Saturday, 18 May 2019
Context is everything! This film was made in 2007 in New York in the wake of 9/11. It could have been set anywhere in the USA as far as the story of the central character Walter (Richard Jenkins) is concerned but it has a wider story to tell about cross-cultural communication and understanding, the ability to find shared interests, love, the brutality of an indiscriminating immigration regime and that is why it really did have to be set in New York.
The film gently reveals a number of epiphanies - mostly experienced by Walter. In late middle age, the university professor is still in the funk caused by the death of his wife five years previously. He looks like a man on auto-pilot with no real purpose in life. Walter is coasting and deceives himself and others through half truths. He is unnecessarily harsh on one of his students, his lectures are lifeless and lack-lustre, there is no spark, no creativity, no fun in the man or his life.
Walter is jolted out of his numbing complacency by being forced to visit New York - a city where he just happens to keep an apartment. A series of events present him with people he begins to care about, activities that he can get passionate about and the faint hope that he can find love again is rekindled. This is a film about transformation, xenophobia, the workings of a faceless and authoritative institution, the global village, love and families.
The film is littered with rich metaphors that help to signpost what is going on. Not in a 'show and tell' kind of way but with gentle subtlety. The subway, the community in Central Park, the windowless detention centre, the uncaring and over-officious staff and the non-sexual intimacy which can bring consolation are all offered to help the film tell its tale.
The acting in this film, especially from the four main characters, is impeccable. The way in which Walter's world, at least for part of the film, is darkened and shadowy reinforces his dour and morose lethargy. His search for a creative outlet to enable him to somehow reconnect with his wife leads initially to sadness and frustration that seemingly further distances Walter from his wife and his memories of her. The fact that Walter is now almost always accompanied by a glass of red wine shows us the new partner in whom he finds solace.
Great script, Directing and acting - little wonder that Jenkins was Oscar nominated in this role. The playful way in which Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) describes himself as a bad muslim because he drinks wine and his partner Zainab (Danai Gurira) as a good muslim because she doesn't debunks and normalises any basis for fear of muslims - they are, per se, simply ordinary people like you and me. This is a gently bold film and its message is even more relevant today than it was in 2007 in the aftermath of 9/11. Do try and get hold of the disc or stream it. You won't be disappointed. I'll give it 8/10.