We remember the directors with flashy, distinct styles, with artful and innovative techniques. Paul Thomas Anderson employs a constantly moving camera. Oliver Stone depends on rhythmic, if not rapid, editing. Christopher Nolan reinvents non-chronological storytelling, and Quentin Tarantino’s voracious dialogue has become a commodity.

But there is one director whose signature is not a specific use of the lens or a particular brand of soundtrack. Instead, Peter Weir stands apart because of the scripts he chooses to write and direct: He makes films about microcosms.

They come in different forms. “The Last Wave” (1977) tells of a European lawyer caught up in a murder involving the underground society of Australian Aboriginals. They live by the order of a religion older than any Western conception. Weir’s first American film, “Witness” (1985), reveals the Amish country of Pennsylvania, exposing its special rules and traditions through the eyes of a Philadelphia cop played by Harrison Ford. “The Mosquito Coast” (1986), also starring Ford in one of his most unique roles as an eccentric, emotionally abusive inventor, tells of an entirely new microcosm: Ford’s Allie Fox takes his family to the jungles of Honduras to build an ice factory and creates a dystopia functioning on self-reliance, innovation and fear.

After that came the grade-school touchstone “Dead Poet’s Society” (1989), in which the boarding school the main characters attend is as important a character as Robin Williams’s Mr. Keating. Weir’s last two films, “The Truman Show” (1998) and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (2003), continue the auteur’s fascination. They pit characters in situations of which viewers have only dreamed. The latter depicts in excruciating detail life aboard an early 19th-century naval ship, the former a world based in imaginative genius. More than just a great idea conceived by screenwriter Andrew Niccol, “The Truman Show” tapped into the narcissistic fantasies of its audience by supposing the existence of a community that revolves around one man.

To reveal something about our world, it helps to capture and observe smaller versions of it. After all, even though we might have never attended a boarding school for boys in 1950s New England, “Dead Poets Society” teaches its audience more about how to harness its own ambitions and conquer what fate has in store than, say, P.T. Anderson’s abstract “Magnolia” (1999) or Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” (2004) – both modern accounts about “everyday people.” And though Amish country may be the farthest thing from what movie audiences consider the norm, “Witness” is far better at dramatizing the tough decisions between life and love than any Sandra Bullock or Reese Witherspoon comedy.

Compared to America and the seemingly infinite grasp of Hollywood, it makes sense that a director who came from such a distinct part of the world would continuously make movies about, well, distinct parts of the world. One of the key members of the Australian New Wave, along with the likes of Mel Gibson, Gillian Armstrong and George Miller, Weir’s films employ the microcosm always as a symbol for the broader community. Though Weir’s are elaborate settings, they are far more accurate in depicting our world than you might think. The governments instituted on a British vessel or a South American distopia are not much different than those created to protect and control the many countries of the world. In “The Last Wave,” the loyalty the Australian Aboriginals show to their heritage, despite the laws of a westernized Sydney, and it parallels the ways people of all different faiths wrestle to abide by the scriptures of their religions and live a modern life.

Many films, particularly the last string of Will Ferrell comedies like “Talladega Nights” (2006) and “Blades of Glory” (2007), are set in specific universes. Sometimes, the crime-and-deceit-ridden cities of Boston or Los Angeles, sometimes it’s high school. But Weir, a man from halfway around the world, chooses settings rarely – if ever- seen before. His genius is clear in the way he relates even the most remote communities to our own lives. Consider “The Truman Show,” a film that, especially in 1998, seemed entirely based on fantasy. Who would even consider that America could be so obsessed with a show focused on the real life of one human being? It is scary to think how ahead of his time Weir proved to be.

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