I rarely go to the theatre to see a movie. But it was our anniversary and I know my wife likes to watch movies. So I skimmed through what the cinema had playing and one movie jumped out at me. Maybe it was because of a musical theme. My wife likes music, so maybe she would like this movie. I went to Focus on the Family and saw their review for this movie, The Soloist.
This movie based on a true story made a deep impact on me. Note that this is not a movie from a Christian perspective, although there are Christian themes in it. Basically, a homeless man who lives on the streets is also a musical genius. The reason Nathaniel is on the street is his inability to function in society. Most would say he is mentally ill, including Steve Lopez, a columnist who begins writing about Nathaniel. At the beginning of their encounters, Steve is looking to write a story and finds his readers connecting very solidly with Nathaniel. As the story progresses, Steve finds himself befriending Nathaniel and helping him, although Nathaniel really doesn’t think he needs any help.
The story raises pointed questions that strike at the heart of how far to go when helping someone. Steve’s conversations with the director at a shelter for otherwise homeless people give great insight into the fine line that one walks when helping someone who may not agree they need help. What does one do in a situation where someone is homeless, but doesn’t think they need help? What about someone who hears voices but doesn’t think they are mentally ill? Should someone force them to receive treatment?
The story lacks a Hollywood happy ending. Steve wants Nathaniel to receive counseling, be diagnosed, and begin taking medication. But he realizes that all the time he has been wanting to change Nathaniel, he really should just be there to be his friend. Steve does not have a shining moral character either. He loses his temper, lacks patience, and sees things from a very limited perspective. There is some foul language as well, mostly from Steve.
At the end, I was truly touched by the way the characters in the story were left. Steve himself had been changed as he dealt with Nathaniel, but Nathaniel’s condition remained relatively unchanged – although he began sleeping in an apartment instead of on the street. Nathaniel’s love for music and the ability to play the violin and cello are what seemed to draw Steve to Nathaniel at first, but later Nathaniel’s own person became valuable to Steve. Steve’s desire to write his column is what motivated him to reach out to Nathaniel at first, but later it became more personal.
So what would all Steve’s hard work measure up to if Nathaniel remained mentally ill at the end of all his efforts? I was truly choked up at the end as I realized that’s what true friendship is. The story reminded me of three different songs all focusing on reaching out to people just the way they are. First, by Sara Groves:
Loving a person just the way they are, it’s no small thing
It takes some time to see things through
Sometimes things change, sometimes we’re waiting
We need grace either way
Second, by Chris Rice:
See you had no choice which day you would be born
Or the color of your skin, or what planet you’d be on
Would your mind be strong, would your eyes be blue or brown
Whether daddy would be rich, or if momma stuck around at all
How did I find myself in a better place
I can’t look down on the frown on the other guy’s face
‘Cause when I stoop down low, look him square in the eye
I get a funny feeling, I just might be dealing
With the face of Christ
And finally, by Caedmon’s Call:
is different than you’d think
It’s never in a song
or on a TV screen
is harder than a word
Said at the right time
and everything’s alright
Love is different than you think
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman
P.S. Read about my own experience with this here.