Can I get a Witness?
Harrison Ford could never be plain.
I have a longstanding rule that if I come across a book/movie/musical artist three times, then it means I should check it out. I don’t mean “wow this new Adele song is everywhere,” but more like if someone personally recommends something to me, or if I happen to hear about something in an unexpected context. Particularly I mean this when the work in question is not relevant or in the news. It just feels like God/the universe is dumping something on my lap and saying, “Here, take this and figure something out.”
So when two people brought up the movie Witness to me in the same week, I was intrigued. One was my brother Alex, who’d just watched it and thought it was weird that my Grandpa loved it so much (he was very religious and there’s some, uh, worldly content, let’s say). And the other was Annie B. Jones, owner of The Bookshelf, an independent bookstore in beautiful downtown Thomasville, Georgia. She asked me if it could be considered a rom-com, because as you know, I love to classify non-rom-coms as rom-coms.
There was no third person to recommend Witness, but it seemed like something or someone was strongly pulling me toward it, and also it was leaving HBO at the end of the month. That’s called fate/the limitations of streaming licenses, I guess.
If you haven’t seen Witness, the first thing you need to know is that it stars Harrison Ford in his prime. Which is to say, pre-earring, pre-constantly crashing planes (who does he think he is, Christian Grey??). Okay, I actually don’t know if he was crashing planes back in 1985 but I think flying small aircraft with a devil-may-care attitude is a late in life hobby for him. That’s not the point, though. I’m trying to say that Harrison Ford is hot in this movie! I mean, look at him!
The titular Witness in this film in a small Amish boy who, by using a train station bathroom at the wrong time, ends up witnessing a murder. Harrison Ford is the cop called in to question and protect him and his mother, who may be plain but that doesn’t stop Harrison Ford (wiggles eyebrows suggestively). Just kidding, he’s actually the picture of professionalism in this film. And he is, as we soon find out, the only non-corrupt cop in his department/possibly the world! All he wants is to protect his young charge and his secretly hot Amish mom, Rachel, but the three of them end up on the run from some crooked cops. The whole backstory about why someone was murdered had something to do with drug money? I kind of zoned out at that point, far too busy staring at Harrison Ford. Who could blame me. Again, for reference:
If your party is 2/3 Amish, where can you go to hide from the law? Well, you go off the grid: to an Amish farm. Here is where I must pause to say that I’m very familiar with the Amish, because I grew up in rural Ohio (I’m like that “absolutely no one” meme, except I’m always saying “I GREW UP IN RURAL OHIO!”). There are many Amish farms on the country road where I lived and my parents still live, and several times a day, horse-drawn buggies go up and down the road, forcing my parents’ dog to completely lose her shit. Speaking of shit, there’s also horse poop all over the road. We had an entire unit on the Amish in second grade, which culminated in visiting Amish country. I guess I’m saying that the Amish are in no way exotic to me, but I know they hold a lot of fascination for people who aren’t familiar with them.
Witness is billed as a thriller, but it could also be accurately described as a movie about Amish culture (also yes it is a rom-com; more on that later). It opens with a languid depiction of Amish life; we see Amish people way before we see Harrison Ford. And then, once Harrison Ford is actually hiding out in the Amish community, there’s a barn raising scene that takes so long I was like, “…are we seeing this barn getting raised in real time?” It’s just, like, dudes building a barn and drinking lemonade. I’m certainly not complaining, because it turns out I do enjoy watching young Harrison Ford build a barn (I know I’m not alone), but it gives the movie a pace and tone that don’t exactly belie the “thriller” descriptor.
But let’s back up. Before the barn raising, before the lemonade, Harrison Ford and his two Amish charges arrive back at their farm. I didn’t mention it before, but Harrison Ford is suffering from what seems to be a pretty serious gunshot wound because Danny Glover (in a surprisingly small, thankless part) shoots him in a parking garage. They ask an Amish man to come over and look at him, and he’s like, “uh, this man has been shot and needs to see a doctor.” But they can’t take him to the doctor and risk involving the police (who are, again, all corrupt except for Harrison Ford), so they must make do with…a poultice. I barely know what a poultice is (perhaps because I’m not an Amish healer or a character in Wheel of Time) but it did involve milk, which seems like a supremely terrible way of treating a gunshot wound. Again, though, I’m not an expert, and the dairy poultice brings Harrison Ford back to life.
And wouldn’t you know it, Rachel and Harrison Ford can’t help but notice a growing attraction to each other. An attraction that leads to a topless bathing scene. But they can’t be together because Rachel will get shunned, and while she may be like, “Whatever, DAD!” when he tries to confront her about the potential shunning, I took it seriously. With my rural Ohio upbringing, you’d better believe I read the Beverly Lewis Amish fiction classic The Shunning. Shunning is bad! But as much as I’d like to judge Rachel for her lackadaisical attitude toward her potential Beverly Lewis-ication, I just can’t. You’ve seen what Harrison Ford’s doing to those suspenders. He’s wearing the hell out of them. Of course he turns Rachel into a surly Amish Avril Lavigne who doesn’t respect authority.
Some other, vaguely thriller-y things happen (the corrupt cops try to track down Amish people before realizing that the entire point of Amish people is that you can’t track them down), but the point here is this: yes, Witness is a rom-com. “But Kerry,” you might be asking, “doesn’t Witness involve a horrific, corn-related death? Doesn’t it involve murder? Doesn’t it involve, as you previously stated, a milk poultice?”
All that is true. But here’s what it also has:
-A “nursing someone back to health” scene, the hallmark of all great rom-coms (think Joe Fox caring for Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail, which, admittedly, did not involve a gunshot wound courtesy of Danny Glover)
-An awkward but sweet dancing scene, which takes place in a barn (!) by lantern light (!) beside the car Harrison Ford is repairing because he knows how to fix stuff (!!!).
-A climactic kiss outdoors, which takes place when Harrison Ford is putting up the birdhouse he knocked over when passed out because of his gunshot wound and crashed into it with his car (wow, turns out he loves to crash things in movies, too!). Behold, one of the weirdest kisses I’ve ever seen on screen. It is hot because there’s so much slow, barn-raising-paced buildup, but wow is it ever strange. Movie kisses today just aren’t as human and awkward as they were in the 80s, and I think we’re all the worse for it.
-A lot of ogling Harrison Ford. And who could blame any of these Amish people? You think anyone who looks even remotely like Harrison Ford has ever helped them milk a cow? I think not. When he puts on his Amish duds, they keep being like, “Hmm, you look plain,” but please tell me…does this man look plain to you? He could never.
Not to spoil anything, but where this film diverges from the rom-com track (you know, besides all the murder) is the ending. There are some large, real world obstacles to Rachel and Harrison Ford’s relationship, and I appreciated that the movie took those seriously. I think that if Witness was made today, it would probably be 21 Jump Street with Amish people. Like, picture Channing Tatum attempting to figure out farm life. Oh, the comical scrapes he’d find himself in! And while I would watch that movie, I’m glad Witness isn’t that. It’s a slow, strange, occasionally violent, sometimes romantic, respectful depiction of a very specific subculture and it also involves police corruption.
Your homework for this week: meditate on this photo of Harrison Ford.
Also, try to watch a thriller from the 1980s. How is it different from a thriller made today? Actually, what thrillers are being made today? I can think of a few Netflix movies, but overall, are we in a thriller drought? I could absolutely be wrong, so please correct me if I am. But also I’m positive there aren’t any thrillers today that also involve a barn raising.
Coming up later this month: I’ll write about my obsession with books/movies/podcasts about elderly people and wonder why so much of our entertainment is about 25 year olds (no offense to 25 year olds…I was once one of you). Also, maybe a roundup of Christmas movies? We’ll see!