Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Visitor

Since I moved to India, I have missed quite a lot of the small budget movies that Hollywood churns out every year. In the last couple of weeks, I have started watching the best of those that I missed in the last year and a half. One of those is "The Visitor" and this is a great movie.

The Visitor highlights the plight of illegal immigrants in the USA. Walt, a professor in Connecticut goes to New York (where he owns an apartment) for a few days to attend a conference. He is surprised to find a young immigrant couple (Tareek and Zainab) staying there. The couple offer to move out immediately but they realize their friends are not too willing to accommodate them on that short a notice. Walt lets the couple stay in his apartment with him for a little while, till they find a new place for themselves. Tareek is a musician who plays the african drums (djembe) and Zainab makes jewelry that she sells on the street. Walt and Tareek connect through the universal language of music and Tareek teaches Walt how to play the drums. The scenes between Tarek and Walt at this juncture are truly heartening to watch. Walt and Tareek become good friends and play the drums in central park in the evenings.

On their way back one evening, Tareek gets stuck in a subway turnstop and jumps it. The NYPD arrest him immediately and send him to a detention center (broken windows policy in action). His immigration status is then realized and he is shceduled for deportation (to Syria). Tareek, who has been leading a happy life for the last several years in the USA, finds his life shattered in a matter of seconds. He cannot even meet his girlfriend, Zainab, because their meeting would mean Zainab would be deported too. Meanwhile, Tareek's worried mother, Mouna also makes it to New York to check on her son. She is devastated to find out that Tareek is being held by immigration. Walt tries to speak with immigration attorneys but to no avail. He remains the only connection between Tareek and his loved ones (Mouna and Zainab). The scenes where Walt holds up letters from Mouna and Zainab for Tareek to read in the detention center are gut wrenching.

Overall, "The Visitor" is about USA's policies towards illegal immigrants. In the wake of 911, thousands of American dreams are being shattered every day by the immigration department. A passport, which was the license to travel, has now become a means to restrict travel. Millions of stories of heart break part of the price that America pays for increased security. It is a touching movie laced with brilliant performances. Watch it!