My viewing of “The Soloist” recalled how cruel Fate can be to nice people. It placed the homeless, especially the mentally ill ones, in my face and forced me to deal with this unfortunate reality. Then it ushered me a quick glimpse of the world of classical music. “The Soloist” spins both topics as subplots around a remake of the Joseph story in the Book of Genesis. Undoubtedly, this movie will vibrate the full range of your emotions. Now recall the Joseph story.
Joseph had a special gift. Subject to a grip of jealousy, his brothers sold him into slavery. While in service, Joseph endured and emerged a powerful ruler. Years later, upon confronting his brothers he said:
“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 46:19-21
“The principal characters of this engaging movie are Nathaniel Ayers, played by Jamie Foxx, and Steve Lopez, played by Robert Downey Jr. Ayers is a modern-day Joseph. Fate plays the composite character of Joseph’s brothers who sells him into mental illness.
Like the Biblical Joseph, the young Ayers is a very talented person. To carve out a life as a musician, he abandons the distractions of his world, elevates the great composers to prophets of the god he seeks, masters their techniques thus developing his musical skill, to earn enrollment in the famed Julliard School of Music.
Ayers, in the clutches of mental illness, departs Julliard before gaining its heralded certification. He takes to the streets and like the typical homeless, keeps all of his possessions in a grocery cart under his vigilant watch. But unlike the typical homeless, he plays classical music on a violin with two strings to passing motorists in tunnels and to homeless audiences whom he spells to tranquility with his music.
Steve Lopez, a writer for the Los Angles Times, hears the heavenly sounds of Ayers seranading a Beethoven statue in a small park. He pursues a story about this gifted musician. After observing and listening to Ayers, he is amazed by his talent and his dedication to music. He then seeks to provide for Ayers’ safety and his return to normalcy.
Lopez’s feature stories about Ayers nets a gift, a cello, from a former player. He offers Ayers the cello provided he seeks shelter from the streets. Ayers plays the cello and we, the audience, are given a view of Ayers’ reaction to the music he makes through a symbolic flight of pigeons.
This is one of the exhilarating moments in the movie. The pigeons pumped their wings to the arpeggios and runs of the strings of an accompanying orchestra and they glide as Ayers slowly bows his singing cello.
From the pigeons‘ vantage point over a freeway, the world looks ordered. Cars follow each other in neat lines to their destinations, like busy ant columns returning to their colony with the bounty of a new find. The smooth curves in the freeway designs at exits and interchanges brandishes the beauty in the functionality fashioned in these creations.
The pigeons fly high and they fly low to the phrasing of the music. Then Ayers entered Nirvana under the intoxication of his own music, symbolized by the pigeons vertical ascent into an embrace of the music god. Pigeons are not powerful enough to ascend straight up, so they apparently are drawn into the embrace by the music god.
The movie closes with the following statement on a black screen: “Psychiatrists believe the brain chemistry of the mentally ill changes when someone enters his life as a friend.”
Lopez’s mission to save Ayers earned him celebrity recognition and local government support for the homeless. Ayers morphs into a person who wishes to leave the streets for a life of normalcy. But equally significant, Lopez’s attention to Ayers jolts him to recognize that his own life is dysfunctional. He realizes his famiy is a blessing that he has been neglecting. To rectify his error, he reacquaints himself with his wife.
Like the Joseph story, the talented Ayers endured his life situation and emerged a leader to his own destiny. Through Lopez’s feature stories about Ayers, many, in particular, Lopez, Ayers himself and the willing in the homeless community were saved as government began to address the needs of that community.