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.
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.