Release Date: December 26, 2010
In 2008 the world passed a significant benchmark. For the first time in history more than half of the world’s population was living in towns and cities.
Humanity is fast becoming an urbanized species. In fact I believe we have already become so comfortable with seeing a sea of bodies around us that we no longer think of the people that live behind those faces. The Tourist, an unassuming holiday drama, draws at the threads of identity in this crowded 21st century world.
There is much about The Tourist that has been seen before. The plot centres on a mysterious character no one has seen – The Usual Suspects anyone? – and dallies in the lives of Europe’s playful rich – “Paging The Talented Mr. Ripley!” – while following every move of a beautiful woman at the heart of an international theft – which would bring us to To Catch a Thief. But it would be a shame to write off The Tourist as derivative, even though it is a remake of the 2005 French film Anthony Zimmer. Like some of the best films, the best elements lie just beneath the surface.
Angelina Jolie plays Elise Clifton-Ward, the former lover of Alexander Pierce, a man charged with investing two billion dollars on behalf of mob boss Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff). When Pierce disappears with the money a hunt begins on both sides of the law. Shaw is looking for revenge and the British economic police are searching for $750 million pounds in back taxes. After a two-year absence Elise is contacted by her lover and told to put the police off the track by picking a perfect stranger and pretending it’s him. Enter Frank Tupalo, an American tourist played by Johnny Depp. Now the race is on for Frank to find his way out of this maze before he meets with a bullet or a jail cell meant for Pierce.
The Tourist pushes the boundaries of probability at times, but it’s still worth a watch. Angelina Jolie does what she does best, looking gorgeous in high fashion while strolling through the beautiful streets of Paris and Venice. The role of Frank Tupalo was first meant for Tom Cruise, then Sam Worthington, but I think it is in much better hands with Johnny Depp. He certainly brings more character to the sparse lines of dialogue.
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But I think the film’s real gems lay in those lines. When Elise first meets Frank on a train, she asks him to reflect on her appearance:
“You read spy novels. I’m a mysterious woman on a train. You tell me what my story is.”
It quickly becomes clear though that her carefully maintained exterior can tell him nothing about her inner workings. When he confesses he is a high school teacher, she responds:
Elise: “I’d imagine you’re the cool math teacher.”
Frank: “Still a math teacher.”
revealing that even knowing someone’s occupation doesn’t tell us much about how they relate to their pay cheques.
There are characters though who have built themselves around their jobs, like the British Inspector Acheson who risks his career to find Pierce, or the gangster Shaw who has made money everything:
“My passion extends to all the things I own. They are me. If a man steals from me I kill him, his wife, his family – I may even throw in the family doctor – because he has taken from me something for which I have paid the ultimate price, my soul.”
But neither Shaw nor Acheson are meant to be sympathetic. The Tourist wants us to understand that faces, figures, finances are surface matters and identity goes deeper. Elise fiddles with a bracelet that bears the image of the two-faced Roman god Janus. She tells Frank that she wears it as a reminder:
“People have two sides, a good side, a bad side. And we must embrace both in those we love.”
Now as I said The Tourist is not the finest example of the drama-mystery but I think it is spot on with this observation. Wrapped up in our own worries, we can forget that the hundreds of forms moving around us on a day-to-day basis are not simply cardboard cutouts. Nor can they be explained away by their occupations or obsessions. It is daunting to imagine that there is a human being behind each one with a whole history of highs and lows that even those close to them might not truly comprehend. But really loving someone means understanding all of the good and bad things and finding a way to accept the person beneath. This is a task that can defy the abilities of even the most ardent admirers. I remember a minister once telling the congregation I was sitting in,
“If you knew everything there was to know about me, you wouldn’t speak to me. And if I knew everything there was to know about you, I wouldn’t want to talk to you.”
The Tourist is a film about lovers finding each other behind mysterious faces. I think it says something – nothing new, but something familiar – about that deep longing for human beings to be discovered. Of course it is an extraordinary task to uncover any person, and a superhuman one to accept what we find. Modern love founders on such revelations and the fear of personal rejection or being swamped by someone’s needs continues to keeps our masks in place. Yet this is what I find so attractive about a relationship with God. There is no mask sufficient to hide me from His gaze; He looks straight at my heart. Nor are there any nasty surprises that will cool his affection; prior to my birth He knew everything there was to know. And I know that He is prepared to not only embrace my ‘bad side’ but do something about it; before I even knew how lost I was, He came looking.