Director Tom McCarthy’s new film, The Visitor, is what Peter Travers in Rolling Stone, calls “a heartfelt human drama that sneaks up and floors you.” I could not agree more. This is a sensational movie and a true sleeper that people who love a great film and a truly good story will likely miss.

The premise is rather simple—in a world of six billion people it only takes one to change your life. An “intriguing drama” The Visitor truly allows the viewer to see and feel the story of an illegal immigration scenario in a way that puts a human face on the issue. Starring Richard Jenkins (from the HBO series, Six Feet Under) the story line involves Dr. Walter Vale, a sixty-two year old Connecticut College economics professor who is still adjusting to the absence of his late wife. VISITOR_600

Passion is gone from his life and teaching bores him to death. He takes up classical piano, but to no avail. Sent to Manhattan to present an academic paper that he didn’t even write Walter discovers a couple living in his infrequently used New York City apartment. Before he realizes it Walter connects with this couple. The man is from Syria (Tarek) and the woman, his girlfriend (Zainab), is from Senegal. The bond between the three grows quickly and Walter finds new passion for life. He will never be the same. As the friendship between Walter and Tarek develops the barriers of age, culture and temperament all fall away. One gets the distinct feeling that this is the way it should be in the church but very often is not.

Tarek and Walter are in the subway one day when Tarek is detained and eventually deported back to the Middle East. Walter’s story becomes profoundly caught up in the pain of Tarek and Zainab. Then Tarek’s mom comes from Michigan to help and Walter also begins to have deep feelings for her. The whole film is actually a beautiful love story without a big emphasis on sex.

The movie employs both humor and sorrow in deeply satisfying ways and shows what happens when a person truly rediscovers passion in their life and begins to have a reason to be alive. Life has rhythms and they are often found in very unexpected places. The Visitor brings you to see how such rhythms can be humane and life-affirming. I found this film uplifting in a way that I did not expect. It was a rare gem discovered just a few days ago in the new DVD section of my public library.

A 2008 film The Visitor runs for 104 minutes. It is a deeply nuanced movie that has proved to be one of my great “unusual finds” in film for the year. The Tomato Meter gives The Visitor a 92% rating, which means the professional critics actually loved it. This time they really did get it right.

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  1. Bill Kinnon December 20, 2008 at 9:34 am

    My favourite movie @ last year’s Sundance. McCarthy’s Station Agent is also well worth seeing.

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