PBS // 2014 // 120 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 8th, 2014
Just like Witness, without Harrison Ford.
Filmed within the span of a year, The Amish: Shunned follows seven members of the Amish religion as they decide to leave behind one of the most tightly knit communities in the United States and head out into the secular world. Through interviews with their subjects, as well as audio interviews with practicing Amish church members (who aren't allowed to be filmed due to religious beliefs), the documentary allows life on the outside of an Amish community to unfold before the viewer's very eyes, and shows the decidedly conflictive consequences that arise if the ex-Amish members don't go back to their faith.
Everyone has heard of the Amish, but the real question is: what do people actually know about the Amish? This specific religious sect holds a lot of fascination for the outside world because it's so shrouded in simplicity and history. Unlike Scientology -- which seems to be weird for weirdness sake -- the Amish sect feels like a religion that is enigmatic and perplexing, clinging to an old world tradition. There are no televisions, rock music, modern technology, or other common place items that many of us take for granted. The Amish have their own society and rules, far removed from what typical Americans experience.
The Amish: Shunned shows a complex religion filled with hardships, rejection, acceptance, rigidity, toil, rules, and, ultimately, sacrifice (both for those who remain in the religion and those who decided to leave it). One story involves a man and his cousin who left the faith, tossing their simplistic wardrobe behind a convenience store and never returning again to life they once knew so well. Another woman leaves for a year but finally returns because the pain of not being able to have everyday contact with her family is far too difficult to contemplate. If they stay or go, it's clear there are no easy answers for those that choose to see what's on the other side: the modern world.
The Amish: Shunned is not a happy documentation of Amish life. There is a pall of sadness that hangs over the film, especially during discussions about finding comfort in knowing your place within the community, but the unhappiness that comes if that's not where you feel you should be. One girl who has left the faith talks about writing to her parents from the outside world, but never hearing back from them. I also found it fascinating that those who did leave the Amish faith seemed to still hold many of the values and ideals (intentionally or not), including living in simple, plain dwellings.
Fair warning to viewers: The Amish: Shunned is not a fast moving film. Much like the subject matter, this documentary takes its time to unfold and, even then, there's no cathartic release about the inside culture of the Amish. There are no easy answers to any of the tribulations brought up in the film. Those who discuss leaving the Amish community seem almost melancholy about their decision; to leave the church meant leaving those they loved and what they knew. It's a decision I'm glad I personally don't have to make.
The Amish: Shunned is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This documentary looks very good with some scenes looking better than others. None of the scenes appear to have been shot in any kind of high definition. The interview segments are clear while some of the night footage is grainy and under-lit. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. There isn't a lot of excitement to be found within this audio track. There are some moments where the contemplative music comes into play, but it's mostly front heavy and dialogue driven. Also included are English subtitles. There are no bonus features.
The Amish: Shunned is a fascinating, if slow moving look into the lives of the Amish and those who've left their communities.
One of the better documentaries of this past year. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2014
MPAA Rating: Not Rated