Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Soloist and the dignity of non-judgment

The Soloist, based on a true story, shines a heart-warming ray of light into squalor, blight and hopelessness.

The backdrop is Los Angeles, which ultimately serves as a metaphor for the human condition, and it's depressing. 

Throughout the film we are shown alternating images and vistas of beauty and ugliness, order and chaos, light and darkness: in one scene, the camera pans upwards from the literal underbelly of streets where the homeless Mr. Nathaniel Anthony Ayers (played by Jamie Foxx) lives to the bright shiny streets of downtown Los Angeles where Times writer Steve Lopez (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) works. There are plenty of more visually disturbing scenes to offset the bright, sunny beautiful scenes worth seeing almost for their own sake. But the screenplay is not the driving force of this movie. The driving force of this movie is, absolutely, the story - no car chase, no explosions, no '"big reveal" twist ending...just a heartwarming story.

Steve Lopez is "looking for a story" and happens to notice Mr. Ayers - very clearly homeless - playing a violin on the street. He stops, engages Mr. Ayers about writing his story and thus begins this story of compassion, friendship and revelation. At first, Mr. Lopez wants to treat his interaction with Mr. Ayers as a subject. As he learns more about Mr. Ayers' past, and his mental health issues (having been diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia) he assumes the responsibility for trying to "help/save/rescue" Mr. Ayers in a manner that eventually seems paternalistic and condescending: one pivotal scene has Mr. Ayers threaten his life on the basis that he doesn't need Mr. Lopez making decisions for him because he is "a man who can take care of himself".

Mr. Lopez would finally "hear" the good advice of his ex-wife Mary (played by Catherine Keener) when she says "you can't fix LA, you can't fix Mr. Ayers, just be his friend and show up."

This is not a movie with a "Hollywood ending" where the down-and-out is rescued and becomes a star. It's a gritty, real glimpse into the functional value of dignifying a person who has problems as no different than any other person who has problems, regardless the number or degree of problems. In an interview with the real Steve Lopez, he said that he realized there are all kinds of people who, "through no fault of their own", suffer from mental illness that hinders their ability to cope in society. As such, blaming those people for what's wrong, or assuming that it can be a simple thing to "fix", is a fool's errand (in another key scene, Mr. Lopez argues "what if just two weeks on medication could change his life?" as though the complexity of Mr. Ayers illness could be "fixed in two weeks.")

By the way, if it's through no fault of their own, then who's fault is it? Well, if we must lay blame somewhere, consider our article You can't handle the truth: A Few Good Men, complexity and judgment, or consider the story of Job or a text such as John 11:4.

Anyway, people are people. We all have issues in one form or another. Some might be "fixable", but some may not be within this lifetime, if indeed the root issue is sin itself. But to whatever degree an issue might be fixable, and through whatever time frame is required, every person has a right to the dignity of being an imperfect person in the meantime, because that is, in fact what we all, if we believe Paul when he writes "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," in Romans 3:23.

In other words, Mr. Steve Lopez felt he'd become a better person by acknowledging Mr. Ayers as a friend while no longer feeling any obligation to "fix" Mr. Ayers. They became friends, two guys with issues, and this dignified and uplifted Mr. Ayers in a way that no medication could, while it also humbled Mr. Lopez in a way that success in fixing Mr. Ayers never could.

1 comment:

  1. I'll admit I never got the chance to see this film, but after reading what you mentioned, I may have to see this one for myself.

    Its true that many in our soceity do suffer due to mental illness, or due to a issue of how they look, or even how they speak. Take for example the movie "The Kings Speech" (which I have yet to see). It reminded me of a case of someone I knew who was an outstanding siprano opera singer even at a very young age. Her problem though was she had a ver difficult time speaking in general due to a stuttering issue she had since she started talking (according to her she was riduculed relentlessly in school). Yet dispite this problem, it did not affect her singing in any way, yet because of her speech issues, she wasnt able to gather enough courage to preform professionally or at least through proper music training..that is until recently.

    I'll go into more detail with this one, but I think I should take the time to look at this film first before adding anything more...thanks for bringing this one up!


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