At the core of James Gray’s powerful new film, The Immigrant, good and evil are melded to the point of being inseparable. Ewa, the titular lead character, says that she “wants to be happy.” Above all, she wants to survive, as does everyone she encounters. However, to control that very survival, people must often pronounce control over another. The men in the film – played with expected vulnerability and rage by Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Reener – are especially prone to defining their own pursuits via the woman at the center of the narrative.
On the surface, Darius Khondji’s images render early 20th century downtown Manhattan with a majestic golden glow and foggy distance that lends to the nostalgia of a glistening era rather than the grim poetry of Jacob Riis. It’s a compelling choice considering the complexity (and social class) of the characters, though it’s one, when considering the sheen everyone portrays and the imagined upwardly mobile world that exists beyond these dark spaces, that makes complete sense. The Immigrant will need a larger piece, as it – like all of Gray’s work – provokes a significant amount of thought beyond the credits. For now, here’s the trailer: