The Soloist (2009)

The Soloist (2009) is an excellent film based on the true-life book, The Soloist by Steve Lopez. Lopez is a Los Angeles Times columnist who discovers Nathaniel Ayers, a Juilliard School dropout, who becomes schizophrenic and homeless, living on the streets of LA.

Ayers is a classically-trained cellist, who now has only a two string violin to play and instead of a concert stage, an urban tunnel or street corner. Lopez wonders how Ayers can stand to play in those conditions, but Ayers tells him that “the only thing that I hear is the music and the applause of the doves and the pigeons.” Ayers is hooked and decides to write a series of feature articles in the Times.

Robert Downey Jr. portrays  Lopez in the movie, and Jamie Foxx portrays Ayers. The two main characters give terrific performances, as do the actual homeless extras from the Lamp Community.

Ayers’s story makes us wonder about the many other homeless people in LA and elsewhere. As Lamp says,

Close to 74,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles–more than in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco combined. Los Angeles’ Skid Row, a 52-block area east of the downtown business district, has the highest concentration of homelessness in the United States. More than half of the homeless men and women in this area are chronically homeless, meaning they struggle with a mental or physical disability and have been living on the street for years.

That relatively greater challenge in LA doesn’t of course diminish the shameful job we do across the US in dealing with homelessness. The book, Ayers’s music, and the movie all reinforce Jane Addams’s view that art and cultural activities can reduce our isolation form one another, and reinforce essential human: “Social Life and art have always seemed to go best at Hull-House.”

The DVD includes features with the real Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers, and also, Beth’s Story, an animated short telling another story of homelessness:


Addams, Jane (1930). The second twenty years at Hull-House: September 1909 to September 1929. New York, Macmillan.

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