Monday 5 October 2009

The Soloist: Love believes all things

There’s a select company of mental challenge Hollywood epics out there. It includes College Math professors with Russell Crowe, Autistic Savants with Dustin Hoffman, and, of course Jack Nicholson being sane in an insane institution, which was a laugh because everyone knows Jack Nicholson is actually daft as a brush. If compiling a Hollywood gallery of insanity epics, I’d also include Raging Bull, although you may say professional boxing is in itself insane, if better paid than other things crazy people do. The Soloist takes us down to the streets of Los Angeles, for Schizophrenic outdoor games seasoned by a brush with the healing power of Ludwig Van.

This is a wonderful film. It isn’t as sentimentally heartwarming as I had feared; the crap underbely of Los Angeles is so profundly unpleasant, and doesn’t stop being that just because someone shows a bit of kindness and humanity. The story is hard-edged in many ways, and, although optimistic, it does not resolve itself with the kind of simple redemptive happy ending one might have expected.

Above all this is a film about faith and the power of faith — not an easy concept to convey on the silver screen. It’s not necessarily religious faith, indeed the characters with definite religious faith are less able to penetrate the fog of schizophrenia in a healing way than the more damaged and vulnerable hero-journalist. However this film is about faith in the classic Pauline sense of “walking by faith not sight.” It's the kind of faith that sees in someone who is incredibly messed up the possibility of redemption, and is willing to stick with that person in a way that flies in the face of all rational evidence, against the decisions pretty much everyone else around the person has taken about his value and redeemability.

It ain’t easy. Schizophrenia is no sunday school outing, and there’s an untertone of danger and violence which erupts almost fatally out of the blue on one occasion, but is always there in the background, like the double bass in one of Ludwig Van’s concertos. Still, the hero keeps faith with his friend, not as a therapist or rescuer, but simply as a commitment of blind faith, and as he lives that commitment out, a relationship begins to emerge with someone pretty much anyone else would have thought too damaged to have a meaningful relationship with anyone. As this happens, possibilities begin to actualize, and even though there is no simple redemption, we end up set fair for a reasonably happy ending.

This film is long but good; the elements for a hopeful ending have to be picked out of a mess like the bones out of the soup, but they are there. Messy, like schizophrenia, but marvellous. I give this little lot four and a three quarter stars out of five. It surely deserves a place right up there in the mental challenge epics hall of fame...

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