The Soloist

I like movies.  I like the commonality of the audience – we as one want to be entertained, or frightened, or have our funny bones tickled.  I like all kinds of movies, and it’s something my daughter and I do together almost every weekend.  A good movie will empty my head of the week, make me relax, and show me a good time.  But, to be honest, most of the time I’ve forgotten about the movie I saw on Friday night by Monday morning.  If someone asks me how it was, I’ll give it a “B” to be fair, unless it’s really awful.

And then there are the other kinds of movies.  Those movies that challenge me, provoke me, transform me so completely into it’s story that I can almost feel the characters sitting next to me and teaching me something about myself or the world that I didn’t realize before.  Movies that fit that category for me are few and far between.  “Schindler’s List”, “Rain Man”, and “Awakenings” are a few that inhabit that very exclusive and personal list for me.  And now I have a new edition to that list – “The Soloist”.

My youngest son and I went to see “The Soloist” together last Friday night.  He’s nearly 16, and altogether too cool to hang out in public with his mom, but he knew the movie was going to be about music, and philanthropy, and those are two things that are important to him – so we went together.  At one point he laid his hand over my arm.  Neither of us could tear our gaze from the screen, but it was that one point that we had to share together.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but if you’ve seen the previews or watched the news program that interviewed the two main characters, you’ll know the basics.  A columnist for the Los Angeles Times (played by Robert Downey Jr.) and the homeless man that he encounters (played by Jamie Foxx) and eventually befriends are the central characters of the movie.  The homeless man is at first a means to an end for the columnist – just another way to fill another byline.  The story doesn’t have a happy, pat ending – there’s no miracle cure for mental illness or homelessness, really.  It’s the journey of these two characters together that’s so transforming.

The moment where my son grabbed my arm – this scene where the homeless man is first given a cello from a reader sent through the reporter.  He’s in a tunnel under the streets of Los Angeles, cars are whizzing by, there’s filth and noise and the moment seems innocuous at first.  And then Jamie Foxx lifts that cello out of the box, sits on a milk crate and plays.  He closes his eyes to either shield himself from his life for a moment or to keep the emotion from pouring down his face, I couldn’t tell.  He didn’t need his eyes open to convey his despair and joy and wonder.  Robert Downey Jr. was equally mesmerizing as he wordlessly stopped being a reporter looking for a great hook and was instead honored to be reminded of where passion lives.  The only sounds filling the movie theatre besides the cello’s symphony were the light swishing of the pigeons wings as they flew out of the tunnel and rose to the sky in accordant applause.

I would highly recommend this movie.  I hope that it also teaches you something about preconceived notions and good intentions in the face of such complex problems as homelessness and mental illness and defining hope for each person – one person at a time.

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