“Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” These lines from Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus, inscribed into the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, are testament to the immigrant as mythological figure. Migration is etched deeply into the American psyche and cinema is arguably the preeminent medium through which this most American of fables is told.
The Godfather trilogy, Once Upon A Time in America and the entire western genre are exemplars of an American cinematic tradition profoundly influenced by immigration, but nowhere has the experience of European emigration to America been told so forcefully and definitively as in Swedish director Jan Troell’s duo, The Emigrants and The New Land. Based on Vilhelm Moberg’s quartet of novels, Troell’s films chart the story of a family of mid-nineteenth century Swedish farmers who, driven by poverty, religious persecution and the ever present threat of starvation, make the perilous journey across the Atlantic to seek their fortune in America.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell