We’ve all had the experience of wanting to help someone who doesn’t want our help. It’s frustrating because you care too much to do nothing, but you know deep inside that until they want to be helped, you can’t do anything either. So you keep trying, in your own way, until the person doesn’t need help anymore or the relationship ends.
Every relationship is a series of collisions between two people being exactly who they are in any given moment. Given the nature of those collisions, some relationships last a few seconds (you give the finger to a driver who cuts you off) and others last decades (you marry your high school sweetheart). In Goodbye Solo, we watch an unlikely friendship between two men unfold from its beginning just moments before the very first frame of film to its end just moments before the very last frame of film. One man embraces life and possibility; the other has given up and wants to die. And these two opposing world views collide in ways that are both frustrating and inspiring.
If you don’t want to risk spoilers, stop reading now. Otherwise…
Although it’s easy to make comparisons to Taxi Driver (Solo, the taxi driving main character, is a kind of anti-Travis Bickle), it’s really the relationship of the two characters—and the clashing of their different perspectives on life—that is the focus of this movie. I found myself worrying that one perspective would begin to dominate the other morally. Not that I wasn’t rooting for one over the other. But I appreciated that the filmmakers didn’t try to tell me how to feel.
At times the film felt strangely familiar and personal, as if these two characters were the voices in my head that are constantly vying to be heard. The voice of despair that no longer sees hope in a given situation, and the voice of possibility that wants to dream and create—no matter what the situation—until my very last breath.
The world of independent film does a great job of telling stories that are small in scope but have very big stakes. And that’s the world of Goodbye Solo, populated by believable characters that are flawed and still likable. And perhaps all the more likable because of their flaws.
The ending was a little underwhelming for me, probably because I’ve been conditioned to expect the bigger, more final Hollywood-style endings. But like everything else in this movie, it felt true, even if unsatisfying. Because goodbyes are unsatisfying. More often than not goodbyes don’t feel final; they are wimpers, not bangs.