Last month at a small theater here in Silicon Valley, I got the opportunity to watch The Immigrant, a film by James Gray starring Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner. I avoid going to the movies during the day. In my opinion, films should be viewed, especially when you’re heading to a theater in your town, in the evenings. The lights glowing from the stores and sun close to the horizon, taken the color of fire. There is a unique beauty to it all. – The Immigrant prior to the screening, as I read online, was getting tons of attention, positively and negatively.
But, I still walked in confidently and turned my cell phone off as the imagery was introduced to me the first time on the screen. James Gray’s film has this unique atmosphere that will get your attention, almost as if you can smell the era; the streets, shops and the smoke and chilly atmoshphere of 1920s Ellis Island. Then we get introduced to Marion’s character, Ewa, a polish immigrant, whom with her sister is on the American soil for one reason: The start a new life; achieve the American Dream. But, for Ewa, unfortunately, fate has a different alley; a dead end, that to us viewers, can be seen at the end of it. But, we care for Ewa, so we’re seeing how she is going to turn finally in order to avoid the dead end and move on. She meets Joaquin’s character, Bruno, a pimp, who sets his eyes on Ewa’s beauty, innocence and pure heart. Bruno saves Ewa from deportation and sadly, her sick sister remains on the island. Though Ewa’s goal is to seek help from a relative in the city and also earn money to get her sister out of the island. To live under Bruno’s ceiling and rest of the girls, already involved in prostitution, Ewa’s heart tolerates no more. She escapes.
Gray’s film picks the definition of complexity from here, which to us becomes at last obvious, what Bruno is truly capable of and Ewa, how she’s going to escape his claws. I thought, as soon as she escapes, I was going to see what I’ve already seen before. But, no. Gray’s directing has this unique set of languages, as it defines to us, tragedy in a more poetic manner. This is called work of a magician-director. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing in front of me. The characters, setting, costumes, score, dialogues, performances and cinematography. The camera following the characters in the crowds or catching the characters in shades, their shadows, silhouettes and reflections. – The Immigrant becomes even more special, in its own right, as soon as we’re introduced to Jeremy Renner’s character, Orlando, the kindhearted magician himself, who happens to be Bruno’s cousin.
It’s true that films should be emotional medium at all times. And, Gray’s film exists to simply prove why and how. Our eyes are set at Ewa’s fate, but of course, we care for Orlando as well, even as much as we begin to care for Bruno. But, Ewa’s life is immensely depressed. So depressed that Gray has captured the character, to define to us, the essentiality of emotions being captured for cinema. We see Ewa, living in a tight, dimly lit, depressed room of another prostitute. I often pay attention to movements and actions of characters in front of me, but also one eye of mine sees what’s happening in the background. Corners of the screen often surprise us, as in distance sits a character performing something small, but valuable. In this case, we get to see only Ewa, but her presence, as much as it is gloriously artistic, is at all times captured as a caged-bird, looking out the window from behind its grimy glass or often standing at the doorframe. She walks, in short distances only, as a caged-bird; flies from one corner to another in its cage, flapping its wings, and imagines the outside world and its true conditions. But, only imagines. Sadly.
Without revealing much, Gray’s final shot of the film is something that I have not seen before. Frame-within-Frame, as characters move to different directions, to different pathways of life and whereever they’re going, only their fate can reveal that to them. But, we can discuss. I guess that’s why Gray has captured the final shot, so we can discuss. If not for a discussion, then perhaps, it’s shot so we can imagine. Yes, imagine. Happily.
The Immigrant opens everywhere on May 16th.