Winner for best short at the 2002 Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, “The Visitor” is a poignant character study of an aging gay writer confronting loss. Barry Otto is extraordinary as Michael, a writer living alone by the beach in Sydney, Australia. Michael was once very much in love with a surfer named Chris and though their relationship lasted only two years, they remained best friends ever since. The story begins with Michael learning that Chris, now in Boston, is dying (from AIDS maybe?). Perhaps in denial, or just weary of revisiting past love (and life), Michael seems somewhat unaffected by the news. He would rather spend time on the beach obsessing over a striking young surfer, a dead ringer for Chris, than confront his feelings. The vision of the surfer, combined with the rhythm of the undulating waves and the blinding glare from the sun, creates a disorienting haze that momentarily overwhelms the writer. When the kid suddenly goes under in the rough surf near the rocky shoreline, Michael is abruptly shaken from his beautiful dream and nearly stumbles. After some time, he returns home only to find that the object of his desire is in his living room, naked but for a towel! The two then share an evening of intimate conversation and soul-bearing.
So who exactly is this young visitor in Michael’s house? Is he really the young surfer, named C.K., whom Michael watched so lustily on the beach? Is he rather only Michael’s fantasy of the kid, who never emerged from his fall? Or is he yet the resurfaced memory of Michael’s former lover Chris? “The Visitor” offers tantalizing clues but no hard answers. It seems most likely though that the visitor in question, played by the male modelish Nick Carpenter, is really an amalgam of the latter two: Michael’s fantasy and the memory of his dying former lover. In fact, Michael starts calling him “Chris” at some point during their evening together. Whoever the visitor may be or represent, one thing is for sure: his mere presence forces the writer to confront his past and the passionate love of his youth. In a way, I am reminded of Paul Cox’s “Innocence”, an exquisite study of two former lovers who meet again after nearly four decades apart. “The Visitor” is like an impressionistic, subjective version of that wondrous film, with one former lover embracing the ghost of the other. The writer/director, first-timer Dan Castle, emerges from this work as a considerable new talent. He is clearly skilled with actors (who are all quite good) and has a keen, lyrical sense of atmosphere. The photography is equally stunning with the majority of the film being bathed in either golden warmth or mysteriously cool blues. Numerous cuts to lulling waves only enhance the dreamy feel. In all, a really interesting short. I look forward to seeing where Mr. Castle goes with his first full-length feature.