It seems these days like everyone wants to be younger. There is no place in most societies for the wise seer who played such an important role in indigenous cultures. To be old is to be useless and invisible; beyond that, there is little respect for the long-lived and the challenges and dangers they have gone through. No wonder some of them commit suicide: they recognize the folly of carrying on in the face of such colossal indifference and even scorn.
In his third film, the uncommonly talented Ramin Bahrani has left behind the busy streets of the big city (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop) for the less hectic milieu of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. William (Red West) is a stubborn and tight-lipped 70 year old who has decided to end his life. He wants his Senegalese cabbie Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) to drive him to Blowing Rock, a windy mountain top, and leave him there. He is willing to pay him a large sum of money to him to do this.
Solo is a positive-thinking and ambitious young man who dreams of one day becoming a flight attendant. Everyone in this small and poor community knows him and enjoys his easy smile and warm camaraderie. Solo is going through a rough patch with his pregnant Mexican wife (Carmen Leyva) but is very close to Alex (Diana Franco Galindo), his ten-year-old stepdaughter. Raised in a country and a culture that reverences ancestors and looks to the elders for wise counsel, Solo has befriended William, who lives alone and has nothing to do except attend movies, smoke, and drink booze. Solo sees himself as a Good Samaritan who can dissuade the old man from taking his own life in two weeks. He tries a series of tactics including taking him home one night after drinking together, introducing him to Alex, doing his laundry, having his pills checked to discover whether he has a terminal illness, and searching through his motel room in hopes of finding a picture of a relative.
Goodbye Solo is a compelling film about the difficult spiritual practice of compassion. Protestant minister Frederick Buechner has written: "Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like inside somebody else's skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy for you too." Solo shares his abundant aliveness with William, hoping he can convince him to hang on to the preciousness of life and the ample surprises of the moment. But the stubborn and taciturn old man has built a sturdy wall around himself and refuses to let anyone in. William is well acquainted with loneliness and has come to savor solitude more than anything else. Despite all his efforts to change William's mind, Solo begins to think that the best he can do for his friend in the name of love is to drive him to Blowing Rock. It’s rumored that it is such a windy place that at the top if you throw a stick in the air, it will be blown back behind you. Both William and Solo have their own choices to make.