Italian family looking for lost baggage, Ellis Island (1905). Photo by Lewis Hine, from the New York Public Library
The Visitor, written and directed by Tom McCarthy, (The Station Agent), is an eloquent and quiet investigation of loneliness and connection. (Now available on DVD.) A widowed college professor unexpectedly finds himself involved in the lives of undocumented immigrants, Tarek, a Syrian man, Zainab, his Senegalese girlfriend and Tarek's mother, Mouna, who arrives in search of her son as he faces deportation. The differences in culture evaporate as the two men share their love of music and their friendship deepens. The film addresses personal isolation, but also navigates the solitary plight of the immigrant facing a strange new world. It brought to mind the Borges poem Anita Desai used to open her book, The Inheritance of Loss:
Boast of Quietness
Writings of light assault the darkness, more prodigious than meteors.
The tall unknowable city takes over the countryside.
Sure of my life and my death, I observe the ambitious and would like to understand them.
Their day is greedy as a lariat in the air.
Their night is a rest from the rage within steel, quick to attack.
They speak of humanity.
My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of the same poverty.
They speak of homeland.
My homeland is the rhythm of a guitar, a few portraits, an old sword,
the willow grove’s visible prayer as evening falls.
Time is living me.
More silent than my shadow, I pass through the loftily covetous multitude.
They are indispensable, singular, worthy of tomorrow.
My name is someone and anyone.
I walk slowly, like one who comes from so far away he doesn’t expect to
- Jorge Luis Borges