The Soloist – the Movie

Many things came together for me with The Soloist.

I remember seeing the previews many months ago. Usually I forget having seen the previews and when the movies come out I have no connection between the titles and the long forgotten previews. But for The Soloist, I waited for when it came out, and I went to see it on the 3rd day.

It is based on the true story of actual people in Los Angeles, the L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez, played by Robert Downey, Jr.,  and the homeless man Nathaniel Ayers, played by Jamie Foxx. About a month ago 60 Minutes did a section on the two men and their unlikely friendship. Steve Lopez wrote the book, so I assume 60 Minutes found out about it through that, or through the then upcoming movie. Be that as it may, seeing the 60 Minutes episode helped me with the movie and I looked forward to it even more.

I noticed that it was directed by Joe Wright, the same director that made Atonement, which I could not stand.

I have to warn you, while it is an inspiring story, it is not an uplifting one. Mr. Ayers was a musical prodigy as a child, but things started coming apart for him in college – he went to Juilliard. He has a mental illness, the diagnosis of which is not clear, but probably schizophrenia.

Watching this movie struck me in three different ways:

1. Mental Illness – the way mental illness must frighten and disable a person is terrifying. In this movie we get a taste of what it is like to be inside a brain that is ill. You can’t figure out what is actually going on. You get paranoid, panicked, self absorbed and desperate. Our society has no place for such people, and so they end up on the street. I cannot imagine what it must be like to know that your brain is playing tricks on you, anytime or all the time, and often when you can least afford it.

2. Homelessness – there are supposedly 90,000 homeless people on the streets of greater Los Angeles. Ayers is one of them. We see them wander, claw their way into shelters, take handouts of  food,  and congregate on skid row by the hundreds, surrounded by abhorrent conditions, drowning in squalor, right in our midst. I have driven through the tunnel where Ayers liked to hang out and play the violin. I know the places.

3. Music – Beethoven is Ayers’ favorite composer. He is mine, too. Beethoven has moved me deeply when I was a youth. I did several paintings of Beethoven portraits when I was a young man. The 3rd movement of the 9th symphony is my favorite piece of music in the world. When I am dead, at the celebration ceremony, my instructions will be to play this piece – nothing else. If I were asked to identify myself through one piece of music, that’s the one. And this is what was played for the closing credits of The Soloist.

There is no happy ending. We get a glimpse into a societal problem of proportions that seem insurmountable. We are obviously not equipped to deal with mental illness in our midst. We do endeavor nation building in Iraq, though, at a cost that could have housed, clothed, fed and medicated all our mentally ill people on the streets for years. But that is the subject of another rant. There is no good answer for Ayers. His surroundings get better through his notoriety, to a degree. He is, after all, a musical prodigy. He asks his tutor: Can I be good again?

So I walk out of the movie, floating on the wings of the 3rd movement of Beethoven’s Ninth, and I realize that there are thousands of people living on sidewalks, with their possessions in shopping carts, while I get to go home to my comfortable and safe bed. Yet, there is beauty for all of us, surrounding us, everywhere. All we need to do is look for it.

Rating: ****

2 thoughts on “The Soloist – the Movie

  1. Chelsea

    I just saw this last night and didn’t like it. Great potential with the story, but just not executed right. I found it fairly boring and tiresome.

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