Movie Review: The Visitor (2007)

The Visitor sounds like a rather bland title, too simple and straightforward to suggest the occurrence of any special event or person celebrated in the movie other than the visitor.

The main character sounds even more boring:  a lonesome 60ish man still in the workforce because he’s got no idea what to do for retirement.

There could be little promise on the plot:  our boring main character visits his seldom-used New York apartment to find that two illegal immigrants have been squatting in it for two months, under false representation by a con artist posing as the apartment’s owner.  This, you may hint, is where it all starts.  But on the outside, neither this sounds like something that would thrill.  Chance encounters, they happen all the time.  And apartment stories about unlikely roommates, they happen in ordinary lives.

This, however, is not your typical old man’s tale.  This is neither an ordinary story revolving around a New York apartment.  And the set of characters, though suggesting a multicultural setup, builds up to nowhere near a largely political theme, though there are microscopic hints of politics in this movie.

Walter Vale,  our main character, is an old man who breezes through remnants of a past life waiting for its end, at peace with the knowledge that all the good things have passed and the only things left are memories.  He is a college professor in Connecticut who recycles syllabi semester after semester.  He tries, painfully and unsuccessfully, to learn piano in the hopes of holding on to the memory of his dead wife, who was a concert pianist.  At night, he drowns himself to sleep with a glass of wine.

This life of apathy and solitude is cut short when he goes to New York for a days-long conference. He goes home to his rarely-used apartment to find two squatters living in it.  Soon they realize that the two boarders have been duped by a con man claiming to be the apartment’s owner.  The two squatters apologize and head off.  As they leave, they are quickly followed by Walter who offers to let them stay out of the kindness of his heart.

What happens afterwards is a beautiful exchange of culture between unlikely people.  Walter is a white American, his two visitors are an interracial couple:  Tarek is the middle eastern boyfriend, Zainab is the black Senegalese girlfriend.  Among the many interesting things culturally diverse people share, the most delightful part we find in this movie is in the music.  Tarek is a conga drummer, who gladly gives lessons to his new benefactor and friend.  In one scene, we find Walter returning the piano he bought for his frustrating piano lesson, with no second thoughts or regrets, because for the first time since a while, we might guess, he’s found something he could really be passionate about.

Which ends the honeymoon stage, as we later progress to the more gripping parts of the story, the one where the real world kicks in.  Both Tarek and Zainab are illegal immigrants, living in post-9/11 New York.  Illustrations of political abuses ensue, and conflicts soon emerge.

Here is an instance where kind, dignified people are put in difficult situations.  Here we watch good people in a delicate balance of waging battles against an unfair system and maintaining kind relationships with one another.  Here we find a lifeless man suddenly emerging from his sleep to try and fight for something that has instilled a deep sense of meaning and importance in his life.  Here we watch in awe as what we would have dismissed as an ordinary story quickly evolves into a gripping tale of love and fighting relentlessly for something you hold dear.

The title is an homage to our main character, a visitor in his own life, who learned a thing or two about himself after meeting people who are at home wherever they go.

My favorite scene in this movie is demonstrated clearly by this photograph:

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