Movies Portraying the Amish Way of Life
The fascination with the Amish way of life draws tourists from far and wide to visit Amish communities across North America. These tourists come to see firsthand what a community, seemingly frozen in the 18th century, looks like and perhaps consider this type of life for themselves, even if only briefly. The Amish live in what seems like a time warp because they have specifically chosen to reject electricity, automobiles and the trappings of modern day life, believing that these things would pull them away from God, family and community. Short of taking a trip to an Amish community, movies can provide some insight into the Amish culture along with unique story lines that showcase the stark differences between the Amish and the world outside.
One well known movie which features the Amish, is Witness. This movie, filmed on an actual Amish farm, was released in1985 and has since been seen worldwide, providing for some, their only exposure to the Amish way of life. The story begins with an Amish boy witnessing a murder and a detective named John Booker begins an investigation which leads to a complex spiral of events. John Booker, played by Harrison Ford, is forced to go into hiding amongst the Amish and in doing so falls in love with the young boy's mother. This movie portrays not only the Amish dress and culture but also underscores some of the moral conflicts which exist between the Amish and modern society.
“What you take into your hand, you take into your heart.”
[Referring to the handling of a gun] Eli Lapp, Witness
Another movie portraying Amish life is entitled The Shunning (2011). As the title suggests, this movie focuses on the ostracizing or excommunication of a young woman when she refuses to marry a man whom she does not love. Not only does this movie address the shunning of the young woman, but also portrays the ways in which her parents are torn between loving her and following the shunning rules laid down by the church bishop. This movie is based on a novel by author Beverly Lewis.
Harvest of Fire (1996) is yet another movie which highlights aspects of the stark cultural divide between the Amish and the modern world. In this story, a non-Amish detective investigates the burning of a number of barns within an Amish Community, though with no suspects and few leads. The Amish don’t believe in investigating the crime because they feel that all acts are those of God’s Will. However, a state police detective is assigned to the case. The detective befriends Amish community members in an attempt to solve the crime and by doing so gains some first-hand knowledge of what Amish life is about.
“We make mistakes, but when one of us falls in his journey, we help them up.”
Annie Beiler, Harvest of Fire
The movie, Saving Sarah Cain (2007) focuses the Amish way of life, but this time it is the Amish who are adapting to the modern world. When an Amish woman named Sarah Cain dies and her only relative is a non-Amish Aunt, Sarah Cain’s 7 children are forced to leave the Amish life and embark on a journey into the modern world. The children have to adapt and at the same time, the Aunt is allowed a rare view into the ways of her Amish nieces and nephews.
“Stars are pinholes in the curtains of heaven.”
Josiah Catrell, Saving Sarah Cain
Amish Grace (2010) deals with the tragic events of an actual shooting in a Lancaster County Amish School house seen from the viewpoint of the Amish families. The title refers to the forgiveness that the Amish gave to the killer and to his family. The movie is based on a book written by Ron Kraybill and reveals the struggle that one Amish member experienced before she too was able to forgive the murderer and his wife. This movie takes a deep, soul searching look at forgiveness and grieving from both the Amish and modern point of view.
“Hate is a very big, very hungry thing... with lots of sharp teeth. It will eat up your whole heart, and leave no room left for love.”
Plain Truth (2004) is the story of a high powered attorney who takes on the defense case of an Amish teen girl named Katie after the teen is accused of murdering her newborn child. The story, which is based on a novel, has a number of twists and turns in part because Katie continues to lie. The defense attorney first needs to gain the trust of the teen before some light is shed on the truth. This movie also addresses the contrasting ways in which the Amish community and the American justice system deal with crime and punishment.
“We [the Amish] look alike. We pray alike. We live alike. ...But none of these things mean we all think alike.”
Each of these movies offer varying perspectives and insights into what it means to be Amish. Each does this by juxtaposing the modern way of life with that of the Amish. While many of the actors seem quite authentic, none of them are actually Amish. In portraying the Amish attire some of these movies bend the rules a bit; for example, some of the female actresses in The Shunning wear modern day makeup which makes the depiction less believable. Overall though, these movies offer a fascinating window into the Amish way of life; each, I believe, in it's own inspiring way, often challenging us to reexamine our own lifestyle, beliefs and the ways we have chosen to live.
© Copyright 2012 Tracy Lynn Conway with all rights reserved.
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© 2012 Tracy Lynn Conway