Review: The Visitor (2007)

The Visitor (2007)

Directed by: Tom McCarthy | 104 minutes | drama, romance, crime | Actors: Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Jekesai Gurira, Hiam Abbass, Marian Seldes, Maggie Moore, Michael Cumpsty, Bill McHenry, Richard Kind, Tzahi Moskovitz, Amir Arison, Neal Lerner

Every film fan still remembers how ‘Psycho’ suddenly lost its main character and stumbled on mindlessly – how ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ suddenly turned into a gruesome horror film halfway through – how Keyzer Söze and John Doe in the last act suddenly change the story of ‘The Usual Turning Suspects’ and ‘Se7en’ upside down. Most film fans are already more than tired of the many twists and turns in current films, and, judging by the very cynical twist of the recent ‘The Mist’, many film makers are too. ‘The Visitor’, the new film by director Tom McCarthy, also has such a twist, a twist that most resembles ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ in terms of style. In this film, however, it happens very subtly.

The first part of the film is a character study of some characters who, despite their differences, learn to interact with each other. A wonderful feel-good movie with a perfect cast, which is abruptly interrupted. After a wonderful game of drumming in the park, Walter and Tarek walk back to the subway together. The camera withdraws from them in a long, continuous movement backwards, revealing the environment around them, an environment that everyone immediately recognizes as New York after the attacks on the Twin Towers. At that moment, the universal micro-story changes into a grand politically-tinted horror film. Tarek disappears into a detention center and all the lives he was attached to come crashing down. The realization of the dramatic plot twist, of a fairy tale that suddenly ends up in the harsh post-9-11 reality, comes slowly but remains haunted in your head for months. Is this the way immigrants are treated? Why didn’t I know about this? Or did I know, but have I always turned my head for the human side of the drama? And it is only a small consolation that the film is set in the United States, because after seeing this film every viewer knows that the Netherlands is just as guilty of these horror practices.

‘The Visitor’ shows exactly what is wrong with a ‘modern classic’ like ‘The Dark Knight’. That film tried in a way too complicated, quasi-sociological way to address current political themes such as torture, terrorism and justice, ultimately justifying torture, terrorism turned out to be an act of disturbed people, and ordinary citizens still turn out to be good. The last point obscures the horribly naive and dangerous first two points and ultimately ‘The Dark Knight’ in all its complexity skips over the most important point of current defense measures: the inhumane treatment of ordinary civilians. And that’s exactly what ‘The Visitor’ is all about. Boundaries are blurring, but a stranger has never been more dangerous in the eyes of the West. ‘The Visitor’ may be a small film by design, but its simple message ultimately overshadows even the biggest films.

Comments are closed.