Socialist Worker

The Soloist: a tale of mental illness with surprising integrity

by Simon Byrne
Issue No. 2171

Jamie Foxx in the Soloist

Jamie Foxx in the Soloist

This is the story of the unlikely relationship between journalist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr) and homeless cellist Nathaniel Avery (Jamie Foxx).

It is based on real events and contrary to the anticipated rags to riches story of a talented musician who “didn’t quite make it”, the film is a comment on homelessness, mental illness and the appreciation of art.

When a Los Angeles Times reader comes across the story of Nathaniel, who cannot afford to buy strings for his violin, she decides to give him a cello.

Flashbacks take us back to a time where Nathaniel was a music student with a mental condition that forced him to drop out.

Musical discord and visual chaos replace the clichéd device of a man putting his hands to his ears, screaming.

Director Joe Wright’s decision to use real people, rather than actors, for the scenes set in the homeless shelter where Nathaniel stays

gives us an insight into the lives of those who are overlooked and stamped on in society.

The integrity with which their stories are told suggests they are speaking from their own experiences rather than a Hollywood scriptwriter’s pen.

From Schumann to the Manic Street Preachers, much has been made of the possible links between mental illness and artistic ability. The Soloist, however, is not interested in such speculation.

It wants to know why Nathaniel is mentally ill. Why has he got nowhere to live?

And, why is this cellist’s art not allowed to blossom?

The film asks us to imagine a world in which human potential is fulfilled.

The Soloist
Directed by Joe Wright
Out now

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Article information

Tue 29 Sep 2009, 18:27 BST
Issue No. 2171
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