Sunday, 13 November 2011

Witness, Peter Weir: The Murder Scene Analysis

  • Director- Peter Wier
  • Released on 24th May 1985
  • Certificate 15
  • IMDb rating- 7.5/10

The opening shot is a low angle shot of a statue which is something to do with Greek mythology, the low angle shot signifies the statue as being something of great importance and power. This then cuts to slightly low angle close up of a little Amish boy called Samuel Lap capturing the boy's reaction to seeing the statue, as he his Amish he has never stepped out of his close knitted community until now so seeing things like this are completely new to him.  The use of a low angle close up connotes that he could be an important character in the film. 

The following shot is a high angle shot over the shoulder of the statue which is in the middle of a train station, a large open public space. The over the shoulder shot of the statue is used to imply the insignificance and also vulnerability of the young boy, it could also represent that he is a minor, meaning that he is part of such a small, outdated Amish community which is a minor religion...This then cuts to a medium shot with a vanishing point (the door) of an area of the train station, which contains two people, the Amish boy and Mother in complete isolation in the empty room, which could again represent being part of a minority and to connote a sense of fear or threat. The mother speaks with a German accent which is very much part of identity as this identifies the two characters as outcasts in the American city, again signifying vulnerability. 

The boy then proceeds to wander off from his mother, which shows her nativity as they think they safe within their Amish community but they have ventured outside their community to a big city which is potentially very unsafe. The boy walks into the toilet, which is also a vanishing point in the shot. This cuts to a medium close up shot of a sort of 25 year old white male wearing a leather jacket looking into the mirror, he is the focus of the shot and it shows him for enough time to note that he is of some importance. Ambient lighting is used to create a subdued and murky tension.

This cuts to another close up of the leather jacket guy and you then hear the door close, 2 males walk in and the director uses diagetic sound to divert the audiences attention. Slightly low angle lose ups of the head and shoulders of the males are used but their faces are not shown as they are in shadow of the light, this creates an enigma around the characters, creating tension. All characters are in a slightly low wide angle shot, this then cuts to a close up of a knife being pulled out by one of the two men that walked in, this then suddenly cuts to an extreme close up of the boy through the slit of the toilet door the show his reaction, naturally he is scared.  This reverses again to a point of view shot of the little boy showing the murder, during this a mixture of dialogue and soundtrack are used, creating suspense. 

Then the dead man and one of the murders leave the shot and it cuts to a slightly low angle shot of the murderer cleaning the knife, shot reverse shot is then used between the boy and man to create tension. Then the murderer hears a noise from one of the cubicles, a simple medium shot is used to show the man pulling out a gun, the shot reverses again to show how scared the boy is. Following this the man then proceeds to open each one of the toilet doors, this the shot reverses again to show to boy trying to lock the lock, he is shaking which connotes his fear. The shot of the man getting closer is menacing and it adds to the tension of the action. The camera then focuses on the feet under the toilet cubicles which is threatening, there is still no change in the colour of the scene (colour saturation).

The Amish boy stands on the toilet as a last resort really, he stands in the form of a crucifix/ christ which represents his religion and also deliberately symbolizes the boy's innocence in the situation. This then cuts beautifully between the killer and the boy or potential victim, silence and footsteps are all you can hear which adds to the threat and fright of the situation. 

Throughout the scene the lightly is mainly ambient to give a sense of realism and authenticity. 

There are a few significant representations in the film and one is a representation of American Culture, within the first 20 minutes of the film there has been a relentless murder carried out,  giving a negative feel to modern America.
The next is the representation of race, in particular the classic stereotype that black is bad and white is good because the shot where they are carrying out the murder shows the black man being ruthless and cruel. 
There is also a representation of a mother as being virginal and good. 


  1. A thoughtful and detailed analysis reflecting your developing understanding of the purpose of specific aspects of mise-en-scene. To strengthen your post you could add another to revise some points:

    The clip is not from the opening of the film, the opening of Witness focuses on the Amish community, Sam Lapp and his mother's journey to Philadelphia is about 20 minutes into the film.

    You could read a little bit about the film and explain how Peter Weir's representation of the Amish community indicates this community is the American Dream not the life in the city. Thus the Amish are represented positively, one could say their rejection of modern technology may be better for the planet.

    There is footage of the Amish on Youtube, plus in "An Idiot Abroad" the comedian has to stay with the Amish.

    The film is about two communities. I liked your points about identity, particularly the Amish speaking with a German accent, also their dress code is a strong part of their identity.

  2. You are catching up well, you still need to post the following case studies:

    Analysis of clips from: Kill Bill Volume 1, Once Upon a Time in America, The Third Man, Jackie Brown, comments about Animal Kingdom, plus independently researched films.