Monday, March 19, 2012

When Art becomes Life: The Visitor

By Sadho Ram

Our life is a most vibrant, continually progressing, richly overwhelming canvas in motion; a never-ending work of finest art, which keeps on getting larger and larger until its final movement, where everything stops mattering except the whole sum of life which it leaves behind in the form of that vibrant canvas which it was processing, for others to reflect on it. We may think that we are the one filling in the blank spaces of our life, but the reality is very different. It’s actually our life that is filling us, from inside and out.

Art is one such form of life, where life becomes art and art becomes life. But when art becomes life, you know how good that art is, you realise its absolute beauty and the power it holds in it. For life becoming art is one thing, but imagine the beauty, and no, not just the beauty but the quality of that grace and intellect, coupled with which, that very form of art becoming life. A transformation which can never be forced or faked, for the very reason that life can’t.

The Visitor is one such form of art which becomes life. Immaculate. Unbound. A very fine and vibrant canvas in motion with no shock value or element of surprise in it, but one which warmly opens up to you and sucks you in so comfortably that before you realise you are completely lost in its grace and beauty.

Just for the record, those who are still guessing what it is that I’m talking about, The Visitor is a 2008 American drama film written and directed by Thomas McCarthy.
The Visitor is a story of Walter Vale played  by Richard Jenkins, a widowed, Connecticut college professor of economics, living a solitary life, who fills his days by sometimes taking piano lessons, in memory of his wife, a classical concert pianist, while sporadically writing his new book in an effort to fill his empty, boring life. He is suddenly asked to present a paper at an academic conference at New York University, about which he is not keen at all and so refuses to accept the request, until he is forced to by his department head Charles, played by Michael Cumpsty.

And just like that Walter’s life changes at a blink of an eye. He becomes part of two unmarried couple, Tarek played by Haaz Sleiman, a Palestinian-Syrian djembe player and Zainab played by Danao Jekesai Gurira, a Senegalese designer of ethnic jewellery, who he later discovers are illegal immigrants. Walter’s rather simple but boring life, suddenly changes track and becomes what he had never thought it would become. He is forced to deal with issues of identity, immigration and cross-cultural communication in post-9/11 New York City.

The crux of the story lies in the metaphor where we see him becoming the lone hope for the couple, (while being almost hopeless himself) and the only source of comfort for a mother, Mouna played by Hiam Abbass, (while never being at ease with his own self).

Thomas McCarthy has written a very real and moving tale which he directs with such precision and brilliance that it leaves the viewer wanting for more yet satisfied with nothing to complain about. The last time he did the same was with his equally moving tale of a man seeking solitude in an abandoned train station, called The Station Agent.

The Visitor is so beautiful in its presentation that you just want it to go on, forever. The whole movie is a complete treat in itself. But there are scenes so powerful and original that they just pull the viewer inside, making them part of it, allowing them to breathe in the harmony of the beats being struck. While the entire cast of The Visitor is just impeccable, it is really the Walter Vale’s character which stays with you even after everything is over. Richard Jenkins does a brilliant job as Walter; he makes his character come alive in the screen, bringing in the kind of sincerity not often found.

The Visitor is that continually progressing canvas in motion, which keeps on getting larger and larger until its final movement, where everything stops mattering except that one thing where it leaves behind the canvas, now complete, for us to reflect on it.

Grab its DVD and watch it or wait till you catch it on TV like I did. For such films are eternal, no matter how old they get, they never loses their quality. The kind of feeling films like The Visitor invokes in us is worth the time it takes from us. Films as such may leave you wanting for more but will never leave you feeling empty or unsatisfied. Never.