With the Olympics wrapping up yesterday, our minds have been saturated over the last two weeks with the images of bronze, silver, and gold. These colors have taken on great symbolism as the brand of remarkable achievement. In this spirit of this time honored ranking system, Jerry Landers (Executive Director of Aspire Indiana Health, and Vice President, Chief Development Office for Aspire Indiana) and I have taken it upon ourselves to award the bronze, silver, and gold medals to 3 movies for their excellent depictions of homelessness in the United States.
BRONZE MEDAL: “TIME OUT OF MIND”
Richard Gere (George) plays the lead in the movie “Time Out of Mind”, which depicts George’s existence as a homeless man on the streets of New York City, struggling with his identity
Unlike the two movies to follow, Director Oren Moverman’s focus of the film was not on the circumstances that led to George becoming homeless. Instead, the film takes an observer’s perspective, narratively and visually. What we do learn of Gere’s character is that he has suffered tremendous loss and in the process lost his sense of purpose and identity. We see George use alcohol as a coping mechanism, manipulate others, suffer the harsh rejection of almost all other characters in the film, and struggle through a dysfunctional shelter and social services system as he tries to get by each day. The power in this film is in what isn’t said, in the unknown. Too often there is the temptation to jump to conclusions about those who are homeless. Viewers of “Time out of Mind”, if they have the patience, will gain new insight and appreciation for all that can be happening “below the surface” in this unique population.
SILVER MEDAL: “PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS”
“The Pursuit of Happyness” is based on Chris Gardner’s true story as a struggling parent being homeless and raising a young son during the early 1980s. Directed by Gabriele Muccino, the film stars Will Smith as Gardner and Smith’s son, Jaden Smith.
“The Pursuit of Happyness” plays an important role in highlighting the misconception that all individuals who are homeless are just lazy. The truth is that nearly 40% of all homeless persons have a job, and when surveyed, the majority of those without employment say they are willing and want to work. “The Pursuit of Happyness” demonstrates how quickly anyone’s circumstances can change, and how challenging the process can be to re-establish stability while homeless. There is inspiration to be found in this story, but viewers should be careful to check their “rose colored glasses” at the door, as Gardner’s intellectual talents and people skills gave him the opportunity for a way out not accessible to most who find themselves in similar situations.
GOLD MEDAL: “THE SOLOIST”
Based on the book by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, “The Soloist” is the story of an unlikely friendship between an LA reporter (Robert Downey Jr.) and a homeless musician dealing with a serious mental illness ( Jamie Foxx).
“The Soloist” made our top 3 videos list for multiple reasons. The first is that it powerfully depicts the link between mental illness and homelessness. With a masterful performance by Foxx, the audience is able to glimpse into the world of someone struggling with mental illness and how what seem like simple solutions are extremely complex. On the other side, Downey’s performance as a LA Times columnist reflects what many individuals, both in the mental health field and outside it, feel when confronted with mental illness: frustration, disappointment, and the temptation to look down on those with mental illness. However, Downey’s character, Lopez, has the redeeming quality of passionately and persistently believing in Ayers’ (Foxx) potential and intrinsic value. The ability of this film to realistically portray both sides of homelessness in a way that resonates, convicts, and elicits empathy from viewers is what gives “The Soloist” the gold.
So what do you think? Do you agree/disagree with our rankings or did we leave out a deserving film entirely? We want to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comment section below! For those who may not have seen these films, we encourage you to do so and then come back and share your thoughts.
If you know of someone who is struggling with housing, we encourage you to learn more about the housing programs (linked below) available through Aspire and share it with them. We have a 24 Hour crisis line available with caring folks standing by ready to help serve those in need.
Housing Services – Aspire