Some films stay with you for years after you’ve seen them. The performances, the subject matter or special moments lodge things in your brain. Occasionally, all three elements are present and the film is of a quality higher than usual. ‘The Visitor’ is one such.
Directed by Thomas McCarthy, the film is about the transforming effect of one meeting on a lonely widower. The film deals with issues of immigration, identity and belonging. Richard Jenkins is Walter, an academic who is grieving the loss of his wife. His attempts to find meaning by learning the piano are doomed as his heart isn’t in it and his wife was a high class pianist.
A trip to his apartment in New York, so that he can attend an academic conference in which he has little interest, is the pivotal point in this film. He has not used his New York base for a long time; why visit when there is no wife to share the city with? So, he is taken aback when he finds a young couple have moved in. They are equally surprised to find that the apartment they thought they had rented did not belong to the person they paid the money to.
Tarek, played by Haaz Sleiman is an immigrant from Syria. His partner is Zeinab, played by Danai Gurira. She is from Senegal. It becomes clear to Walter that they are both illegal immigrants. They have no place to go, after all they have been conned. They pack but Walter relents and lets them stay a night.
This decision serves to enliven Walter. A friendship develops between the three, but especially between the two men. Tarek is a djembe player and, slowly, Walter tries his hand at the drum. As their friendship grows, so does his ability at, and interest in, the instrument.
When Tarek gets into trouble, Walter finds himself trying to deal with unsympathetic authority figures. He learns quite late in life how deaf the system is to cries for help.
‘The Visitor’ is an amazing film. It wears the message lightly and uses character to show us lives behind the headlines. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?