Friday, May 23, 2008

"The Visitor"

Before walking into the theater, I had no inkling what this movie was about. Luckily, “The Visitor” turns out to be a pleasant surprise.

Walter is a lonely, mournful Caucasian professor. Upon returning to his long-vacant apartment in New York city, he was startled by two complete strangers living there. In the following days, he struck up friendships with Tarek, a young and warmhearted Syrian musician, his Senegal girlfriend, and his widowed mother. In the course of their accidental friendships, Walter shredded his cynicism, reengaged with his surrounding, and happily picked up the art of African drum beat…

If the plot sounds almost comical, it is. Yet director Thomas McCarthy reveals just enough to keep it poignant, never let the movie derail into a melodramatic soup drama. He does it by leaving blanks on many details and dialogues. The audience is offered a glimpse to the characters’ feeling, then everything quickly fades to silence, with all emotions dissolved into the weary, unforgiving streets of NYC.

The movie is not without flaws. I find Walter’s transformation from a laconic professor to a passionate drummer a little too abrupt. The African drum appears to be a mere visual prop. Also, the romance between Walter and Tarek’s mother seems too obligatory. Fortunately, at the very end, the director chooses subtlety over completeness, wisely avoids any unnecessary outpour of emotion. When the movie arrives its predestined conclusion, it feels less like the end of a self-healing process than a footnote of a long, quixotic journey.

As someone with a fair share of experience dealing with the humongous bureaucracy called U.S. immigration, I can recognize the helplessness and frustration when facing this often unintelligible system. “The Visitor” does not vilify anyone. It does, however, tells a story of four hearts grinded broken by a cruel apparatus. Four among many millions.

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