Witness Notes Essay

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Pages: 31

WITNESS
IFI EDUCATION

STUDYGUIDE

Alicia McGivern

SECTION TITLES

1. Introduction
2. Background
3. The World of the Film
4. The Vision of the Film
5. How does the film tells its story?
6. Sequences for study
7. Key moments
8. Useful references

IFI EDUCATION

1 WITNESS

INTRODUCTION

Witness (1985) was directed by Australian filmmaker Peter
Weir, and stars Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis. A considerable box office success on its release, the film received eight Academy Award nominations, winning two for the screenwriters and editor. Witness combines the genre of the thriller, western and melodrama, and brings together the two very different worlds of the rural Amish and the city police.
It is an excellent choice for Leaving Certificate Comparative study and offers many possibilities for analysis of theme, setting and cultural context, literary genre and relationships.
SYNOPSIS
The Amish community, Lancaster County,
Pennsylvania. A young widow, Rachel, takes her son Samuel on the train to Baltimore to visit her sister. Delayed in Philadelphia train station, Samuel witnesses a man being brutally murdered in the toilets. Detective John
Book arrives to investigate and insists that
Rachel and Samuel delay their departure, as the boy is his only witness. Samuel fails to identify anyone in the police line-up but later recognises one of the culprits from a newspaper cutting about McFee, an awardwinning police officer. Book tells his superior,
Schaeffer, who advises him to keep quiet.
Later, Book is shot in an underground carpark and he realises that he has uncovered a drugrelated police conspiracy. He tells his partner to remove all papers regarding the case and drives Rachel and Samuel back to their farm.

carpentry skills at a barnraising. That night he observes Rachel bathing and although their mutual attraction is evident, he decides not to persue it.
On a visit to town, Book phones Philadelphia from a call box and finds out that Carter has been killed. He calls Schaeffer to tell him that he knows. When a gang of youths taunt the Amish and Book goes to their defence, he gives himself away. That night Rachel goes to him, aware that he is preparing to leave. Next morning Schaeffer and his men arrive at the farm. In the final shoot out, the two cops are killed and Schaeffer is forced to surrender. Book then decides to return to the city and leave Rachel, who is now free to develop a relationship with Daniel.
CREDITS
John Book
Rachel Lapp
Samuel Lapp
Schaeffer
Eli Lapp
Mc Fee
Director
Producer
Screenplay
Story by
Music

Harrison Ford
Kelly McGillis
Lukas Haas
Josef Sommer
Jan Rubes
Danny Glover
Peter Weir
Edward S Feldman
Earl Wallace &
William Kelley
William Kelley,
Pamela & Earl Wallace
Maurice Jarre

USA, 1985, 112 mins, colour
STUDENT EXPLORATIONS

Book has been badly wounded and cannot leave the Lapp farm. Rachel and her father-inlaw persuade the community elders to allow them shelter him in their house, because of the danger to Samuel. Rachel nurses him back to health and there is a growing attraction between them. Eli criticises Rachel and warns her that other people suspect her feelings for the visitor. As soon as Book has recovered, he starts to help on the farm and uses his

IFI EDUCATION

2 WITNESS

1. Find out about other films starring
Harrison Ford. Do they share any common themes?
2. Read the synopsis of the film above.
What kind of film do you expect
Witness to be? Explain your answer.

BACKGROUND

THE STORY
The story of Witness began in the early 70s with the involvement of three writers, Pamela and Earl Wallace and William Kelley. Novelist
Pamela Wallace had an idea for a novel about an Amish woman who witnesses a murder in
LA. Screenwriter Earl Wallace, who had written for the TV series ‘How the West was
Won’, liked the idea and began to draft a script. He recalled an episode of…