Dave's Progress. Chapter 66: "The Soloist"- A Palinode.

For those of you who are wondering, a palinode is a poem in which a poet retracts what he said in a previous poem. OK, so this isn’t a poem, but it is a blog in which I would like to retract something which I said previously and, I think, unfairly, about the film “The Soloist”, starring Robert Downey Jnr. and Jamie Foxx.
The blog was entitled “Mediocrities of the World, I Absolve You”, and was an attempt to explain, in response to one journalist’s claims, why so-called positive images of mental ill health in the movies are sometimes just as irksome as their negative counterparts. In particular, I focused on the “tortured genius” stereotype, which Foxx’s portrayal of a cello-playing homeless man, possibly experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, seemed to embody.
However, having now seen the film in its entirety (I had only previously seen the trailer), I now find that I liked the film immensely and found it really to be a sensitive and respectful portrayal of both homelessness and mental ill health.
I had suggested in my blog that the film implied that Downey Jnr’s character, a well respected journalist, only liked the Foxx character because of his playing, and, furthermore, that he was then only worth saving because of his latent talent, not because of the fact that he was simply a human being who deserved better. However, the film does portray Foxx’s character as a fully rounded human being, albeit one with severe problems. It also looked in to his past and showed just how he had ended up where he was. His playing seemed, at times, secondary to this, and Downey Jnr.’s character did appear to genuinely like the man.
I also suggested in my blog that after years of mental ill health, one’s cognitive abilities could be affected, thereby making things like playing the cello extremely difficult, no matter how talented you had previously been. I used the pianist David Helfgott as an example of this. But again, to be fair to the film, it did portray Foxx’s character’s difficulties in returning to playing and, indeed, any semblance of “normality”. At one point, for example, we see him trying to give a concert at the request of Downey Jnr., but he is unable to give any rendition as he begins to hear voices and so simply runs away. Interestingly, then, Downey Jnr.’s character has to acknowledge the fact that he cannot force Foxx back into “normality”, eventually having to respect his right to live unmedicated and without treatment.
The emotional underpinnings of the film, then, are perhaps more complex than I had previously given it credit for and Foxx’s character is no two-dimensional stereotype.
Having said all this, I do still stand by what I said about the “tortured genius” stereotype in general. For instance, that it does leave the rest of us who cannot play the piano or cello, or paint, or write, or deduce complex mathematical problems with something of an issue. Where do we fit, as the plebeians of the mental health world? Along with the rest of the negative stereotypes?
So, a palinode of sorts. In fact, perhaps I should call it a “palinblog”. And I would still like to say, in response to depictions of mental health which would appear to distinguish between the worthy “tortured genius” and the unworthy average mentally ill person, “mediocrities of the world, I absolve you”.
That’s all for now from your normal, average, delusional and paranoid man.


klahanie said…
Dear David,
And here's me thinking that a 'palinode' was a lyrical poem in honour of 'Michael Palin'.
It refreshing to note, that now having seen the film in its entirety; you have had a rethink and consider it a respectful portrayal of homelessness and mental health. That is most encouraging and I'm pleased to know this.
You know, I fully agree with your point about the so-called worthy and unworthy. All different; all equal, I reckon.
Thanks for another excellent posting, David.
With respect, your friend, Gary.
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks, as ever, for your comment and continuing interest.
And, having now seen "The Soloist" the whole way through I have had to eat my words. It is just so well directed and acted that it is hard to find fault with.
But, as you say aswell, there is still that "tortured genius" stereotype out there, which I find is as much misrepresentative of mental illness as many of its negative counterparts.
Thanks, Gary, and I hope to see you soon.
With Very Best Wishes,
dcrelief said…
Hi David,
I think this is a wonderful blog. I went back to the prior one and had a second read though. I remember being concerned that Downey wouldn't pull through, considering his own problems; it's sad watching some one fall repeatedly over his own feet. I've walked in his shoes, but couldn't a bit more tell you what his performance outcome would be, with this movie.
Recently a friend dropped off his copy of this movie. I'll have to get back with you on my conclusion.
I guess you know by now how I feel about the rest of the presented issue. I still find myself asking, what ever happened to the medical creed: "First, do no harm"?
I cannot wait to view the movie! Thank you again.
In kindness and repsect,
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Thanks for your lovely comment. As I said to Gary, I have had to retrace my steps on this issue somewhat and come to a different conclusion.
I do still hold that there are such stereotypes out there, but this film is just so good and sensitively handled that it does avoid such categorisation.
So, I hope you enjoy the movie too!
With Very Best Wishes,
枝妹 said…
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Anonymous said…
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bazza said…
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bazza said…
Hi David. I know you got the Beautiful Blogger Award from Gary but I gave you mention too!
Bob said…
Thanks for raising this issue.

In my opinion all humans are talented and special.

We are not special because we are talented however.

We are special because we are human.

My guess is that very talented people want to be appreciated because they are special and not because they are talented.
David said…
Dear Bazza,
Thanks very much for mentioning me in regard to the "beautiful blogger" award. I also had a "lovely blog" award not so long ago, and have still yet to "pass it on". I have said before though, that "lovely" and "beautiful" may not be the best words to describe my blog, dealing as it does with some decidedly unlovley aspects of mental ill health. However, I am still appropriately flattered! Thanks once again, bazza.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
David said…
Dear Bob,
Thanks for dropping by and commenting.
"We are special because we are human" seems to be precisely the point I was trying to make. People with mental illness deserve to be helped, first simply because they are human, not because they have some sort of latent genius. Initially I thought this was what was wrong with the film, but then had to change my mind. It is a shame though that films about people with mental illness but who don't possess such talents are rare.
Thanks once again, Bob.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
David said…
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