The Soloist

The movie starts out with the present back-story of Steve Lopez, a journalist for the LA times. He is a successful writer that has a column every week that many people are fond of; he just came back from medical leave and is now searching for a story to write. He runs into Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a homeless man who is playing a violin with only two strings and approaches him. He starts to talk with him and it is very clear that Nathaniel has a cognitive impairment. What most of society would do is treat Nathaniel like he is an unequal, unhealthy individual and talk down to him but what Mr. Lopez does is talk to him like he is just another person and tries to create a bond with him since he is thinking about writing a story. The next time he runs into him he starts asking him more questions so he can start to get a back story on Nathaniel in order to write his column. Nathaniel tells him a little bit about his family and it was enough to find out who his sister; Steve calls her. Nathaniel’s sister tells him that he was in Julliard and that she was surprised that he is playing the violin now because he only played the Cello while he was growing up. Steve tells her that he wants to write a story about Nathaniel because of how interesting he is, and by this he means that a homeless man with a cognitive disability that is also a dropout from Julliard is playing and living on the streets.

Because of societal norms in the USA it is seemingly “okay” to think that people with disabilities are interesting. This movie completely focuses on the fact that there is a disabled man who plays a cello and cannot play in front of other people because of the voices he hears in his head and how someone is trying to help him but also ridiculing him at the same time in his column because he has a disability. Though these may have not been Mr. Lopez’s intentions but that’s how it is expressed in the movie. This has a lot to do with American culture and how we are taught to treat people with disabilities. Many people think it is acceptable to talk down to them and treat them like they are children when in reality they should be treated like everyone else and to the same expectations as everyone else. If we continue to treat people with disabilities this way then sooner or later they will not be able to stand up for themselves and they will no longer have a voice.

This summer I became apart of a life-changing program called PEAC (programs to educate all cyclists) and we believe that everyone can ride. We taught people with both physical and cognitive disabilities how to ride a bike, something that most people and researchers say cannot physically happen. PEAC is breaking the odds and proving these theories wrong and this is the attitude that we should be expressing in movies and in tabloid: a positive statement about disabilities, not a negative one.

As the movie goes on, Nathaniel and Mr. Lopez become friends and we find out that the disability that Nathaniel has is schizophrenia. Mr Lopez arranges for Nathaniel to get an apartment and to become more of an individual in society. He also gets Nathaniel the opportunity to have his own concert but because of the voices in his head Nathaniel, leaves the stage and runs home. This leads into the end of the movie and is a narration of Mr. Lopez where he tries to explain that he doesn’t feel like he has helped Nathaniel because he didn’t get him on medication or help from medical staff. Others are saying that he did help him because he arranged an apartment for him and he has become more social around others and in the community. The question here is why does Mr. Lopez think that he didn’t help him just because he didn’t get him medical help? Why does society think that because someone has a disability that they need medical staff to help “fix” them. Whether Americans want to believe it or not a disability is apart of someone life and it makes them who they are just like being “normal” or “weird” makes someone else who they are.

In class we talked about the explanatory model and how it contributes to the way we look and see disabilities. Yes, disabilities both cognitive and physical are biological problems to start with but if society keeps degrading them and pointing them out specifically when something good or bad happens then it isn’t going to help this stigma against cognitive and physical illness. (Kleinman)

I do think that we have come a long way since first noticing mental illness by just looking at the (History of the DSM) because it goes from such a generic topic to one that has multiple options of treatment and has to have specific causes, but there is only room to grow when it comes to mental illness, not just in a social but also in a medical aspect. We have to stop assuming the worst and start thinking of doing more than we think we can to help these individuals out where they need it. If they can function on their own in society then there is no need to change who they are just because American culture sees them as “abnormal.”

I think this movie would be beneficial to the course because it shows both positive and negative aspects of people helping those with a disability and how we should go about it. We cannot force someone to get help but if it is needed we can edge them in the direction that they need. Also it shows how people with disabilities can fend for them selves and how they can live in the community without others, it may not be the best example but it shows that they can handle themselves without the help of medical staff, which is a stigma that is heavily supported by American culture. Overall the movie would greatly benefit those in this course because it gives an outside and abstract way to look at those with a disability.

Sources:

“Explanatory Models” and Interpretive Theory: Learning about Health through Ethnography video –week 2

History of the DSM video- week 2

Kleinman, Arthur. The illness narratives Suffering, healing and the human condition. N.p.: Basic BooksWordPress.

Watterman, John. PEAC. www.bikeprogram.org

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