Tuesday, September 15, 2009

295) Goodbye, Solo (2008)

295) Goodbye, Solo (2008) Dir: Ramin Bahrani Date Released: March 2009 Date Seen: Sepember 15, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

Ramin Bahrani's Goodbye, Solo essentially plays out like a variation on Cormac McCarthy's bleak, minimalist one-act play The Sunset Limited. In it, a black man, identified only as "Black," tries to convince a middle-aged white guy, named "White," of course, not to kill himself. He can't however because the roots of White's psychic depression are too deep, a revelation that bowls over Black in a devastating finale. Bahrani's films essentially follows the same trajectory except that the room that Black and White's occurs in is instead s a taxi cab. Though William (Red West), Bahrani's White, insists on sequestering himself away in a motel, Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane), or Black, drags him out into the world. Unlike Black and White, the two central, archetypal protagonists in Goodbye, Solo cannot separate themselves from the world. That difference in setting relates an essential schism in Bahrani and McCarthy's respective worldviews that explains, for the most part, why McCarthy's play is gut-churning and why Bahrani's is just fine-tuned schmaltz.

As a representative of another one of Bahrani's internationally integrated urban microcosms, Solo is a figure whose happy-go-lucky attitude makes him incapable of accepting William's need to kill himself. The thought that William cannot, instead of will not, integrate with the rest of society never crosses Solo's mind because, in his life, everything is a matter of willpower. Solo chants "No problem, I got your back," like a mantra because for him, that kind of promise is just as good as the action it foreshadows. Over the course of the film, Solo will learn that kind of positive thinking is not enough and be confronted by a horrifying truth best expressed by Walter Kovacs in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen: "We are all alone. There is nothing else."

Solo can only appreciate that self-righteous truism during the film's climactic finale, making it Goodbye, Solo's most crucial moment. At this point, Bahrani's instinct to look to the film's objective, natural world to provide Solo with his crushing lesson in mortality backfires. William insists on being taken to a national park for his final moments, a place rumored to be so windy that any debris thrown into the air defies gravity and shoots up into the sky. After he's left William to his own devices, Solo approaches a gusty precipice to test that theory only to hesitate--dramatically mind you--right before he tosses a twig away. Solo's ephemeral gesture however is too slight to convey that kind of vital cathartic energy the story needs at that moment. 

Bahrani understands this and goes on to show a little longer to show Solo staring directly into the camera/the abyss in a daze, to further hammer into our heads the effect Solo's recent actions have had on him. That kind of mute hesitation leaves too much room for the viewer to wriggle out of Solo's tortured headspace. Bahrani does not have the killer instinct that McCarthy's macho prose exhudes--he shrewdly does not allow Black speak while White unloads his emotional burden on him in one long monologue--a lack that in any of his other films worked to his favor but here is unfortunately crippling. 

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