This week, the front-runner in the race to become the Republican presidential nominee called for a ban on roughly 1 billion people from entering or remaining in the United States. His unconstitutional policy proposal calls for blocking all Muslims from the country, ostensibly including Muslim soldiers and airmen who are currently fighting abroad forDonald Trump’s freedom to say that they shouldn’t get to come home. It’s a move straight out of the Fascist Dictator Adult Coloring Book, and, even more concerning, his support has only gone up because of it.
It’s a great time for easy hatred and fearful bluster, which makes it a perfect time to revisit Tom McCarthy’s 2007 film, The Visitor, about a New Yorker who befriends three illegal immigrants a week before one is set for deportation. With McCarthy’s Spotlight now in theaters and shining a glowing light on the fast-disappearing newspaper business,The Visitor offers a glimpse of a cross-cultural understanding we can hope won’t vanish as quickly.
The story kicks off in earnest when dispassionate professor Walter (Richard Jenkins) returns to his New York City apartment after time away only to find a young African woman taking a bath in his tub. There’s a confrontation, and Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) holds Walter against the wall as Zainab (Danai Gurira) wraps herself in a towel and shouts in French. The image of a strong, young Muslim man threatening a fragile, old white guy is potent, but the rest of The Visitor turns that potentially inflammatory image on its head.
When Walter shows them his keys, the accidental squatters realize they’ve been tricked by a guy named Ivan who rented them a place that wasn’t his. Tarek and Zainab thought they were being attacked by an intruder. It’s a misunderstanding, and, recognizing that Tarek and Zainab are also victims of the situation with nowhere else to go, Walter offers them the same bed they’ve been sleeping in for months. McCarthy takes the sequence to move from fearful stereotype to compassion, crafting a condensed lesson against fight-or-flight instinct.
The odd trio get to know each other; Tarek’s warmth and musicality coax Walter out of his funk, while Zainab’s stern realism anchors the alien nature of what they’re all doing. Tarek, from Syria, plays the djembe. Zainab, from Senegal, makes and sells her own jewelry. They flirt and fight and look like any young couple stuck in the salad days, and in their company, Walter catches a glimpse of life he hasn’t seen since his wife died. He’s been guilty of going through the motions, and it takes strangers from the other side of the planet to help him find meaning again…”