The Visitor: A Review (Welcoming the Alien Among You)

With so many great television shows to distract me right now, it’s been a while since I’ve gone to see a movie. I was invited to a screening last night co hosted by Participant Productions and Bel Air Presbyterian Church of the new film “The Visitor”. The film is charming, touching and transforming. It deals with the human side of immigration, and it demonstrates the power of film to change us in subtle ways as we come to know the lives of others that we might not otherwise see or understand.

The film was written and directed by Tom McCarthy and features excellent acting by Richard Jenkins and Lebanese newcomer Hiam Abbass. Hiam and his Senegalese girlfriend come to NYC after difficult situations in their home countries, and because of complications I won’t detail here, they are both illegal. They take up residence in a Connecticut professor’s NYC apartment, and the professor comes to a new understanding of the value immigrants bring to our American cultural life, as well as the common hopes and dreams that they both share. The film also allows us to take a look inside the process of detention and deportation, and the unfair legal process that usually leaves illegal immigrants (about 98 percent of them) without legal representation.

The political and social issues surrounding illegal immigration are many, but this movie does something few others do without being preachy: it allows us to see the immigrant as a fellow human being, and then to question our own assumptions about fairness, legality and borders.

This is refreshing in a time when a majority of Americans speak of illegal aliens … many of whom are doing the jobs they don’t want to do … as if they are monsters or terrorists. One political party ran its whole primary on hatred of illegal immigrants until John McCain humanely rescued it. They would do well to listen to the admonition of the Hebrew (and Christian) Scripture:

“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 19:32-35

Jesus says it this way, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Welcome the stranger. On that hangs all the law and the prophets.


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