So many films! There are those with wonderful cinematography, tremendous acting, brilliant scripts, classic scenes destined for a place in the cultural ÜberMind. And yet I come back to one film that has stayed with me, not because of brilliance in any of those areas; there were moments, but those are not important. For me the film that has stayed with me is Witness.
There is much to recommend the film on a number of levels, not least of which is a rather peachy Harrison Ford (knock yourselves out, girls). There are classic scenes – barn raising of course! – and tension, love, comedy and beautifully filmed shots of key scenes. These are incidental and apply to many other films; on their own they are not what make the film outstanding in my heart.
What truly matters here is the effect the film overall has had on my life. I can’t say it changed it, but it offered a vision that I especially needed in that time and place, 1985. Thatcher’s Britain of the early 1980s is not one of my fondest memories. It was grim. There were bad things happening, and today I am genuinely afraid because I see them starting to happen all over again as we struggle to deal with the impact of the financial crisis.
The film may not be familiar – look it up on IMDB if not. But essentially the important message I took from it was one of personal integrity. This was an oasis in a desert of political indifference and violent anti-government protest which seemed to surround my day-to-day activities. The particular subject matter of the film intrigued me immediately because it dealt with the Amish community. I am a Quaker – that’s like Amish with buttons and Internet. Outside of the cinema I was interested in finding ways to express my political and religious views in a non-violent form. This was difficult at the height of the Miners’ Strike with generally aggressive policing and state authoritarianism. We had a Prime Minister who had gone on record as saying Society did not exist, effectively that everything was down to the individual and we should not be diverted by those who could not make the grade, that somehow they deserved it. This I could not tolerate. It is the antithesis of all that is civilised and humane.
What Witness gave me was a vision of how non-violent direct action could be effective in the face of an essentially violent society. It offered a traditional view of the feisty hero stepping forward to protect the weak and innocent – but only to be shown to be weak himself, while the supposed victims were able to defy the odds in a quiet but determined and ultimately heroic way.
As we Quakers say, this spoke to my condition. It gave me a script, if you will, for standing by my beliefs at a time when it was not fashionable or easy. It helped me to remain true to my own beliefs and gave me confidence to walk that path. It helped to keep me honest. For that I am grateful.