The Visitor

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Visitor Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Insightful drama shatters post-9/11 stereotypes.
  • PG-13
  • 2008
  • 108 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Characters generally behave morally and ethically throughout. They exhibit sensitivity and appreciation for racial and cultural diversity. Two leading characters have expired visas and are in the U.S. illegally -- the consequences for that are severe. But despite unyielding, dispassionate government agencies, the individuals in authority are usually shown to be reasonable.


Police are harsh when they arrest a man in a subway station.


Brief cursing in just one early sequence, used to indicate fear and surprise: "what the f--k?," "motherf---er," and "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Red wine is consumed on several occasions, but never to excess.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this thoughtful drama -- which celebrates the diversity of other cultures -- explores the hot-button issue of immigration. There's a little bit of swearing and some drinking, but overall the content is age-appropriate for teens, though very sensitive kids may be upset by the fact that the story doesn't spare the heartbreak that comes when families are separated abruptly. Characters pay dearly for their mistakes, even accidental ones. It's clear that the filmmaker has a strong point of view about U.S. policy since 9/11, but he attempts to be fair and even-handed.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byIB Teacher December 7, 2020

Thought-provoking film

The film is for teenagers and adults because of the central themes, which require a certain level of maturity to grasp. It is a great starting place to discuss... Continue reading
Parent of a 14-year-old Written byTsion July 2, 2009

A Well-Acted Drama

THE VISITOR is a good movie. It isn't my favorite, because I'm a devout Republican and completely disagree with its stance on illegal immigration. H... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old February 26, 2010

Pretty good, some swearing, some kids might not understand it...

Parents need to know that this is a movie which is very hardhitting at times. There is some racist characters, and some stuff about imnmigration and deportion a... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byHappilyEverAfter December 7, 2009

Great premise!

The premise of this film is very interesting... A deadbeat professor travels for a conference to New York and finds that a foreign couple is living in his apart... Continue reading

What's the story?

Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is alone. A middle-aged professor at Connecticut College, he's not depressed, but his life is soulless and boring; he's lost his wife, his passion for teaching, and whatever vitality he may once have had. When he's sent to New York City to deliver an academic paper, he finds an immigrant couple living in the apartment he keeps but rarely visits. It turns out that both parties have been victimized in a fraudulent rental scam -- still, a warm but tentative friendship begins between Walter and Syrian musician Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), despite the wariness of Tarek's Sengalese girlfriend. When Tarek is arrested (basically without cause), the authorities discover that he's living in the United States illegally. Walter becomes his new friend's advocate and is drawn into the bureaucratic fog of the immigration system, with heart-rending results.

Is it any good?

Writer-director Tom McCarthy accomplishes a near miracle with THE VISITOR. He delivers a powerful, satisfying movie about racial politics and government missteps without any accusations, one-sided arguments, or rage. By telling the tender story of Walter's life-affirming reawakening through his relationship with Tarek and his family, McCarthy humanizes people who have made this country their home without the benefit of legal documentation.

Longtime character actor Jenkins' performance in his first "starring" role is perfection. Walter is nuanced, intelligent, and completely honest. And each of the other actors brings his or her own special artistry to difficult but sympathetic roles. As he did in his first directorial effort, The Station Agent, McCarthy tells a wonderful story about decent, hardworking, sincere people. This time around, it just happens that some of them weren't born here.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the wide range of attitudes toward people who are in the U.S. illegally. How do you think the filmmaker feels about the immigrant characters he has created? What contributions do they make to their adopted country? Does this movie change any of your ideas about people and families from the Middle East and Africa? What about immigration in general? What do you think the movie's final message is?

Movie details

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