Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sometimes the title makes the movie

I saw The Visitor a few days ago, an incredibly bleak film about a middle-aged economics professor - Walter - who arrives at his long-abandoned NYC apartment to discover that it's being occupied by two strangers - Tarek and Zainab. (They're squatters, legally speaking, but only because someone fooled them into thinking that he owned it. These sorts of misunderstandings, sometimes comical and sometimes serious, feature heavily in the film.) They have no place else to go, so he let's them stay - and, eventually, they also allow him to realize that he hasn't actually been living.

It would be very easily to dismiss the plot of the film as cliché: the passive and kind brown guy introduces the stuffy white guy to non-Western music and gets him to "stop thinking" and start feeling; the white guy studies globalization and the economies of developing nations, while the brown guy provides him with the lived experience from which the white guy's been totally alienated; the white guy realizes that he hasn't been living only when the brown guy finds out that he's no longer allowed to live here.

What rescues it, though, is the title: The Visitor. We'd be tempted to think that Tarek and Zainab, and later Tarek's mother, are the titular visitors: they're in the USA illegally, squatting at Walter's apartment and later invited to stay. But the title is singular: Walter is the visitor, and so, relationally, the others must already be home. Sure, we're tempted to see the film, as I have in the paragraph above, with Walter as its center and the action revolving around him. (The film is even structure in this way.) But Walter's only passing through - somehow, the film seems to say, we were taught to misrecognize who's visiting and who belongs.

No comments: