The Soloist Was a Terrific Movie About Homelessness

By Diane Robinson

Editor’s Note:  This article contains spoilers if you have not seen the movie and do not want to know the ending stop reading.

In 2005, Steve Lopez, played by Robert Downey, Jr., was a journalist working for the L.A Times.  He is divorced, and now works for his ex-wife Mary who was played by Catherine Keener, the L.A Times editor.  A bicycle accident lands Lopez in a hospital.

One day, he hears the sound of a junky violin being played beautifully.  Investigating, he encounters Nathaniel Ayers played by Jamie Foxx, a homeless schizophrenic, who is playing classical music in a park, and Lopez introduces himself.  During the conversation, Lopez learns that Ayers once attended the Julliard School of Music in New York. 

Curious as to how a former student of such a prestigious school ended up on the streets, Lopez contacts Julliard and learns that there is no record of Ayers graduating from Julliard.  At first, Lopez figured a schizophrenic who’s talented with a violin isn’t really worth his time. Lopez soon realizes that he has no better story to write about.  Luckily, he soon learns that Ayers did attend Julliard, but dropped out after two years.

Finding Ayers the next day, Lopez tells him that he wants to write about him.  Ayers doesn’t appear to be paying attention.  Getting nowhere, Lopez finds and contacts Ayers’ sister played by Lisa Gay Hamilton, who gives the columnist the information he needs: Ayers was once a child prodigy with the cello until he began displaying symptoms of schizophrenia while at Julliard.  Unable to handle the voices, Ayers dropped out of school and ended up on the streets.”   Without a cello, he resorted to playing a two-string violin.

Lopez writes his article.  One reader was so touched that she sends him a cello for Ayers.  Lopez takes it to him and Ayers is shown to be just as proficient as with a violin.  Unfortunately, his tendency to wander puts both Ayers and the cello in danger, so Lopez talked him into leaving it at a shelter that is located in a neighborhood of homeless people.  Ayers is later seen playing for the homeless.

A concerned Lopez tries to get a doctor that he knows played by Nelson Ellis to help.  He also tried to talk Ayers into getting an apartment but, Ayers refused.  After seeing the reaction to the music played at an opera house, Lopez persuades another friend, Graham played by Tom Hollander also a cellist, to rehabilitate Ayers through music.  The lessons go well, although Ayers is getting a little too attached to Lopez, much to the latter’s annoyance.  Lopez eventually talks Ayers into moving into an apartment by threatening to abandon him.

Lopez’ article on Ayers gains so much fame that Ayres is given the chance to perform a recital.  Sadly, he loses his temper, attacks Graham and leaves.  This convinces Lopez’ doctor friend to get Ayers some help.  But, when Ayers learns what Lopez is up to, he throws Lopez out of his apartment, and threatens to kill him.

While speaking with ex-wife Mary, Lopez realized that not only has he changed Ayers’ life, Ayers has changed him.  Determined to make amends, Lopez brings Ayers’ sister to Los Angeles for a visit.  Ayers and Lopez make up.  Later, while all watch an orchestra playing, Lopez ponders just how beneficial their friendship has been.  Ayers still hears voices, but at least he no longer lives on the streets. In addition, Ayers has helped Lopez have a better relationship with his family.

It is revealed in the end, that Ayers is still a member of the LAMP (Language Acquisition Through Motor Planning) Community (a homeless service network in LA) and Lopez is learning how to play the guitar.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronical and NEOCH January 2015