27 September 2016

revisiting the visitor

After a few years, I decided to give the movie The Visitor (2007) another look.  I wrote a post about it back then, though not zeroing in on some stuff I want to mention now.  Again, it’s hard to ignore Richard Jenkins’ masterful performance as the actor everyone knows but doesn’t know!

Very briefly, Jenkins plays Walter Vale, a professor in Connecticut, who after the death of his wife is faced with the emptiness of his life—his work (including the book he claims to be working on), his lack of social contact, even his inability to find a musical instrument to play!  (But that gets solved.)  When he comes to his little-frequented apartment in New York City, he finds Tarek and Zainab, a couple who are living there, and who happen to be undocumented immigrants.  Walt and Tarek become friends, but Tarek is arrested by the NYPD and sent to detention.  His mother, Mouna, travels to New York to be near her son, and in the process, a relationship with Walter awkwardly unfolds.

In such an understated movie, there are numerous scenes with great power, ranging from the hilarious to the heartbreaking.  There are two scenes in particular in which Walter and Mouna become vulnerable to each other.

At dinner after going to see Phantom of the Opera, Walter tells Mouna that he’s taking a semester off from teaching to stay in New York.  She knows that it’s because of her situation with her son, Tarek.

MOUNA: This is not your problem, Walter.
It’s OK that you are busy.
WALTER: I’m not busy.  Not at all.
Mouna, the truth is I haven’t been doing any work for a long time.
MOUNA: You just presented your paper at the conference.
WALTER: I didn’t even write it.  I just read it.
I’ve been teaching the same course for twenty years.
It doesn’t mean anything to me.  None of it does.
I pretend.  I pretend that I’m busy.  That I’m writing.  Working.
But I’m not doing anything.

In the middle of the night, after the play and dinner, Mouna confesses to Walter she threw away Tarek’s deportation notice.

MOUNA: It's my fault.  What happened to Tarek.
I did receive the letter telling us to leave.
I threw it away.  I never told him.
We were here for three years by the time the letter arrived.
I had found a job.  Tarek was in school.
Everyone told me not to worry.  That the government did not care.
And it appeared to be true.  And then, after time, you forget.
You think that you really belong.

I don’t want to get political, just as director Tom McCarthy said in interviews that he wasn’t trying to be political, but it’s hard to ignore the implications of those lines, “I pretend,” and especially “You think that you really belong.”  We’re in a presidential campaign in which real-life human beings are genuinely terrified that they will be deported to places of violence and darkness.  That’s a message which resonates with those who fear the changes our country is going through.  And that fuels the feeling which says there are many Americans who don’t “look like” they belong here.

But this story is about so much more than politics.  It is, at the end of the day, learning that being a “visitor” isn’t such a bad thing!  In a sense, we all are visitors.

And it’s also about learning to play the djembe.

19 September 2016

through the webcam with mr. robot

I just finished watching the first season of Mr. Robot.  It was a strange experience, not because of the show, though that is strange enough.

The DVDs from Netflix worked fine, at least the first two did.  Then came the third disc, the one containing the final episodes.  The next-to-last episode was hopelessly stuck on a scene in which Rami Malek’s character continues—in a major way—of having the curtain of his life thrown wide open.  Ejecting the disk, searching for any scratches, carefully cleaning it…nothing worked.  So I was forced to return it to Netflix.  They graciously shipped a replacement disc with dispatch.  This one allowed the before-mentioned scene to flow smoothly past.

Then the final episode.  Five minutes before the end, the world of Mr. Robot came to a sudden halt.  Going through the routine as with the previous disk yielded no positive result.  I wondered what would be the odds of receiving two consecutive disks that, as nearing the end of the season, would prove to be unwatchable?  Not one for conspiracy theories, I then turned to the possibility of streaming the final portion of the final episode.  It looked like Netflix didn’t offer that service for season 1, so I turned to Amazon.

Success!  Now I will be able to see how season 1 ends.  Except, after the credits, there is one final scene.  It is at that moment that my computer suddenly shuts down.  The conspiracy theorist in me wants to emerge.  But a computer restart enables me to see it through.

Is there a digital force that wanted to prevent my seeing through the guise?  By posting this to my blog, am I putting myself in jeopardy?  Am I real?  Are you real?  What do you want from me?  Tell me!!!

Maybe season 2 will tell me what you’re up to.