The Messages of The Soloist
While Steve Lopez was looking for an article to write, he stumbled upon Nathaniel Ayers. Nathaniel is a schizophrenic homeless man that finds himself under then wing of Steve Lopez. Steve wrote a book named, The Soloist, which describes the journey and conflicts him and Nathaniel go through. Throughout the book different messages are portrayed. It proves that homeless people can be gifted and stereotypes don’t mean anything. The book also shows that everyone does deserve a second chance in life.
Homeless people have the worst reputations because of stereotypes. Society believes all homeless people are uneducated, had a bad childhood, and are heavily into drugs. However, in The Soloist, Steve Lopez shows a different side of homeless people and that all stereotypes heard are not always true. For example, the book shows that homeless people can be gifted. Nathaniel Ayers does have schizophrenia but he also has an exceptional musical intelligence. Mr. Barnoff, from the Cleveland Music School Settlement, taught Nathaniel how to play. He describes how brilliant of a student Nathaniel really was, “…Barnoff had never seen a student go months without practice, as Nathaniel sometimes did, then pick up an instrument and get such a great sound out of it” (19). Nathaniel attended Julliard, which is a prestigious art school in New York. Even with a mental illness Nathaniel was taught to play string bass but taught himself how to play the cello and violin. He can pick up, virtually, any instrument and start playing music like nothing. Steve Lopez received instruments from fans of Nathaniel’s story. Steve gave a cello to Nathaniel and within minutes Nathaniel tuned the cello and started playing beautiful music. To him playing music was as normal as breathing. In the book, Steve Lopez describes Nathaniel’s love for music, “I’ve never loved anything the way he loves music” (168). Nathaniel asserts: “I lost a god and I gained a god… It’s rough out...
The Soloist paints a realistic, gritty picture of how difficult it is to address the interconnected issues of homelessness and mental illness. When he first meets Nathaniel, Lopez is drawn to the man's obvious talent and the way music transports him spiritually (more on that in a minute) to a place Lopez says he's never been. And as Lopez gets more and more involved in Nathaniel's life, the journalist naturally longs to see his friend freed from his schizophrenia.
But the steps Lopez takes to help Nathaniel are tripped up by the musician's antipathy toward getting off the streets and getting psychiatric attention. Thus, the film poses a thorny question: How do you help someone who desperately needs help, but won't accept it?
It's a question without a neat answer. While we as moviegoers are conditioned to expect dramatic, redemptive conclusions, The Soloist offers something else entirely. Nathaniel doesn't get well, per se, and he continues to have a hard time accepting Lopez's help. Initially, Lopez believes that involuntarily committing him to a psychiatric ward is what Nathaniel needs most. But by the film's finale, Lopez's ex-wife, Mary, helps the writer see that what matters is being a friend to Nathaniel, even if a permanent "fix" remains unlikely.
As it recounts this story, The Soloist poignantly highlights the lives of Los Angeles' estimated (by the movie) 90,000 homeless residents. Much of the film revolves around a mission called Lamp Community that provides care and shelter for homeless people, many of whom suffer from mental illness. Along the way, the film also tries to help audiences understand what schizophrenia might feel like. Accordingly, we're privy to the confusing, condemning cacophony of voices that Nathaniel hears when he gets anxious.
I should note here that just because Lopez fails to find a magic solution (and that in itself can be seen as positive since it gives a realistic image of what usually happens in real life), he still finds many other ways to tangibly help Nathaniel, including reconnecting him with his sister, Jennifer. He searches for Nathaniel at several of the city's hospitals when he disappears. He introduces him to a musician named Graham Claydon from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And, with the help of Lamp Community, he gets him an apartment.
Lopez's regular columns in the newspaper prompt one elderly reader to give Nathaniel her cello (which was his first instrument). Lopez arranges for the cello to be stored at Lamp Community and encourages Nathaniel to go to the mission. Nathaniel begins playing his cello regularly for the homeless people at Lamp.