So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.
How do you help someone who does not want to be helped? “Love is all you need,” answers the songwriter. But not always, as those who remember the two brothers, sons of a Presbyterian minis ter, in A River Runs Through It.. In Ramin Bahrani’s new film (he is both director and writer) a 30-something Senegalese cabbie in Winston-Salem, North Carolina learns how difficult it can be to be a Good Samaritan.
Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) is known and liked by most people in the immigrant community, though his Mexican wife Quiera (Carmen Leyva) is fed up with him. She thinks his dream of becoming a flight attendant is foolishly beyond his reach. One night Solo picks up the 70 year-old William (Red West), very decidedly an unfriendly, taciturn man. But then William makes him an offer. If he agrees to drive him to the top of a mountain in Blowing Rock National Park in ten days, he will pay the cabbie up front $1000. There is no mention of a return trip. William, disturbed by what is not mentioned and what he dare not ask, is reluctant at first, but then agrees.
Over the next few days Solo manages to accept all of William’s calls for cab service, which William finds iiritating. The optimistic cabbie wants to become friends, something that William is not at all interested in. Nevertheless, Solo insinuates himself into William’s life, sometimes bringing his step-daughter Alex (Diana Franco Galindo) along, and even, when Quiera kicks him out, sharing William’s motel room with him for a few nights. Although William does become somewhat interested in Solo’s upcoming entrance test to flight attendant school, he is quick to turn on the cabbie whenever he tries to get too close, such as when Solo seeks to find out who the young man in the movie theater ticket box is, in whom William is obviously interested.
Solo tries to reawaken in the melancholy William an interest in life, but each time the old man cuts him short, even breaking off contact for a while. Each man is faced with a choice about the trip to the windy place so desolate that the snow is said to blow upwards and a cast away stick will be returned to the thrower. Will Solo drive him there, and once there, what will William do? This is one of the most moving, unconventional independent films you are likely to see, one raising profound questions about relationships and our intent and ability to help one another. Ramin Bahrani’s is a no frills production—no soundtrack music or fancy camera effects. For those questioning where God is in our harsh world, this film would make a good companion to the reading of Job or Ecclesiastes.
This contains spoilers.
1. Compare the two main characters, especially concerning their mood and attitude to life. We learn no more than Solo does about William’s past: what do you think has led him to make the decision he has made?
2. Were you wondering why William talks with the young man in the ticket booth? What would a major studio film have done with this subplot?
3. We are not told a lot about Solo either: what do you think contributes to his optimistic disposition, even in the face of so many difficulties?
4. How does this film diverge from the usual track of the old man/ young man buddy type of film? Also, from the usual child melting the heart of a crusty older person?
5. How is this film a good antidote to the shallow optimism of some Christians who proclaim that “Jesus is the Answer” to all of our troubles? What does it suggest in regard to the limits of love and compassion?
6. What might you say to someone like William in order to dissuade him from his plan?
7. How did you feel at the conclusion of the film? What were you expecting at any moment, perhaps right up to the end? What do you think will become of Solo? How has William affected his life? And do you think that he had any affect on William?