Immigration is one of the most polemic subjects of the 21th century. Some say immigrants should stay in their countries, yet their so-called “dangerous” behavior is not welcomed in the modern world, while others think that immigration is positive for the economy. But nobody seems to know that the person who decides to leave his country behind in search of “the promised land” doesn’t do it in order to satisfy his adventurous character, but he is forced by the circumstances.
In this chaotic context, Thomas McCarthy’s movie, The Visitor, comes and tries to impose order. It tells the story of Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins), a sad, absent-minded professor, psychically destroyed by the death of his wife, trying to find a place where he can be at peace. The piano lessons he takes for the sake of his beloved deceased life partner doesn’t seem to work for him; neither does his job at the Michigan University nor the book he is about to release. There is something in Walter’s looks that reveals us that deep inside in his heart, he fells lonely in a repulsive society that overcomes him.
When he is asked to go to New York to present a book that he co-authored, he accepts it without thinking that this is going to change his life forever. As he is the owner of a flat in Manhattan, he decides to stay there for a couple of days. But the big surprise comes when he finds a naked African girl in his bathtub, whose boyfriend appears from somewhere and attacks the professor. The interlopers are ready to call the police when Walter explains it is his apartment. These “roomers” are Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), from Syria, and Zainab (Danai Gurira), from Senegal. They immediately apologize for their attitude, and decide to pack and leave. A few moments later, Walter sees them in the street, and allows them to stay in his flat until they will find a new home.
The next day, after attending the conference, we see Walter looking at two African boys drumming in Washington Square Park; after a few moments, his head begins to move from side to side, half an inch of the time, in response to the rhythm. It’s amazing how this slight, almost unnoticeable movement, done by the right person in the right moment, can provide the turning point of a film. From now on, professor Vale is going to be change drastically.
He finds in Tarek the energy and the youth he lost a long time ago, but which is willing to recover. So he asks his new friend to teach him how to drum; this situation produces a series of simply outstanding emotional scenes, which manage to capture, in a very precise way, the essence of love and friendship.
Later in the movie, a fourth major character appears, Mouna (Hiam Abass), who is Tarek’s mother from Michigan. She does everything that stands in her power to help her son after he’s arrested in an innocent subway incident, and threatened with deportation, as he was living illegally in the USA. Walter hires a lawyer specialized in immigrations problems, but he doesn’t really bring their hope back. Nevertheless, this unhappy incident has a benefic influence on Walter, who is feeling things deeply for the first time since his wife died.
The Visitor is a motion picture in which little details mark the difference. Firstly, all the policemen are Afro-Americans; this cynical peculiarity is criticizing the fact that the persons who nowadays “fight” against illegal immigration are, in fact, acting against their ancestors. In addition to this, on the walls there are lots of posters saying that the immigrants are the future of the United States of America.
As for the technical part, this movie is a really simple, but very efficient one. It makes you believe that what you see is really happening, and that the camera ended up recording these persons by chance. In fact, I might say that this is one of the most neo-realistic motion pictures I’ve seen in a while, yet everything seems natural. Professor Walter and Tarek don’t kill 100 gangsters all by themselves. Mouna doesn’t give any optimistic speech. They are all simple human beings reduced to silence, like many others, by the Government.
The Visitor is not only a movie about illegal immigrants. Under the pretext of professor Walter’s passion for music and the strange persons he finds in his apartment, this movie is an ode to how people of different races, cultures and education levels can coexist perfectly. It’s trying to say that nobody gives you pamphlets of all the countries in the world before you born, so you can choose the one that most suits you; on the contrary, you are born in a random place, and then try that the longest journey you will ever make to be a delightful one.