Sunday, April 12, 2009

Empathy is Universal

Tom and I went to see Good Bye Solo this weekend, a film by Ramin Bahrani. Roger Ebert gave it four stars and calls Bahrani the "new Great American director."Red West and Souleymane Sy Savane play the two title characters. I didn't know it at the time but Red West was a longtime Elvis bodyguard, apparently, who fell out of favor when he busted up a drug dealer's visit to The King. I'm just going to talk about what happens in the movie so don't read unless you want to know what happens. If you're planning to see it and don't want any spoilers, don't read on.

The story centers around two unlikely friends. The first is a Winston-Salem taxi driver, nicknamed Solo who is one of those guys who has a million friends (suprisingly to me as it is set in Winston-Salem, from all different cultures) and a bunch of sidelines he dabbles in. Solo picks up character #2, William, a depressed older man who enjoys going to the movies but who we find out in the first scene who wants to go to the mountains, offering to pay $1000 and have the cab drop him off on October 20th, and just leave him there.

The unspoken (throughout the whole movie) suicide plan of a passenger he doesn't know prompts Solo, the Sengalese taxi driver, to try to give William a glimpse of his own life, thereby giving William a sense of hope. He takes him out drinking trying to remind William of comraderie and talks to him of women. He takes William home to his own house to meet his wife and Stepdaughter, Alex, who plays a pivotal role in highlighting the role of parenthood in each man's life. Solo is devoted to his stepdaughter and his unborn baby with his Mexican wife Qiera. Whereas, we find out William has a daughter somewhere who he fell out of contact with and spends his nights going to the movies to see his grandson who sells tickets at the ticketcounter to see, the relationship unknown to the teen. 

Much of William's character is deeper than we see-he is a closed book. We don't see what has lead him to this point, we only see the man who has determined his own fate and the anger he feels toward Solo for trying to bring him back to the land of the living by connecting their lives. Solo is an open, and friendly book, finding empathy for the man who wants to end his own life and trying to figure out the reason so he can help fix whatever problem Williams has. At the same time, we see Solo pursuing his own life and dreams... in his search to become a flight attendant, in his relationship with his wife and stepdaughter. In his friendships, with people all around the city from the janitor at the hotel where William stays to the friends of all ethnicities he plays soccer with he is contrasted with William who is seemingly alone and with no one.

Yet at the end of the movie, Solo seems to accept that William is going to do what he wants to do and in friendship decides to be there for him til the end. At the same time, he somehow resolves to not end up like William and insists on his stepdaughter accompanying him to take William to the mountains.

It is a beautifully film, not necessarily cinematically, though each shot has its purpose, but in that  it leaves you thinking and caring about the characters...Roger Ebert, in his review, says:

A film like this makes me wonder if we are coming to the end of the facile, snarky indie films. We live in desperate times. We are ready to respond to films that ask that question. How do you live in this world?

But I disagree. I think that everyone has a point of view. Just because your point of view is snarky doesn't mean it is any less relevant and most of the so-called "snarky" films I see often have a deeper underlayer that seek to find a "how do you live in this world?" kind of qustion though often in an agreed-snarky way that make them good. I did like this but walking out, when my friend says "What was the point?" just makes me like it more.  

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