The Visitor (2008)

Director:  Thomas McCarthy 
Cast:  Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira
Plot:  A college professor travels to New York City to attend a conference and finds a young couple living in his apartment. 

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Leading Actor.
Runtime:  104min 
Rating:  NC16 for brief strong language. 

Following the critically-acclaimed comedy-drama The Station Agent, writer-director Thomas McCarthy has forged a winning formula for his second film, The Visitor.  It is a film that deals with post-9/11 issues, and these are handled with the simplicity of a brushstroke. 

Running at slightly more than a hundred minutes, The Visitor is also a character study of Walter Vale, the lead role played by an impressive Richard Jenkins who deserves an Oscar nomination here. 

From a political standpoint, The Visitor exposes the unjustifiable actions and the coldness of the American bureaucracy on foreign immigrants.  It does this only subtly, almost inferentially.  “I’m a good man. I did no crime!” cries out a hapless, unlucky Syrian Muslim called Tarek who is arrested and sent to a detention facility because he is wrongly accused of not paying the train fare.  He faces the prospect of deportation. 

Only days before did Walter chance upon Tarek and his Senegalese girlfriend residing in his rarely used apartment in New York.  Despite the initial uneasiness, Walter understands their situation and allows them to continue to stay. 

Walter is a college professor of twenty-odd years.  He lives alone after the death of his wife. He teaches the same syllabus year after year, and attends the occasional conference on world economy and business.  He learns and then gives up on piano lessons. 

McCarthy paints him as a character of sympathy who is unable to define his emotions, and has no clear goals in life.  The Visitor could have been easily titled as 'The Awakening of Walter Vale' whose encounter with Tarek, and later on Tarek’s mother, helps to endow a sense of drive and purpose in an almost meaningless existence. 

Music forms a bridge between Walter and Tarek, and is also the fundamental construct in which the film carries itself upon.  Culture is important.  To be able to identify one’s culture and share it with another breaks communication barriers and brings a sense of unity to everyone involved.  It can also be the force that defeats the monsters unleashed by the iron fist of officialdom. 

The Visitor is a slow but fulfilling drama that endears to viewers.  Some might shed a tear or two for the plight of its characters, but there is a sense of renewed hope at the end.  This is one of the best films of the year.  Simple, honest, and rewarding. 


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