From the moment I first heard about this film I wanted to see it. The film is based on the book by Steven Lopez a columnist for the Los Angeles Times about the Cellist Nathaniel Ayers, the book came about because of a series of columns wrote about Nathaniel, his life and its spirals. There is something about a true life story that gives a film an undefined depth, but this one for me didn’t quite get there, maybe because as is often the case with such fall and rise films you wanted an ending that brought everything back together for the better – an ending with positive hope.
Lopez first finds Ayers playing beside the Beethoven statue in Pershing Square on a two stringed violin, Ayer’s schizophrenic mind zipping and darting as if on permanent fast forward but Lopez catches snippets that intrigue him as a writer, the mention of the word ‘Julliard’ the prestigious musical university. He wonders what brought such a gifted musician to the streets of LA, homeless, broken of mind, but still enraptured in music, specifically Beethoven.
As when one human is touched by another so profoundly you want to do right by them, you want to be able to help set them straight, get them back to some kind of accepted ordinary. Carting your life around in a shopping trolley, sleeping in doorways where the rats and detritus of the world accumulates, sitting for hours beneath an underpass playing a two stringed violin is far from the ordinary this once child prodigy deserves.
One of Lopez’s readers send him a cello for Ayers and this becomes the tool to bring Ayers out of his solitude, but the realities of life on and around skid row are harsh. The interactions are wonderful, the scenes sometimes dramatic and disturbing, you sense the hopelessness of many folk so down on their luck that even the viewer cannot see help. You see the results that a violent world can have on a person, and how their fear over rides everything. It can be difficult rationalising a fear with someone of sound mind, but if you put pure fear together with an injured mind there is little that can be done. You sense that Ayer’s does not want any association with the word schizophrenia because he will be locked up. Ayers does not know what he wants for himself and is distrustful of everything.
If anything, for me, this film showed that how ever much you want to help and improve things for a person, they themselves may not want that. You could see that Lopez wanted Ayers brought back to full health, receive treatment for his schizophrenia, had visions of one day Ayers being back at school, maybe touring as a cellist, in an orchestra, a world of audience adulation and acceptance, but Ayers would not want that.
It was an interesting film to watch, not exactly entertaining, not exactly inspirational, not altogether uncomfortable, but yes I would watch it again, there are nuances that I know I will pick up on second time around