What would you do, if you had the chance to start over? The Visitor is the story of a man coming back to life, and it should be seen first in that light, although it has a lot of other things on its mind as well. I don’t think anyone should know too much about this movie ahead of time – it’s one of the few truly surprising movies I can remember seeing, not in the sense of “I didn’t see that coming,” but in the sense that it feels like real life. It will move you and perhaps outrage you and it will make you think about what matters in your own life… I suppose there isn’t any higher recommendation one can give a work of popular art.
Richard Jenkins does marvelous work in his first leading role (the part was written specifically for him). He makes it look entirely natural (even easy) as he gradually traverses an emotional arc that spans the entire film. This isn’t a “feel good” movie (although there are moments that certainly feel very good); more importantly, it doesn’t feel wrong. Everything feels exactly right; credit for this goes to Jenkins, and to the writer/director who created the story.
The Visitor is “about” many things, but it isn’t didactic. It doesn’t tell us how to feel about anything, but it manages to put all sorts of feelings front and center. One of the keys to the film is music, which of course touches something in me. Like the more overtly musical film Once, this movie gets to the heart of what music can mean both to individuals and in the context of relationships between people. I found myself unconsciously participating in the music of this film by tapping my hands and also vocalizing – I was compelled to share in the catharsis of the characters as they expressed their own joys and desperations by creating music, both together and alone.
I started watching The Visitor after supper, thinking I would see the first 30 minutes or so and finish the next day. Before I knew it, I was 90 minutes in, and then it was finished far too soon. I wanted more of these characters, and more of this surprising, joyous and heartbreaking film.