DVD Release Date:  August 25, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  March 26, 2009 (limited)
Rating:  R (for language)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  1 hr. 31 min.
Director:  Ramin Bahrani
Actors:  Souleymane Sy Savane, Diana Franco Galindo, Red West

Not long ago I traveled five hours to see a ninety-minute movie, and it was well worth it. In fact, if Ramin Bahrani's latest picture hadn't been scheduled to open nearby two weeks later, I would've been tempted to make the trip again. Goodbye Solo is a simple tale, quietly told, and one of the best films you'll ever see.

It opens with a conversation that reveals all of its essential elements. Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane), a Senegalese immigrant now driving a cab in Winston-Salem, has just received an unusual offer from his fare, a haggard old man named William (Red West):  in ten days, for $1000 cash, Solo can drive William two hours away to the peak of Blowing Rock. It will be a one-way trip. The cabbie understands what this means. After some half-hearted attempts to talk the surly William out of suicide, Solo accepts his down payment.

The affable driver isn't going to give up on William that easily, though. As the bitter old man prepares for the end, settling his affairs and haunting the second-run movie theater, Solo repeatedly places himself in William's path. They run errands, go to bars, and each ends up sleeping on the other's couch. Gently, with a charm that only William could resist, Solo presses for information that might help him lead William out of despair. What could make him want to die? How can we fix this?

From here the film might have lapsed into melodramatic banality. But Bahrani does not squander his slowly-accrued emotional energy on tearful revelations or weighty ponderings. There are no breakthroughs for William, and just enough bonding to make him bearable. He is content to ignore Solo for the most part, only turning hostile when the cabbie touches a sore spot.

But Goodbye Solo doesn't veer into the equally simple terrain of cynicism either. Solo could just honor William's wishes, drive the man to his destination, and spend his money. He has problems enough of his own:  an unsatisfying job, a troubled marriage, and his first child on the way. Instead Solo cares for William, and even loves him. His genuine concern, slowly displaced by gnawing apprehension as the scheduled trip nears, propels the film toward its harrowing climax. This scene, where the full meaning of the title is revealed, derives all its force from the artless, unrequited love that we've seen Solo demonstrate throughout.

In contemplating Goodbye Solo, I couldn't help but think of Abbas Kiarostami's superficially similar Taste of Cherry. In that film, Mr. Badii searches Tehran for someone who will bury him after he kills himself. Islam's stern laws regarding suicide make the task difficult and the movie long. The state-mandated God of Iran is everywhere present in TOC, as real to the viewer as He must be to the characters. But He is a cool, distant God, revealing Himself only through His laws, unconcerned with the little problems or pains that have driven Badii to this point.

While God is never mentioned in Goodbye Solo, the film works as an eloquent parable of the Christian God's love for fallen people. I cannot help but see that William is the man that I was, and the man I would be without God. He is selfish and crabby, guarding his wounds as he shuffles toward his own destruction, heedless of anything but the obstacles in his path. Where Badii spends most of his time alone, looking for a friend to help him, William avoids a friend whose help he doesn't want.

And what a friend he has in Solo. If William is Everyman, then Solo is Christ Immanuel, God with us, the God who wants me for his friend. Solo wants to know William, and to help him, even if he must endure rejection and insult along the way. There is nothing lovable about William, but Solo loves him anyway, simply because it is his nature to do so. His infectious smile is slowly compressed into a frown of anxiety and sorrow, but still he stands at the door and knocks.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Some profane and mildly suggestive language here and there.
  • Sex/Nudity:  None.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  The main characters visit bars and drink, heavily on one occasion. William smokes tobacco, and one minor character smokes marijuana.
  • Violence:  A couple of short fistfights.