After evening prayer last night, several of us directors went up to the lounge and watched The Visitor, a 2007 film I had never even heard of, let alone seen before. Although I almost didn’t join them, I’m glad I watched it.
The life of a late middle aged professor (a lonely widow who has been emotionally all but dead for a long time) changes dramatically when he returns to his New York City apartment – a place he has not visited in a number of years – and finds a couple living there: a Syrian man and his Senegalese girlfriend. Initially appalled to find them there, he becomes friends with the man, who teaches him to play the drums. All is fine until the man, an illegal immigrant, is arrested and sent to a deportation center. Ultimately he is deported. Along the way the professor develops a friendship with the man’s mother (with the promise of something deeper), who at the end flies to Syria to be with her son, knowing it means she will never return to the United States.
The film powerfully explores issues of immigration and cross-cultural encounter and communication, as well as the struggle of a man to discover a deeper identity and more meaningful life.
I recognize the difficulties of “fixing” the immigration problem in this country and make no claims to any answers. Neither does the film suggest any solution. What it does do is put faces and lives on the “illegal immigrant” while also giving a window into the often unfair treatment of them in detention. And whatever else our policy is, it ought to include decency in how we treat those who are detained.
One of Pope Francis’ two prayer intentions for the month of June is immigrants and refugees: “That immigrants and refugees may find welcome and respect in the countries to which they come.
May it be so!