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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Culture Update: "The Visitor"

Earlier this evening, I saw a very good film with global political overtones: "The Visitor." This is the description from the Internet Movie Database:
Walter Vale (Jenkins) is a widower who teaches economics at a Connecticut university. No longer motivated by his work, he lives alone, struggling to find passion and meaning in his life. In New York to present a paper at a conference, he goes to the apartment that he has kept since his wife was alive (but hasn't visited for some time) only to discover a young couple living there, having been duped by an acquaintance who "rented" it to them. Despite their great cultural difference, Walter befriends Tarek (Sleiman), a Syrian citizen and drummer, and gradually builds a friendship with Esi (Gurira), his girlfriend from Senegal. One day, when returning from Central Park with Walter, Tarek gets arrested for jumping a stuck subway turnstile, despite the fact that he had paid. The police discover he does not have legal papers and transfer him to an immigrant detention center in Queens. Feeling responsible for and connected to Tarek, Walter stays in New York to help and support him. Not hearing from her son, Tarek's mother arrives from Michigan to find out why, and she and Walter support one another while they attempt to free Tarek.

The movie is a painful illustration of the inhumanity of the post-9/11 immigration policies and procedures. At the same time, it beautifully illuminates the wonders of friendship, kindness, reaching out, exploring life and finding meaning in a challenging world.
In some ways, the film reminded me of "Lost in Translation." In that movie, the lead character (a white late-middle-aged American man) makes a connection in Japan with a young woman from the US. In this film, the white late-middle-aged American makes a connection inside the US with characters from Senegal and Syria. Until those links are established, the protagonist is alienated from the larger world.

Towards the end of the movie, the widower becomes enraged at public officials from his own country who treat him like a child -- protecting him from a non-threatening friend, making him move away from a service window when no one else is in line, etc.

It is a powerful film.

Thumps way up!

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