Sunday, January 11, 2009

Welcome To America?- A Review of "The Visitor"


The Visitor, starring Richard Jenkins, Hazz Sleiman, directed by Tom McCarthy, Anchor Bay Productions, 2008

The quirky little film deals very nicely with the questions of one college professor’s mid-life crisis (a not unfamiliar problem to this reviewer and, I am sure, to the reader of this review and the audience for this film) and immigration in America in the post 9/11 world and various cross-cultural, if not multi-cultural concerns. As the story unfolds it seems that our professor craves some musical outlet to stave off those mid-life blues (and, additionally, get over his isolation due to the death of his wife). Presto- on a dreaded and fruitless trip to New York City as a ‘sub’ presenter at one of those never ending conferences that are central to and bedevil academic life he finds a musical muse, a Palestinian jazz drum aficionado, who also happens to be an illegal immigrant ‘squatting’ in the good professor’s apartment with his also illegal girlfriend.

Along the way the professor, through a fluke of bad timing inadvertently caused by him, learns the hard way the nature of the immigration problem, its seeming absurdities and its abuses. Hovering in the background is our drummer’s deeply concerned mother, a very fetching mother to be sure. The professor and mother form an ‘alliance’ to save her son from the horrors of the deportation process. To no avail and he is deported back to Syria. This deportation to Syria serves as a very useful metaphor concerning the plight of the Palestinian Diaspora and of the continuing non-resolution of the question of a Palestinian homeland.

Although, in the end, the only one who gets out with some resolution of his crisis is the professor we will not fault the creators of this film for that but rather the vagaries of the post 9/11 world, one George W. Bush and friends and a certain innate American xenophobia about immigrants- that is after one’s own ethnic or racial group has ‘made’ it to and in America. After viewing this film I have also become more confirmed that those who make it here to old immigrant-formed and built America should have full citizenship rights. Watch this film to see what I mean. Moreover watch this film for the taboo ‘romance’ between the good WASP professor and his muse’s sparklingly exotic mother. I am sure that it will drive every cultural and religious fundamentalist on both sides of the divide crazy. Good.

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