click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

The Soloist

The Soloist

Reporter Steve Lopez thought he found a story in Nathaniel Ayers. What he really found was a friend.


After I sobbed my way through “The Soloist” last night, I had one dominating thought -- I wish I had rented a comedy!

The homelessness, the mental illness, the sense of great potential unfulfilled and families torn apart -- it is almost impossible not to be distracted by the pain. Yet this is not theme of the movie.

By now mostly everyone is probably familiar with the story line: LA Times reporter Steve Lopez, trying to stay afloat amidst a struggling newspaper and a challenging personal life, happens upon a homeless man, Nathaniel Ayers, trying to play a broken violin in the shadow of a statue of Beethoven. Discovering the Ayers was a former student at Juilliard, Lopez scents a story.

Ayers teaches Lopez what friendship really means.

But it is only later – much later – that he creates a friendship. Or perhaps, to put it more accurately, Ayers and the inhabitants of his world (a frightening subculture of the frequently psychotic homeless) teach him what friendship really means.

The message is actually similar to that of the obviously fictional and fantastically successful musical “Wicked.” Elphaba, the so-called “wicked witch,” really tries to help other people -- and animals. She assumes that she knows what’s best for them and works her magic accordingly. In the end, all those she tried to help despise her. In her efforts at rescue, she has actually limited and trapped them. She has prevented them from making their own choices, from achieving their own potential.

Perhaps we would have relegated this idea to the category of song were it not for Steve Lopez’s experiences.

He appears to make the same mistakes as Elphaba. Despite what Ayers tells him, despite what those with experience on Skid row tell him, Lopez is determined to fix Ayers -- in the way that he, Lopez, deems best.

He wants to get Ayers an apartment, cello lessons, medication, an opportunity to perform in concert...Most of his efforts backfire and his anger and frustration are palpable. As is that of Ayers.

What makes the movie powerful, what transforms the story, is the choice that Lopez finally makes – to accept Ayers on his own terms, to treat him as a valuable human being without imposing any conditions.

Lopez is able to recognize and appreciate the goodness in Ayers and forges a relationship with him without any ulterior motives. That is friendship. That is powerful. It is no longer noblesse oblige – or the way to revive a stagnant newspaper career. Lopez has learned the essence of true relationships and made a new friend.

Click here to view the trailer.


August 23, 2009

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Anonymous, September 4, 2009 10:14 AM

the pain of reality

I saw the movie and wept often remembering my own mother and how she lived with her mental illness. I once took her to the hospital, she had to sign herself in to the mental ward. Later she told me how angry she was with me that night. The medication she was on kept her from living in the streets. She told me having a mental illness, in her opinion, was worse than having cancer and that she wouldn't want her worst enemy to have what she had. My mother was a very independent woman having worked part of her life, she became disabled in her middle 30's. When I understood that the possibility of living a normal or close to normal life for my mother was possible through medication, it was the one thing I often checked...that she was still taking her meds. Had she just been my friend I probably would not have been so adament but she was my mother. I had seen her so grieved and ashamed of the things she had done when she was in a manic state. Altlhough we thought she was out of her mind, in her well moments she could remember everything she did. I was my mom's closest friend, we understood eachother very well, and yes, there were times I had to be controling. Was I right? I don't know, but neither do I regret my actions towards her when she was mentally unstable.

(4) Dvirah, September 3, 2009 2:07 PM

Jewish Way of Thought - Reply

The comment is true when it comes to committing acts procribed by the Torah; it does NOT mean one person has the right to impose his/her idea (often secular! - as here) of a lifestyle upon another.

(3) , August 25, 2009 10:35 PM

the Jewish way of thought

the Jewish way of thought is that there is RIGHT and there is WRONG and it does NOT depend on the individual and his or her preference A friend is not someone who agrees to everything you want

(2) ruth housman, August 25, 2009 8:33 PM

stepping back

It's an important lesson in therapy and it's an important lesson in life. We feel the need to fix something we think is broken before we find out whether that person needs fixing, wants fixing, and we miss sometimes the beauty of what they are currently offering as themselves, a soul thing. There is always something superior about wanting to fix someone, as if we don't need fixing. We are all in this together. Certainly, people come to therapists and others in pain, and for their story and what they need, we should listen closely and give as best we can, and then refer on. But the essential first step is being in step with that other person.

(1) Barbara Doan, August 25, 2009 5:13 PM

Latent Motives

Shira, Thank YOU for sharing your thoughts on The Soloist. Your comments have brought me to a place of looking at my motivations in helping others. Earlier today I had to step back and evaluate my deep desire to help a friend's mother plan his funeral-which I know well how to do. I found that my desire to help went beyond helping to control. Ouch. All of this fits together with the key word and answer being "friendship". Again, Thank You. Barbara

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment