The Soloist (2009)

The Soloist (2009)

Director: Joe Wright

Cast: Jamie Foxx as Nathaniel Ayers, Robert Downey Jr. as Steve Lopez, Catherine Keener as Mary Weston, Tom Hollander as Graham Claydon, Lisa Gay Hamilton as Jennifer Ayers (as Lisagay Hamilton), Nelsan Ellis as David Carter, Rachael Harris as Leslie Bloom, Stephen Root as Curt Reynolds, Lorraine Toussaint as Flo Ayers, Justin Martin as Young Nathaniel, Kokayi Ampah as Bernie Carpenter, Patrick Tatten as Paul Jr., Susane Lee as Marisa (as Susane E. Lee), Marcos De Silvas as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Ilia Volok as Harry Barnoff

Since Ingmar Bergman's 1962 film, "Through a Glass, Darkly", the 2009
film "The Soloist" is one of the two most accurate portrayals of
schizophrenia, from the point of view of the mentally ill person and of
people who want to interact with the ill person. I speak from
experience. David Cronenberg's film, "Spider", is the other.

I was disappointed in my two favourite critics, James Berardinelli and
Roger Ebert, each of who gave "The Soloist" only 62½%.

Berardinelli says, "The Soloist is afflicted with a lack of passion.
The story lacks a strong trajectory; it meanders, seemingly unsure of
precisely what it wants to do and say and where it wants to go."
Actually, that is the reality of schizophrenia. One never knows what is
going to happen next. There are many setbacks. He also says, "The
soundtrack supplies multiple, overlapping voices. The objective is to
invite the viewer to participate in the unhinging of Nathaniel's mind,
a first-person perspective of schizophrenia. Unfortunately, it feels
artificial and contrived." I have taught seven NAMI* courses on mental
illness. One episode in one of the classes involves requiring class
members to perform certain simple tasks while being bombarded by random
voices from behind. Many class members find that to be the most
unnerving, and illuminating, of all the activities in the course.

Ebert misses the point when he says, "Yes, mental illness can be like
that, but can successful drama? There comes a point when Lopez has had
enough, and so, in sympathy, have we." Dealing with a mentally ill
person can be devastatingly frustrating. Must we always be entertained?
There is a place for grim reality in drama. Otherwise, how can we

"The Soloist" is as accurate a representation of schizophrenia as you
could experience without becoming mentally ill yourself. If you keep
that in mind then the film will be rewarding; if, however, you are
looking for a film that makes sense easily and progresses from point to
point in a logical manner, then look for a different film.

If you choose to watch the film and absorb the reality of mental
illness, then you will learn much. You never know when that knowledge
will be of great value to you. Then again, you may be spared, and never
need it.

The film introduces a very important idea: mentally ill people do
better if there is someone, whom they trust, who takes an abiding
interest in them.

It also poses one very important question: should mentally ill persons
be forced to take medication to stabilize themselves? Different states,
provinces and countries have different laws concerning this. Some feel
that mentally ill persons should be forced to take medication if and
only if they are likely to harm themselves or others. Mentally ill
persons are often unaware that they are mentally ill, and cannot be
convinced otherwise. Would they have more freedom to decide correctly
for themselves if they were first medicated until they become sane? The
film addresses this question but does not attempt to give a definitive
answer. You will have to think out that question yourself, keeping in
mind that different people have different reactions to the same
medication. There is no universal answer, but for each individual,
there is probably a best answer but not necessarily a good one.

The film captivated me from the beginning to the end. I did not miss
the common devices that some movies use to make them exciting. There
was excitement enough for me in the growth of the principal characters
and in the learning that I did, and in the thinking that I was forced
to do.

*NAMI is The National Alliance on Mental Illness.

P.S. Schizophrenia has absolutely nothing to do with having multiple
personalities, or of dichotomies (apparent contradictions). The split
in the expression "split personality" is the split between the
personality and reality. Unfortunately, the word is misused far more
often that it is used correctly.

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