THE BLOG
07/11/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Showing Up for "The Soloist"

"The Soloist" was released in movie theaters on April 24, 2009. Directed by Joe Write, with a screenplay by Susanna Grant, it stars Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr.

If we aspire to give birth to our own accountability, one of its forms might translate to the notion of "showing up." As much as anything else, it involves becoming accountable for honesty about combinations of inner and outer facts and sources of distraction from the truth.

Showing up for the movie The Soloist would be to experience the grueling social phenomena of inner city poverty, schizophrenia, and racism, as well as the colonialism in attitudes of giving. Showing up would also be to recognize the impoverished spirit and emotional homelessness of the middle class anti-hero and his estranged wife who, fortunately for him, will not really go away.

This movie is not a neat story by any means, although if you believe the critics, it is artificial and exploitative. By contrast, I feel the movie illustrates how the more personal a story is, and the more we intersect with the contradictions inherent in the human condition, the more we are rendered capable of sustaining our connection to the social and personal dilemmas within. The Soloist gives us an opportunity rather than a morality play, and ours is the choice to take it.

As a psychotherapist, it is my observation that we usually approach relationships with the underprivileged and those in a position to be the benefactors as unequal and colonial; there is the sense of the more important person giving to the sorry and the pitiful one. Not so in the story of The Soloist. Not that there isn't some exploitation within the relationship, but part of the beauty of the film is that the exploitation is confronted at its core. There is no self-congratulatory crescendo.

There is a lot to take in here, especially grappling with where we the audience fit into the many pictures of social disaster and emotional richness. This is a film that can be so moving in stunningly powerful ways that it may be tempting to avoid watching it. Plus the critics' cynical accusations of exploitation might make a convenient excuse to skip it.

The Soloist, based on the book of the same name by Steve Lopez, explores the author's own experiences that began with tapping into his "hearing voices" -- hearing music out of nowhere it seemed, which was in fact coming from the two stringed violin of a homeless man. That man turned out to be an ex-Julliard student, once very talented. He was a great story, and then the story pulled the writer in, pulled his readers in, and ultimately pulls the viewers in.

More than any other movie I have seen in recent years, it is inconvenient on many levels: politically, socially and emotionally. It forces you to participate in your own side of the story. We are, each and everyone, involved in one of the groups and human aspects presented before us. Every character defies clinical superiority (unless the seduction of caricature is too great in our culture where film criticism can become yet another form of humiliation).

For those of us who want to consider ourselves to have good taste, can we ignore critics who put things into neat boxes often because of bias or mood or favoritism? This is a resounding remnant of this film's experience: the thought that we all deserve to be understood for our nuances rather than only through broad strokes.

In the voice of one psychotic character in the film who complains about her medication, we hear the human plea not to be deprived of dignity and consideration. Even as medication can help many people in states of illness and anguish, this person said it stopped the voices which comforted her.

When we as the audience are not smug or so sure from the start about our judgments, we can be surprised by a movie and be touched in mind and feeling. As we ponder the sad lack of attention to the devastation of domestic poverty, we can consider our own impoverishment in a culture that needs to pay more attention to community based on acceptance rather than status.

By the way, I see the film The Soloist as nothing less than essential.