The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

30° Stony Brook, NY
The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    A Dream Deferred

    There really is no good way to make a movie about immigration. Some films, like “Maria Full of Grace” (2004), come close. But this is clearly a case of “the exception proves the rule.”

    This past Friday’s 7 p.m. Staller selection, “The Visitor” (2007), begins hopefully, with understated charm and humor. Very quickly, however, it begins to sink under the weight of the “immigration film” paradigm.

    Professor Walter Vale, played by Richard Jenkins, who recently appeared in “Burn After Reading,” is a dejected, unhappy college professor in Connecticut, who has been teaching the same course on political science for the past 20 years. He is also a widower, possibly a very recent one.

    So when he is sent by the dean to present a paper he co-authored at a conference at New York University, Walter goes unwillingly. He brings his constant companion — a bottle of red — with him to his New York apartment, only to find his apartment has been illegally sublet to a Syrian young man, Tarek, and his Senegalese girlfriend, Zainab.

    Once the mix-up is explained, Walter invites the pair to stay in his apartment until they can find another place. An unlikely friendship forms between the self-conscious Walter and the out-going, drum-playing Tarek.

    The film excels in presenting their friendship in funny yet convincing terms, with Tarek giving Walter drum lessons, while Zainab rolls her eyes in the background. Undoubtedly the highlight of the first half of the film is a scene where Tarek brings Walter to Central Park and they join a row of men from across the globe who have convened to make music together.

    This however, is one of the few rays of sunshine in the film. In the subway later that day, Tarek is cornered by undercover NYPD cops. He is arrested and turned over to an immigration holding facility where he is incarcerated indefinitely.

    It is here that the film takes on a heavy, melancholy air, as it trudges through the trenches of films that protest America’s treatment of immigrants, illegal or not.

    It is evident that Tarek has been targeted because of his obvious Middle Eastern appearance. The camera lingers over shots of American flags, the Statue of Liberty, and 9/11 murals, to the point that it feels like the film is hitting the audience over the head with a sledgehammer.

    And certainly, the story of what happens to Tarek is deeply moving and unfair. His treatment, and the treatment even Walter receives at the hands of the INS lackeys, is abominable. We are moved by Zainab’s grief, as well as the grief of Tarek’s mother, Mouna, who comes to New York even though she is helpless to get Tarek out. Both she and Zainab are also here illegally.

    Ultimately, however, the film sacrifices its plot and characters in favor of its message. Its message, though a worthy one, would undoubtedly have been better put to use either in a documentary, or as a back story concerning perhaps a friend of Tarek’s, rather than Tarek himself.

    The end of the film leaves the audience wondering what will happen, now that Tarek is gone and his mother with him. Walter, who appears to have come alive with the appearance of the stately and beautiful Mouna, is left alone again, and we don’t even see Zainab after hearing Tarek’s sentence.

    The characters, instead of finding apotheosis in new-found friendships and relationships, are left as bureaucratic carnage of the post-9/11 era, and we, the audience, are left with only one message: America and its “freedoms” are tainted by this country’s inhuman treatment of people who come here with the hopes of an American dream fulfilled.

    Leave a Comment
    Donate to The Statesman

    Your donation will support the student journalists of Stony Brook University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The Statesman

    Comments (0)

    All The Statesman Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *