The Immigrant is magical.

by Ruby Yang

America, to its citizens, has always been known as the land of the free. But to immigrants, America is more than just independence from Britain. For them, America is the land of opportunity that just isn’t available in their home country. And so these immigrants leave everything behind to start anew in a place foreign to them, all in hopes of having a better life. An American life. However as with anything that sounds too good to be true, so was America. From Angel Island to Ellis Island, immigrants were detained and inhumanely treated. As for those who made it out, life was not as instantly better. Instead, what lay ahead of them was a life filled with whatever work they could get.

Such a case can be seen in the movie The Immigrant, which follows the story of Ewa Cybulska (Marion Cotillard), a Polish immigrant who, upon arriving at Ellis Island, is separated from her quarantined sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) and turned away from entering New York. Desperate and facing deportation, Ewa meets Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), a man who stops her deportation and promises to help reunite the two sisters. Wary, but left with no other choice, Ewa agrees. Soon enough, she is tricked into prostitution—the only way she can earn the money needed for Magda’s release— with Bruno as her pimp. The only person who seems to actually want to help Ewa is Orlando the Magician (Jeremy Renner), a charming and charismatic man whose motives are questionable.

The Immigrant
Directed by
James Gray
Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner
Release Date
23 May 2014
Ruby’s Grade: A

From the beginning to the end, the movie is compelling and simply beautiful. It is a story of survival, deceit, and love. And from the cinematography and the superb acting, we can feel Ewa’s hopeless struggle. All she wanted was a better life—for her and her sister. But to get there, she is used and abused by others. Regardless, she still does not give up hope. And as the viewer, we too do not give up hope. From the minute Ewa and Magda are separated, we are left just as unsure as Ewa of their reunion, but hopeful that it will one day happen. Then there is the complexity and depth of characters Bruno and Orlando. On the surface, Bruno is the villain and Orlando the hero. But on a deeper level, we see Bruno’s insecurity and confliction between being good and being bad. That is, he really does care for Ewa, but due to his selfishness, he also takes advantage of her.

As for Orlando, there is just something about his overly good nature (and with the revelation of his past conflict with Bruno) that suggests that Orlando is no better. While some may say Orlando lacks character development, it is also this lack of development that supports this theory—that his one-sided friendly persona is nothing but an act (he is a magician after all). All of this combined leaves us with a sense of uneasiness—who do we trust? Who can we trust? In the end, we are just as alone and confused as Ewa. For this reason, the slow pacing for the film is not only tolerable, but logical. In other words, just like Ewa, we are waiting. We don’t know what is going to happen next, and can do nothing but hope for the best. In a way, the film puts us in the position of Ewa, the immigrant, and shows us just how cruel the world was for them.

Overall, I believe this film is perfect the way it is, and definitely worth watching. Not only does the movie give us insight into the dark and forgotten part of American history, but it also beautifully captures the complexity of humans and just how cruel we can be to one another.