Stirred by “The Soloist”
Watching The Soloist made me proud to be human, to possess the capacity to create music, to capture stirring stories with words, to experience the brokenness of our own lives and the lives of others with imperfect compassion. The Soloist is a movie based on a true encounter between L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers. Mr. Ayers is a former Julliard student turned homeless at the hands of mental illness. After meeting Mr. Ayers, Lopez befriends him, leading to a journey of personal discovery and change as he learns to see something of the beauty that Ayers sees, when hearing Beethoven.
What Does Music Do to Us?
Music has a way of healing us, of mediating grace to us, of connecting us to the divine. Of course, like any craft or art, music can also do the opposite. It can cajole us, stir up anger and pride. And as Ayers and Lopez show us, anger and pride, healing and grace are all part of the human experience, or at least they can be.
The film hands its viewers an albatross of emotion, slung over the neck, resting heavily upon the chest. It’s density and complexity leave you stirred, compelled. There are so many themes to respond to–injustice, mental illness, personal failure, urban squalor, homelessness, hope, loyalty, faith, grace, and the beauty and force of music. As I watched the closing minutes of the film and observed the mentally ill dancing through their therapy, I couldn’t help but think of Karl Paulnack’s stirring address to the parents investing in the Boston Conservatory.
Paulnack’s basic point is that art is essential to human survival. When words fail, notes will do. In fact, they do more than “do”; they heal the human spirit. French composer Oliver Messiaen wrote his famous Quartet for the End of Time from the confines of a concentration camp. When life become unbearable, “Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.” Art has a way of getting at the internal, invisible world within us and giving expression to what we feel but cannot explain.
Not only am I proud to be human, but I am grateful to be human. I am grateful to the grand Artist who created a world with words, a world that sings back to him: “their voice is gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” I am grateful that I can feel, that I can sing, that I can experience sorrow and joy, run the spectrum of emotions and know that life is not in vain.
Ayers felt something in the music that Lopez did not. Lopez’s x-wife, Mary, tells him that it is grace. Perhaps the inexplicable weight on your chest as you leave the theatre is grace, recieving something, being something that really did not originate with you, that comes from outside of us and to us, with every breath we take, with every word we type, with every note we sing. Grace, undeserved, freely given, wonderfully divine.