Thursday, May 22, 2008


And off I'm going to Philly for a bit of friend-seeing before embarking on the more acadmically justifiable trips to NYC (conference and the NYPL) and to DC (Library of Congress). Anything I'm forgetting?

In other news, I'm officially a candidate, paperwork pending. I just enjoyed my first night out to a movie in quite some time (expect more soon), and quite enjoyed The Visitor. Like Tom McCarthy's other film The Station Agent, it's a film that revolves slowly around a central friendship tentatively established through circumstance. Richard Jenkins, in a perfectly nuanced and understated performance, plays Walter, a college professor coasting along distractedly and impassionately, presumably until retirement. He works on his book, he teaches his classes, he practices piano, the instrument his wife played. But even the piano never seems to bring about emotion. And this is part of the beauty. Like The Accidental Tourist, it's a film about thawing, and the reason it works as well as it does is precisely because Walter is a character who is fascinatingly ordinary. He's not bitter, he's not frustrated, he's not grieving over his dead wife, he's just there, doing the same thing as always. This changes when he's sent to a conference, and finds his apartment has been the home of illegal immigrants, who've been renting it from some other guy. Tarek is a drummer, his wife Zainab makes and sells jewelry (featuring one of the more hilariously awkward moments with a "hip" mother shopping there). What's beautiful about the movie is how the turns in the narrative feel natural, unexpected, and wholly uncontrived, because McCarthy settles into a breezy, comfortable pacing led by the characters. Tarek teaches Walter to drum, Zainab remains more cautiously distant. The characters learn to live with another, and Walter actually simply learns how to live.

One of the things I want to point out to all the academics is just how well this film captures the professorial Walter. At one point, he makes a remark about finding it difficult to talk about his work with nonwriters, a remark that carries a surprising amount of resonance in the film and with me. Academia has a tendency to wall itself off. Walter ends up seeming the odd one out, enjoying the drumming in the park rather than schmoozing. And the result of academia is frighteningly portrayed here, complete lack of outside contact leaves Walter unable to really find what interests him in his work. There's the grand realization is not something about globalization (what he studies) or immigration or politics or humanity, but a simple personal revelation that he's forgotten so much over his years teaching the same course, writing books out of necessity. If anything, this film is a reminder not just how important life outside academia is and for finding a way to make your work really yours, but also the fact that music is something that has bearing outside academia. On the subway, in the home, in the classroom. You can love it anywhere, but you have to love it.


  • If you are still in philly, and have a free moment, ring me up--we should get coffee or something.

    By Blogger PMG, At May 26, 2008 at 9:59 PM  

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