The Immigrant is an American drama directed by James Gray. The story begins with a polish immigrant named Ewa (Marion Cotillard) who arrives at Ellis Island with her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan). They have escaped the war in Europe, and now they seek a new life in America. While waiting in line, Magda begins to cough. Her cough attracts the attention of the guards, and they take Magda away to be examined. Magda is suspected to have lung disease.
After being separated from her sister, Ewa proceeds through customs. According to her questionable morals, lack of money, and marital status, she does not qualify for residency. Instead she is to be deported back to Poland. Before she steps foot on the ship, she catches the attention of a man named Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix). She pleads for Bruno’s help and he eventually does just that. He uses his connections with the guards to secure Ewa’s passage into the U.S. With nowhere else to go, she follows this kind stranger into the city. And so it begins, the start of a new life in America. However, as we may all know very well by now, when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This case is no exception.
The Immigrant features some very strong performances from both Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix. The French actress learned to speak polish for this role and her accent isn’t too shabby. That does make me wonder though, if she can learn a proper polish accent, why can’t she lose her French accent when she does English speaking roles? Nonetheless, her portrayal of a warm hearted polish immigrant is impressive. On the other hand, Joaquin Phoenix’s character Bruno is the more intriguing of the two.
Bruno is an opportunist. Although it was not mentioned in the film, I believe he experienced a difficult childhood. Bruno’s family also immigrated to America. His childhood is revealed by his cousin and adversary Orlando (Jeremy Renner).
Orlando may be the only pitfall in this film. His lack of character depth is evident in the more critical moments of the film. Orlando is presented as the knight in shining armour but, we don’t know all that much about him. The two other characters in the love triangle are far more developed. So, when the stakes are high, Orlando fails to match the intensity of the circumstances. On the other hand, we know enough about Bruno to make further inquiries into his motives.
I speculate that Bruno’s Jewish background probably exposed him to a lot of anti-Semitism. An example of this would be when the police refer to him as a kike. Bruno at one point tells Ewa that, “we’ve all been desperate.” Although his intentions at that point in the film may have been to manipulate her; his choice of words reveal parts of his character. Bruno’s upbringing has taught him to do whatever it takes to survive. I believe he is a victim of circumstance. On the surface, he is fervent and tough. But on the inside, he suffers in silence.
Bruno is drawn to Ewa’s purity. He even says to the young ‘unmanly’ boy, “She is pure.” Although Bruno engaged in so many wrongful acts, you can’t help but feel a sense of pity towards the man. It’s crushing to hear that the one you love hates you. Every man can ‘have’ Ewa except Bruno. At some point, he must’ve imagined Ewa with another man. For many, that jealousy can drive a person into madness.
Throughout the film, we are reminded that every soul can be saved. This applies directly to Ewa as she confesses and repents for her sins. Also, more indirectly, Bruno redeems himself in one of the film’s final and most powerful scenes. Bruno helps reunite Ewa with her sister and takes full responsibility for his actions. He commits a selfless act to save Ewa. For this, Ewa thanks him. Yet, Bruno cannot accept her gratitude. After all the things he’s done, how can she thank him? All of the unfortunate events Ewa experienced in America have been either a direct or indirect result of Bruno’s actions. “If you could lick my heart, you’d taste nothing but poison. You think there’s goodness in everybody but there isn’t.”
Bruno’s final remarks are filled with irony. Even though he proclaims himself as a vile and heartless man, he too has some good in him. People who are truly evil and heartless never realize their true nature. They cannot admit to the consequences of their actions.
The Immigrant is a tale of woe and sorrow. It shows the great misfortunes people suffered coming to America. It reveals the great length’s people went through to make it in the U.S. “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” I still think that holds true even today.
What’s more is that it shows us that in the depths of darkness, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It shows us that we must never lose hope.