Friday, May 28, 2010

Goodbye Solo -- friendship, family, and hope

Director: Ramin Bahrani, 2008. (R)

Goodbye Solo, winner of the Best Film award at the 2008 Venice Film Festival, is a study of hope and hopelessness, of the American Dream, set against the improbable friendship of two men in Winston North Carolina. As an independent film, it defies Hollywood expectations and leaves many questions unanswered, ultimately unsatisfying for some. What keeps us watching is the dazzling smile and the likableness of Solo, a protagonist we care about.

Solo (Soulemane Sy Savane) is a cab driver, cruising the dark midnight streets when most people need a ride. When he picks up William (Red West) to take him to the movies, William makes him an offer. He will give him $1000, with an immediate down-payment, if he will take him on a 2-hour drive, one-way only, to Blowing Rock in two weeks. This place, Blowing Rock, is an isolated peak in the beautiful wilderness where updrafts cause objects tossed out into the wind to be blown back so they fly upwards, defying gravity.

William is old and clearly depressed, wrapping up his affairs, moving out of his apartment. Solo is young, trying to move up in life, with his first child on the way. Recognizing William's despair, Solo tries to befriend him and to "save" him from whatever his future event may include.

Bahrani's film taps into the inherent need that we all have for friendship. We are creatures of community. We were made to have friends (Gen. 1:27). Apart from family and friends, our lives become lonely, lives of quiet desperation lived with no one to know us or our dreams. The problem with this film, though, is the friendship is forced. William is not looking for a relationship and pushes back hard on Solo. Indeed, a number of questions come to mind, such as why Solo would sacrifice his own family for a friendship with a man he hardly knows and who does not want his friendship?

The dreams of the two men are, like the men themselves, a study in contrasts. William's American Dream has dissolved into ashes. His family is gone, there is no one left for him. Solo, on the other hand, is aspiring to a new career in the airlines, and has a beautiful woman and step-daughter waiting for him. An immigrant from Senegal, his American Dream is just beginning.

Dreams are what keep us going. When we can see beyond today we are motivated to arise and work. We have a carrot that keeps us going. Dreams can be big or small, but they are inspiring and typically uplifting. They bring color into our days. Apart from dreams, we slip into staleness, the rut of routine, and life turns gray.

Goodbye Solo explores the value of family. William had a wife, but that was long ago. He has slept alone for too many years. He is filled with regret. Without family he has little to live for. Solo, on the other hand, has a family back home in Africa, and a budding family in America. For a man with family globally, his name is antithetical to his situation! He has a plan. He will earn money and send it home to Senegal to provide for his relatives there. Then when he is old, like William, he will return to his homeland and these relatives will care for him. His retirement plan is his family. They are his 401K!

Too often in America, we sacrifice our families for jobs, careers. We leave our parents and our extended families in search of wealth and the American Dream. But when our parents grow gray and need help, we put them in facilities, old people's homes, where they can be antiseptically cared for by others. All we need to do is sign the monthly check. That can salve our conscience. If we do this for them, won't our children do likewise for us? Will we end our lives in this way? Or worse, will be abandoned by our families to slip off into the sunset like William? Better to build a family that is community, one that loves us and will be with us in our golden years, so that when that day comes we will depart the earth surrounded by loved ones, knowing they care for us as we cared for them.

Ultimately, though, life is about more than dreams. Life is about hope. Dreams come and go. They dwindle and disappear, as William's did. But hope, like faith, is about the unseen (Heb. 11:1). Hope encompasses the afterlife. We can have hope both for this life and for the next if we turn to Jesus. He is not the American Dream; he is the great Christian Dream. He offers us life (Jn. 10:10), here and now. He offers us hope of a future (Jer. 29:11). He calls us to live this life with him and for his kingdom (Matt. 6:33). We can make a difference now, and then in our last days we can look ahead to living with him forever in heaven.

As Goodbye Solo closes, we see a spectacular scene of raw, elemental nature, beautifully framed for the camera. We ponder the power of nature and the brevity of life. And perhaps we consider if we are more like William or Solo. Will we be hopeless, filled with regret? Or will we be filled with satisfaction and hope? Who will be saying goodbye to us, when we face our Blowing Rock?

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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