Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #8

Re: Witness (1985)

I saw Witness when I was 25 years old and remember the movie well. Or at least one part of the movie,“…a moment of standing, motionless and silent, looking at one another through a door that ought to have been shut…” You know what? The scene left me angry. Even at twenty-five years of age having grown up with two sisters I knew that there was no way that door was accidently left open. I knew that any woman who looks up and sees a man, any man, while she is “compromised” will react. She will not simply pose. That woman knew what she was doing, that man knew it too and, wisely, walked away.

The length of the scene made me angry too (mind you I was then a twenty-five-year-old, sort-of Catholic who might of made a different decision should I have been tempted in the same fashion). Even then I felt the director paused way too long on the half naked woman, frankly for the sake of prurience. Maybe all this says more about me than the movie but that is what I remember.

I agree that Rachel probably wanted, or at least part of her wanted, to leave the door open, so to speak, to Book. There was a line that she wasn’t willing to cross, but she was willing to get close enough, even though it meant crossing other lines, to give Book the choice of carrying her across that final line if he wanted to. He wanted to, he was certainly tempted, but ultimately he did the right thing.

Whether the filmmaker did the right thing in depicting the temptation is a judgment call. I don’t personally find the scene prurient, but I can understand others seeing it differently, and even the same person may see it differently at 45 or 35 than at 25 or 15.

A related separate question is whether the scene poses a likely occasion of sin for any given viewer. A viewer who finds the scene objectionable, as you did at 25, is not necessarily more likely to stumble at it than one who considers the scene reasonable in itself; in principle he may be less so. This is an area in which viewers must exercise discernment and discretion and decide for themselves where the lines need to be drawn.

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