This past week, my wife and I were able to watch The Immigrant by James Grey. We have not been incredibly impressed with many of the films we’ve been watching lately, but this one left a lasting impression. Today, I want to talk about this film for both its artistic merits and the real-world subject that lies very close.
At its heart, The Immigrant is a story about how far one girl will go to ensure that she and her sister can live a better life in America. When her sister is held on Ellis Island for suspected lung disease, Ewa (Marion Cotillard of Inception and Dark Knight Rises) gets caught up in a world of theft, theatre, and prostitution. She relies on a “good Samaritan” (Joaquin Phoenix), an unreliable magician (Jeremy Renner), and her distrusting relatives to save her. Each, in turn, prove unable to save Ewa or her sister.
Faith is present throughout the film. Surprisingly, when Ewa confesses to a priest about her sins, he points Ewa towards a stern, yet forgiving God who only wants her to give up her sins. The film asks an interesting question about the ethics of committing sins and potentially condemning oneself in order to save another. The self-condemnation for salvation carries notes of Christ’s self-sacrifice, if a broken and sinful version. Unfortunately, Ewa is able to trust several untrustworthy characters, but does not trust in God to help her sister. This is her downfall throughout.
Now, it seems impossible today to ignore the issue of Syrian refugees in the news. The world has turned its face to Syria in the wake of a civil war that has displaced over 10 million people, or about half of Syria’s population. These are people who have no home to go back to, yet are being turned away everywhere they go. The desperation of the refugees has built to a place where many are risking the lives of their families in order to cross seas and closed borders.
How should we, as people of faith and as artists, respond to this humanitarian disaster?
First off, we can’t ignore it. If we do nothing, then we leave the fate of these vulnerable people to governments who may not have God’s will at the heart of their agenda. The refugees will face further closed doors and dangerous illegal voyages until they reach safety or death.
And even if they make it to a more stable country, we still can’t leave them to fend for themselves. Ewa’s story, based upon the stories of James Grey’s grandparents, could become that of many seeking a new life. Syrians could find themselves in the West, only to be forced into prostitution and other crime just to survive.
Jesus taught us to look after the poor and the destitute. Matthew 25:40 tells us, “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'” If we welcome refugees into our countries and into our lives, we are showing the love of Jesus to Syrians and the world.
Yet, I have heard many objections against opening our borders because of threats to our national security. Unfortunately, Jesus never gave us the clause, “unless it’s going to be dangerous, or scary, or inconvenient.” We are commanded to love as He loved. Jesus loved those who nailed Him to a cross. We are never going to see real world change unless we are willing to take risks in our love.
We may end up allowing terrorists into our country through our compassion. But what if these militants are swayed by our love and concern? What if we are able to save one who is far away from God?
It isn’t an easy conversation. Fear is real and at least somewhat justified. We have been living with fear of terrorists since 2001.”But perfect love casts out fear,” (1 John 4:18). If we can love and welcome refugees and immigrants, perhaps steps can be taken to really drive out the fear that has gripped our society for almost 15 years.
What do you think? Can our love overcome the darkness that encroaches at the edge of our society? Can we step out in faith and love to serve those who need us most right now?