|Ready to party like it's 1699.|
The title of this post reflects the two most influential sources of information I have been exposed to about the culture of a subset of Americans known as the Amish. As I’ve learned recently, one of these sources is a better representation than the other. No offense, Weird Al. Your song Amish Paradise is completely hilarious and will probably receive more attention from me over my lifetime than the well-crafted Harrison Ford movie.
I did finally watch the movie Witness. No, this article isn’t being typed on my word processor while I do radical tricks on my boogie board. I had just never gotten around to watching the movie since it came out in the mid 80’s. The inspiration for finally doing so was twofold – Harrison Ford just turned seventy and I saw an Amish family at a go cart track. Yes, it took these two strangely disparate events to get me to watch this classic movie, but that’s how it goes sometimes.
The reason I want to talk about the movie in my blog is because I really enjoyed the way the story was plotted. I also admired how many times the writers of this movie avoided opportunities to apply expected and clichéd outcomes to major moments in the story. I’ll discuss two examples without concern about spoiling the story for the four remaining people on the planet that haven’t seen the movie yet.
The big one was the love story. Tough and city-fied cop Booker meets widowed Amish Top Gun instructor lookalike Rachel. She starts out having little more than disdain for him which morphs into fascination which morphs into lust. Booker doesn’t seem too interested in her until he sees her topless, then he can’t stop raising his barn and thinking about churning her butter. So other than a wonderfully filmed kiss in a field, the two never hook up. And the writers give Booker this to say about that: “If we’d made love last night, I would have to stay or you’d have to leave.” Brilliantly put, I think. The story wasn’t about him becoming Amish or her becoming a what-ever-everybody-else-is. It was about the passion between them during an intense, dramatic event in each of their lives. Hopping into bed wasn’t the logical or even most satisfying conclusion to their momentary entwinement.
Here’s one more: the final showdown between Booker and the crooked cop, Paul. Paul killed Booker's partner and has come to the Amish community looking to kill Booker as well. There’s great suspense, a shootout, and even a death by corn (famous Amish mob tactic). At the end, there’s Paul with gun drawn and Booker with little more than a posse of Amish behind him, not with pitchforks, not with clinched fists, just a sea of determined, stern, and judgmental faces. There were plenty of opportunities for any number of the Amish characters to get hold of a gun, turn their backs on everything they believe in, and take out the bad guy. Instead, Booker actually talks the bad guy out of shooting anyone! He makes Paul think through to the outcome of shooting more people, and because Paul is a human being, he comes to a logical conclusion that it’s over. Harrison Ford shouts, “Enough!” And it is. So again, not the expected ending to such a dramatic moment, but much more satisfying than the clichéd, over the top, unrealistic hero stunt that usually ends this kind of standoff.
I think Witness is a good movie to watch for writers who want to see classy ways of avoiding stale writing. The pacing is also very measured. I came away feeling a great sense of education about storylines, barn building, and the moral superiority of turning the other cheek, even when that cheek has been smeared with ice cream by ignorant teenage hooligans trying to pick a fight.