When The Visitor slouched into theaters in 2007 (a film that opens on four screens total does not arrive with force) it earned a respectable niche. The Visitor got good reviews, some indie awards; and Richard Jenkins (most famous for Six Feet Under) got an Oscar nod. The film evokes that dreaded word, ‘compelling’ because it works its way under your skin until, without realizing it; you care about these four people.
The middle-aged widower professor meets the flamboyant Syrian drummer and his wary Senegalese girlfriend when he shows up at his rarely used Washington Square coop only to find some never seen huckster has usurped the place to harbor illegals. Eventually the drummer’s iron-willed mother rounds out the quartet. Each of the characters is drawn deeper than these few adjectives describe; each is attracted to the other as a human being yet cast against the other according to the arbitrary borders of our world. The three illegal characters embody the elemental sprit of America; while the protagonist is so unmoored from meaning he is numb to the advantages of American citizenship, affluent ease, arcane intellectualizing, and a nifty Manhattan apartment that he owns but never uses.
There was too much of me in the Richard Jenkins character for me to like him. I kept rooting for the three immigrants, each so angry, talented, funny, and full of life. I wanted the romantic comedy touches to play out; for everyone to form the big happy family we deserve. But The Visitor is not a comedy; it is a mirror on the world as it is. And so, in the end, the fate of the three immigrants is tragic, while the hapless American gets what he wants, an ending all the more prophetic because, if not for the three sojourners who showed him the way, the lost soul would still be breathing but barely existing in Connecticut. The white American male always wins.
Which brings me to the title. Who is The Visitor? Is it the illegal who gets tossed back from when he came, the middle aged woman who arrives mid-way through to sear the hole in Richard Jenkins heart, or is it Richard Jenkins himself, who happens upon souls who are truly alive through the serendipity of a deed. He is the person made whole and new.