The Films of OthersJune 10, 2008
After a bit of an argy-bargy with a friend the other day about how much he hated The Visitor, I thought I’d better go see the damn thing. Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor is that film that your neighbors who see a couple of films a year went to see and loved. And with fairly good reason: as a crowd-pleaser for thinking people it’s not bad. It’s well-made and well-meaning, it tickles the emotions, and it’s smart without being too challenging. And that started me thinking why my friend was so angry about it. There are plenty of far worse films out there deserving of his scorn. The Visitor may be safe, it may be predictable, it may be pandering to white, middle-class liberal guilt… but there are so few films out there for The Visitor‘s target audience that to complain about it seems selfish. And then that reminded me that said friend had also hated last year’s arthouse crowd-pleaser: The Lives of Others, a film equally beloved by pretty much the same audience. And suddenly it struck me that The Visitor and The Lives of Others are practically the same film! Think about it: a lonely, middle-aged man who has shut himself off emotionally from the world suddenly finds himself in the presence of a young, vivacious, artistic couple who are everything that he is not. Through cohabiting (in one way or another) with these strangers and becoming exposed to their passions (where The Lives of Others had Beethoven, The Visitor has Fela Kuti) and creativity he loosens up and starts to enjoy life. But when the dark forces of a tyrannical regime (the Stasi/the INS) intrude and threaten his new friends he discovers hidden wells of passion and goodness in himself. See?!
I’m not accusing Tom McCarthy of plagiarism (though given the character he played on the last season of The Wire that’s tempting), but he sure seems to have tapped into a perfect formula for middle-class, middle-aged, middle-of-the-road feel-good cinema.