Besides actually being a little high, I had high hopes for this picture. Not only had the Programmer assured me it was the most entertainment my $5 could buy, but the IMDB trailer looked promising. I even managed to wrangle a friend to join me for the screening.
Honestly, I'm of two minds about it.
Innocence took it all in and enjoyed it for being daring, breaking or not caring about rules, and even felt an affection for the obvious amount of work, talent, and creativity required to bring it to fruition. My taste in movies - a steady diet of content-rich surrealist, avant-garde, genre-bending masterpieces and cult classics - should have me well-primed for The Visitor to invade my mind space.
Lead actor John Huston, upon reading the script, was also of two minds about it: either it would be amazing, or it would be a pile of shit.
Like the metaphysics section of a used bookstore, sometimes you find quality among the shallow stupor; a work of love that makes you think or feel more keenly, that asks questions waiting in the depths of your subconscious and brings them to the fore. And as a big fan of metaphysics - especially Judeo-Christian mythology, oligarchs, demonic and heavenly forces battling for the upper hand - this movie should have left me with the catharsis I so crave.
The Visitor's opening scene was a dazzling array of gorgeous spectacle. Plumes of smoke build from a sinister horizon. A black-clad figure materializes. Winds racing, the figure is revealed to be a child covered in eggy dust.
This is the beginning of a surrealist epic! This will be awesome! But this was the beginning and the end of the sublime in this film.
The rest was a dazzling array of disconnected ideas made meaningless by the lack of craft. Not in technique, which was satisfying enough for the $800,000 budget - but in terms of content, story, and understandable human responses. A bunch of great ideas, interesting symbolism, rich metaphors, all gone to waste. But we can make a meal of this. I hope.
I'm an anarchist. I'm not a fan of hard and fast rules. But hell - sometimes things work or they don't.
Experience made me appreciate my screenwriting professors a little bit more. When they would offer me criticism like "you have a lot of great ideas here, but they don't go anywhere" and "your audience isn't being guided through the characters on what or how to feel" they might have thought I intended to write another Visitor.
"Who's your protagonist?" I don't know. Probably the mother. "What does she want?" Not to get pregnant.
Well, I guess I can identify enough with that.
As much as I would love to blame this monstrosity of wasted resources on the screenwriters, there remains the role of the director in the poor handling of the drives and motivations of the characters and how they emote from within the frame.
But enough of that. These criticisms of The Visitor have been levied since its original release in 1979.
Since my interest lies in meta-analysis of challenging content, and since the content of this film resides firmly within the realm of my interests, I feel compelled to offer an interpretation of its meaning as it may relate to its makers.
There's a shallow treatment of each character in this film that betrays a peculiarly masculine set of priorities and anticipated approach to wisdom. Reduce a thing to it's most useful function, and forget there's anything else that needs to be explained. Haphazard, lazy, it's nonetheless an exposure of a particular demographic's ultimate fear - supernatural power vested in the feminine vessel.
This anxiety permeates the shallow symbolism of The Visitor, specifically as it manifests in evil little Katy. What's more sinister than an 8 year old girl gymnast? Is this a subconscious characterization of political feminism as understood by the filmmakers? Bratty, wants attention, won't settle for less than As I Like It?
Probably not - that would be far too incisive an observation. There is no strain of perceptive metaphors here, just pretty pictures.
Truly, the fear should have manifested in an 11, 12 year old girl on the verge of puberty. That's the real crux of the abyss, where so much strife gets born. I mean, can you? Can't you?
"Oh, Hum..." (oh, hey Shelley Winters)
But nothing displays the Creator's ignorance so much as the likely protagonist, Barbara Collins (Joanne Nail).
Barbara exemplifies the emptiness of the maternal vessel trope. Arguably the protagonist, she experiences no arc - only a complete reversal at the film's conclusion following the anti-climax. Despite the conflicts thrust on her by the filmmaker, he offers little comfort in the way of character development to accommodate the blows. Not only is she unaffected by her demon child-inflicted paralysis, she's overjoyed to find herself settling back home in her newly wheelchair-bound existence. Perhaps Paradisi and the screenwriters thought slipping in that Sun in Libra (peacemaker) Rising Sagittarius (overly optimistic) Moon in Virgo (sexually intimidated) birth chart was supposed to stand in for actually creating her character.
She seems to know something's up inside her, but is woefully ignorant of the maelstrom of evil in her womb. She's the final carrier of the genes of Sateen/Zatteen/Satan, which don't seem to impact her in any way apart from what she can pass to her offspring.
Sort of the same way the material value of the female body has resided in the procreative function. I get the anxiety, I really do. Let's just say Sarah Palmer was a huge improvement.
Is there anything more deeply outside the grasp of the machismo than motherhood? Its ideal is the antithesis of masculine deifications. The excesses of the masculine feed on mothers like a parasite to persist itself. That unconditional love a mother may extend to her offspring is woefully absent in the world.
She is dismissed as empty because her resources. Are. Tapped. But we need more from her.
Therefore, she must be taken by force.
What lengths will man go to to achieve his nefarious ends? Surgically implant himself. Forget romance, folks, this is the easy part. If she won't submit willingly she must be sedated, reduced to her dark potentials, and used appropriately.
Barbara was lucky there was a nice ex-husband to pick up the fetus pieces.
I guess people can be terribly smart, technically apt, but be complete morons when it comes to the requirement of form and content, thinking and feeling, as the path to wisdom. Emotional intelligence requires expenditure of emotional labor. It's no wonder both can be so hard to find in the masculine sphere, and it spills into their cinema.
What, with those puny corpus callosums and over-reliance on the power of their man hoods.
And what of the promise of mystical powers? Will we be able to grasp wisdom beyond heaven and hell?
Eh. Maybe when we're old and ugly. Sorry, Space Jesus. Maybe next time.
Whew! There's the catharsis I was looking for.
Stills embedded from: https://medialifecrisis.com/acting-out/octoblur-2015-12-the-visitor-1979.html