The Visitor: Subtle yet powerful, the perfect post-9/11 movie about New York and America. The storyline unfolds gradually and quietly. A couple — both Muslims, one Senegalese, one Syrian — accidentally get caught living in the apartment of a bored, lonely economics professor (international economics, no less!). The movie is at its best when it’s dramatizing the subtleties of cross-cultural connections: the street music players of various cultures — Chinese to African — who play for New Yorkers everyday; the (mostly white) New Yorkers listening to the (mostly of color, international) men playing drums in Washington Square Park; the woman who buys the necklaces made by the main female character, Zainab, and to whom, when Zainab says she’s from Senegal, she says, “Oh, I went to Cape Town…” (which is thousands of miles away). But the movie demonizes no one — except implicitly the Bush Administration.
The movie so asks: who are the visitors? The immigrants? Or are New Yorkers/Americans tourists in their own city/country? At the immigrant detention center keeping Tarek, the male half of the couple, posters on the wall say immigrants are part of America and one mural memorializes the twin towers and the Statue of Liberty.
All of this would be overbearing if the film’s editing was not so quiet and steady. The themes slip into your mind before you realize they are there. This is how great movies about big subjects are made.
Tom McCarthy, of the Station Agent fame, does well with the larger narrative. The Station Agent was a charming movie, but The Visitor manages to be charming, insightful and powerful all at once.