Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday Movie Day Reviews: The Visitor

We only watched one movie this week, mostly because we were watching entire seasons of TV shows (How I Met Your Mother, Mad Men). But this is one film Katie and I both really enjoyed.

The Visitor (2008): This film could have gone any number of directions. It could have been a Scrooge-tale; it centers around a tired economics professor whose wife has passed away finding a renewed vision for life, like this film, or this film, or this film. It could have been about politics; the professor builds a friendship with some illegal immigrants living in his apartment in New York, only to have one of them wrongfully arrested before his eyes. It could have been about romance; the professor meets a beautiful Syrian woman--the mother of the arrested man--and you start to see a spark in his eye.

But The Visitor doesn't go down any of these predictable paths. Instead, it forges a new one that combines the best of each element while adding it's own understated authenticity. It's a film about humanity--our longing for connection, our desire for a community to belong to, our hopes for a better life. There is a poignant scene halfway through the film where the American professor, the Syrian woman, and a young lady from Senegal all stand on a New York ferry and pass the Statue of Liberty. None of the characters really know each other; yet they find connection and camaraderie in their shared experience. It reminds me of Lost In Translation (one of my favorite films) and how the desire for human connection drives us to take actions we'd never thought possible, breaking down social barriers in order to feel love and relationship. The professor begins to learn how to play the djembe in the film, and I loved the scenes of an elderly white man learning African beats from a young Syrian man. (As a drummer, I can totally relate to the primeval drive that percussion brings out in people; you just gotta tap your feet when there's a great groove!)

I love the title of the film; "visitor" implies that there is something temporary yet significant about the relationships in the film and carries layered meaning for the story. The professor is just visiting New York, but becomes entangled in the lives of the immigrants (permanent visitors to America) and begins to see what is truly valuable in his fleeting life, especially as he visits the Syrian man in prison. He relearns how to interact with people, how to fall in love, how to build a friendship, how to care for someone. People come and go, like visitors in our lives, but they carry the ability to significantly impact us for a lifetime. The Visitor captures all of this in a touching and authentic film that I'd strongly recommend. It may be one of the best films I've seen this year.

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