Aug 7, 2011

The Visitor: a review

The name of this blog comes from the Greek language. Empatheia means passion, and it is one of the roots of the English word empathy. Empathy is the ability to identify with or experience the thoughts or feelings of another person.  In all aspects of culture (literature, film, art, food, and language) I am inspired by creations that challenge me to view the world through a new lens. Learning occurs at those moments when my eyes are opened, when I become cognizant of something I never before considered. It begins with a trickle of awareness and then slowly grows into a flow of questions, encouraging me to ask for more information.

I enjoy learning. I enjoy seeing things from another perspective. I take to heart that Native American proverb stating, "Before you judge another man, walk two moons in his moccasins." I look for learning opportunities that help me see the world as a child--with a newness that sparks my imagination, and makes me ask questions. The film The Visitor created such an opportunity for me.

In The Visitor, Walter Vale is a widowed college professor in Connecticut. From the very start of the film, it is obvious that he is in a slump. The class he teaches is filled with glazed-over eyes, a student complains that they have not yet received the syllabus--despite the fact that the due date for their first big term paper already passed. We see Walter whiting out the date on a previous year's syllabus, readying it for redistribution just before he heads to New York City. In NYC, he will be staying in his second home, an apartment, while presenting a paper at a conference on the economics of third world countries. Upon arriving at his apartment, though, he discovers a young Senegalese woman in his bathtub. Zainab thinks that Walter is there for some nefarious purpose and begins screaming in French. Walter backs away and is met by Zainab's Syrian boyfriend, Tarek, who has returned to the apartment just in time to defend his girlfriend from her "attacker."  Walter explains that the apartment is his, and proves it with his keys. The young couple says they rented the apartment from someone named Ivan, who apparently set them up as squatters while Walter taught in Connecticut. Zainab and Tarek gather their belongings and head out to find another place to stay.

Walter looks around his apartment after they leave, and notices a photograph of the couple that was left behind. He decides to seek them out to return it, finding them on the street calling friends and looking for a place to spend the night. Walter stands silently by the couple and you can see the wheels in his brain turning. Eventually, he invites them back into his apartment to stay. With that decision Walter's journey of two moons in another man's moccasins begins.

The film is the story of an awakening--not just for Walter, but also for the viewer.  Walter is made aware of several aspects of both Syrian and Senegalese culture. He also begins to see parts of NYC that he's passed by a multitude of times, but never taken the time to really see. Tarek opens his eyes to a new world, a new way of thinking, and Walter becomes alive again. It is a beautiful story of friendship that becomes horribly complicated when we learn that Tarek is an undocumented citizen. The audience is then awakened to what it is like to live in the U.S. without the proper paperwork.

This is a very touching and thought provoking film. The trailer states, "You can live your whole life and never know who you are until you see the world through the eyes of others." That quote not only beautifully describes the experiences of Walter in the story, but it also captures the experience of those who watch the film: allowing a spark to ignite, allowing questions to form, allowing voices to be heard. I highly recommend this film to anyone who loves to learn, who is willing to see things from a new perspective.

If The Visitor gives you a trickle of awareness that slowly grows into a flow of questions, I encourage you to ask for more information. Visit the Federation for American Immigration Reform to learn more about immigration policy and reform in the U.S.

Special thanks to my mom for recommending this film to me. 


  1. Jen, I want to see this. How many of us stop to really think about issues from all perspectives? I know that for me, trying to make sense of our country's immigration policy and our treatment of undocumented workers has more often than not paralyzed my brain. I can't make sense of it. How do we formulate immigration policy that is humane, just, honest and not self-serving, without forgetting the principles on which our country was founded upon? Thank you for writing this review. I hadn't even heard of this movie.

  2. Thank you so much for your comment, Ezzy! I'd never heard of this movie until 2 weeks ago when my mom told me she thought I'd love it. The day after her recommendation, I was visiting an old h.s. friend's Facebook page, and this same movie was listed as one of her favorites. I took it as a sign that I should make the time to watch it.  I am glad I did, even though it sparked questions that are not all that fun to ask. I'm with you: how do we formulate immigration policy that works both for our country and for families? The answers are not in this movie, but the questions it raises will get people to start looking for something better.

  3. Guess what I'm going to rent today?????  I've never heard of this movie.  So glad you reviewed it because it looks like something right up my alley!  It's movies like this that I wish was required viewing for so many people.  

  4. I had never heard of it before either, Tara! My mom saw it on the Netflix site and thought it sounded good. She watched it, loved it, and recommended it to me. I LOVED it.  I hope you get time to watch it. It would be great if more people watched it...maybe we'd see less hatred toward undocumented citizens.

  5. This looks like a good movie. I'm glad you brought it to my attention Jen. 

  6. Thanks for reading and commenting, William!


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