Sursum Corda

  Like De Tocqueville, the fact that director Peter Weir hails from another land gives him objectivity toward our county that one born in the USA would not have.  His take, in the film “Witness”, has the sacred and profane of America revolving around each other like a binary star system.  Violence and purity orbit around their common center of gravity like a black hole and bright star.  When gas spins off from one to the other bad shit happens.

  Early in the film a young wide-eyed Amish boy witnesses a horrific murder in the restroom of Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.  With his assistance, Detective John Book uncovers sordid high level police corruption and gets seriously wounded in the process.  Their escape from urban grit takes them to an Amish community in rural Lancaster County.

  At the edge of death, Book recovers under the care of the wary Amish and is soon asked to work off his debt.  He puts on a tool belt and enters a stream of men and women flowing toward a barn raising for a newly married couple.

  Weir once said that his goal in filmmaking was to evoke as deep an emotional response as can great music.  In this segment, the music and motion combine to far far more than the sum of the parts.  They conjure up the image (in this mind anyway) of peasants raising Chartres from the fields of France up toward heaven, souls all aflutter. 

  Indeed, this part of the film could even be read as the last stage of Book’s recovery – a near death experience.  Under an incredibly beautiful soft white light men work serenely together, knowingly pass hammer or beam or refreshment on to the next, unasked.  Women draw from the bounty of the communal acreage to create a sumptuous shared repast. 

  Unfortunately (for Book), the music stops, dirty cops appear, Satan gets his due, and Book falls off his cloud back to earth.  It’s not his time yet and he has to leave.  We’re dang pleased he got to visit though and will forever be moved by the memory.*

*Amazing, isn’t it that the language spoken in the clip doesn’t  really affect its impact?  (Though I’ll admit if I can find it in English, I’ll switch…)

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