Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them. – T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding
You can trace every wrinkle on her face. She speaks carefully, measuring each word. Every now and then, she strokes the necklace around her throat. Surrounded by nothing but the studio’s pitch blackness, she seems suspended timelessly in time and space. She looks ahead with now sightless eyes, her vision fixed on something we cannot see. Her words hang in the still air, unpunctuated by narration, music or sound effects. She is 105 years old. She is Brunhilde Pomsel, former stenographer for Dr. Joseph Goebbels.
The Soloist is one of those movies that should have been Oscar-level big, yet somehow never cleared the bar with critics or fans. In the spirit of Rain Man, you had one big-name actor doing a single-note virtuoso savant impression (Jamie Foxx), while another big-name actor took the more nuanced role of the protagonist who grows and changes through his encounter with the savant (Robert Downey, Jr.). Plus, this too-good-to-be-true story of a homeless, schizophrenic Juilliard drop-out and the journalist who discovered him had the benefit of actually being true, albeit a little fictionalized. But Joe Wright’s jerky direction, coupled with a sometimes cryptic script that went out of its way to avoid hitting sentimental beats, left this would-be Oscar bait hanging without so much as a nomination. Yet, despite its flaws, it’s a movie that’s stuck with me ever since I first saw it.