps it is these small things that create the biggest and most impenetrable barrier between John and Rachel. The moments that reflect John's nonconformity is when he tells Samuel that playing with an unloaded gun is alright, when he becomes frustrated and fight those bullies while saying "But it is my way" to emphasise that



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