Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Goodbye Solo

Sometimes I go to see random movies I know very little about. This past Sunday I decided to see what was playing at The Esquire here in Cincinnati. There was a mix of things I recognized and had never heard of. Goodbye Solo is one that I knew nothing about. I looked it up on Rotten Tomatoes to find that it had a score in the 90s which is usually a good sign. After reading the synopsis I thought that I may not enjoy it, but it was a movie worth checking out. In the end it was a movie I thoroughly enjoyed and would like to revisit after taking some time to think about it more.

For now, here are some thoughts. Mild Spoilers to follow.

The movie is about a taxi driver in Winston-Salem who is a Senegalese immigrant (Solo)and one of his passengers. At the start of the movie we find that an old, grizzled, Southern white man has asked Solo if he is willing to take on a job for him. In ten days, he would like to be driven up to a place called Blowing Rock, but does not need a return trip. The trip itself would normally cost 200 dollars, but he is willing to pay a full $1000.

Solo is perplexed, and is not able to get much else out of the man, suspecting that the man is contemplating suicide. What follows in the next 90 minutes is a parable of two equal and opposing forces, at least as this movie seems to frame it. Roger Ebert, in his review, says that "
It is about the desire to help and the desire to not be helped." This is the theme of the movie in a nutshell.

Solo is a relentless pursuer of friendship with William. He begins to work it out so that whenever William calls in for his regular trip to the movie theaters, it is Solo who ends up picking him up. This is much to the consternation of William. He wants nothing to do with anybody. He wants to seal up his life in a fortress that is impenetrable to the kindness of others.

As the movie goes on we learn that (unsurprisingly) William has had some bad things happen in his life, but the movie is less concerned with all of the specifics of these things than it is with the interaction of these two men. When William sells his apartment, Solo finds him a hotel, only to show up at Williams door a couple of days later needing a place to stay after his wife has kicked him out.

Whereas William is a source of draining joylessness, Solo is a fountain of joy. He is constantly upbeat, and enthusiastic in his pursuit of William. He continually refers to William as "Big Dog" and gets a little too enthusiastic when William shares he used to ride Harleys, eager to learn more about this man's past.

He is not terribly happy with his job, but is studying to become a flight attendant. He has an interview/test coming up and we get to see how much preparation goes into that. He is not this way with William alone, and we get to see his relationships with friends, ex-girlfriends and his step-daughter too.

As I said, it is a movie about two opposing forces. As eager as Solo may be, William is just as vehement about detachment. We never fully get a glimpse inside his head to see what is wrong, but we do understand that he comes with loneliness, regret, and sorrow.

Ramin Bahrani is an Iranian-American and I have found nothing on his faith, so what follows is less about him and more about me.

What struck me about this relationship is that it can be viewed in two similar ways from within the church.

The first is it reminds me of evangelism. When God calls us to pursue a relationship, I think he calls us to act in similar ways Solo does throughout the movie, although he does overstep some boundaries. Overall though, Solo is a source of unconditional love for someone who consistently rejects it. We must be sensitive to the people we seek to serve, and we may never get any positive feedback from them, but if we are acting in genuine love, we can continue to seek ways to serve them. The danger of course, is that we make it about what we are doing for them, and take a prideful stance on the matter. This is something that can only be guarded against through humble prayer.

The second thing it reminds me of is the human will. I believe that God issues a call to all humanity to follow him in loving submission, and then provides room for the human will to respond. If this is true, then the human will can reject him. William is a perfect example of this rejection. Solo has done nothing but shower him with kindness, and yet William will not allow himself to be loved in this way. There are brief moments hinting that there is some sort of friendship there, but ultimately Solo's advances are not successful. So too, I think God is constantly pursuing his creation, but in the end, we still can resist that love. We have been giving the option to say no, so that we may freely make the choice to say yes.

Going back to the idea of evangelism and personal relationships, we must keep this aspect of the human will in mind with any of them. Not all of the people we want to be friends with, want to be friends with us. Not all of the people we love, want to be loved by us. Part of caring for them in a manner suited to Christ is recognizing that and loving them anyway. But loving them in as non-manipulative a way as we can.

Whenever we try to manipulate someone's thoughts or feelings, we are only fooling ourselves. Even if they were to allow themselves to be manipulated, what we have done is no longer love, but selfishness. This will be worked out in a million different ways depending on the people involved. Not every relationship should get the same intensity of a chase as Solo has given to William. Listening to the Holy Spirit in prayer and in the counsel of others is a good way to determine how to go about things.

One other lesson from Solo, is that I never felt like he treated william as a pet project; he sought him out with a genuine desire for William's well being, and out of charity. This is where I think a lot of personal evangelism runs into the ground. Christ did not send us out to fix people. We are not mini-saviors going around working miracles. We are witnessess. Witnesses can only point to the thing witnessed. We witness to a life-changing Gospel, but we ourselves are not the Gospel.

I will not speak on the finale of the film, as it is best experienced for what it is. But I will say that once the film was over, I sat there for a few minutes trying to make sense of what I had just seen in the last hour and a half. I felt extremely conflicted by the hope of Solo and the despair of William that permeated the entire film. Nonetheless it is a conflict I am comfortable staying in. Much like the film, I feel it is a conflict that need not be reconciled in reality as well.


Thomas said...

this is a cheers moment but, I've been to blowing rock.

rheimbro said...

Was it snowing? Up?