CINEMA: by Len Phillips (reviewer)News Weekly
Deliver us from this left-liberal 'moralising' - The Soloist (rated M)
, October 3, 2009
I am now going to try to describe a film that may defy my descriptive powers. It is so exactly suited to our times, that it may just not be possible to give you any idea of just how deranged this perfectly pitched film actually is.
|Jamie Foxx (left) and Robert Downie Jr|
in The Soloist.
Given that the film is about how someone made a huge effort to help someone else who had fallen through the cracks of society, it may seem odd that I find the film so repulsive; but I do. Whether I can explain why I think so is another matter altogether.
The point I am going to try to make is that this is a film that tries to show what is wrong with America; but it is the self-satisfied sanctimonious smugness of the story itself that is what I think is wrong and not what is attempted through the storyline itself.
The movie is called The Soloist
and stars Robert Downie Jr as Steve Lopez, a feature columnist for the Los Angeles Times,
and Jamie Foxx who portrays Nathaniel Ayres, a black schizophrenic street person with this one attribute: he had once been admitted to, but had then left before graduating from, the Julliard School of Music in New York, possibly the finest school of music in the world.
Saving a crazy, black, potential prodigy becomes the Lopez mission in life. We were clearly supposed to sympathise with him in all of his trials as he extends one form of assistance after another and we were, I suppose, meant to share in his desire to save this soul in torment from the perdition he was clearly in.
The Downie character is almost a caricature - spiritually dead, barren of religion and desperately alone. That he was the one in desperate spiritual need I would have thought perfectly obvious; but this seemed invisible to the people with whom I saw the movie.
Lopez finds in Nathaniel someone else whose problems he can devote his own life towards solving. He does so by demanding - absolutely demanding without any deviation - that this literally crazy street person obey, to the letter, every single direction he gives in trying to bring him back from the edge.
This was a one-on-one version of the left-liberal mentality of what I see as the modern secular American left. We know what's good for you, and you will do exactly as you are told. But for the fact that Nathaniel finally rebels at the very end, he would have been placed into an asylum, having almost been tricked by Lopez into signing an agreement form.
I may have been the only one in the theatre pleased to see this madman punching the lights out of this sickening and devious reporter when he works out at the last moment just what this LA Times
columnist had had in store. He may have been mad, but he knew enough to recognise that institutional care in the hands of the state would not necessarily have been a better option than taking his chances on the street.
The final bit of irony for me was the subplot, which was the continuing fall in the circulation level of the LA Times
. Snippets of then President George W. Bush and the refugees from Hurricane Katrina (standing like typical welfare state zombies on their roofs with signs reading "Help me!") were flashed to remind us just who the enemy supposedly is and whose actions the newspaper was dedicated to oppose.
That the enemy, as I saw it, was actually the LA Times
and the mentality it represents is just how it goes. If this is what it stands for, may its circulation continue to fall.
That we should help the less fortunate and assist the poor and mentally ill goes without saying. That we have now actually closed our mental institutions, ostensibly to ensure no one is deprived of their freedom, but in reality as a cost-saving measure for governments, is a disaster that has driven many such as Nathaniel onto the streets. That recreational drugs have blighted hundreds of thousands of lives is a grim reality.
The film portrays at least some of the dimensions of the world of a drug-crazed underclass and gives a small sense of the tragedies that few of us ever see. Prettified it may be, but it is still a reminder of this other world.
But then there is this. The one person who sincerely tries to help Nathaniel, not because of some personal deficiency within himself but because he is a believing Christian, is the actual soloist from the LA Philharmonic. As soon as he made his way onto the screen, standing in front of his church with a portrait of Jesus painted on the side, I knew in some way he was going to fail.
And fail he does big time. The film's message seeks to convince viewers beyond any question that Christian caring and love are not the answer.
In the actual circumstances of the film, I really could not see any realistic solution to the horrors confronting Nathaniel Ayers. And even if he individually could be helped, through the expenditure of prodigious amounts of money and the resources of a major metropolitan daily, the possibility of making this outcome a general answer to the huge problem of the underclass is preposterous.
Not everyone sleeping in doorways is a musical prodigy whose life can be reassembled through small bits of attention from time to time.
But I do know this. That if I should come upon hard times amidst strangers, I would feel myself more secure and hopeful in the help I should receive if I fell in amongst Christians than amongst any number of columnists from the Los Angeles Times