In Traverse City tonight, the State Theatre will show a thought-provoking blockbuster from 2008 you may have already seen: The Soloist, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jaime Foxx.
With the showing tonight, there's a chance to see the movie through the eyes of some northern Michigan folks who have been there, mentally ill and homeless
The Soloist is based on a true story of an L.A. Times writer who befriends a homeless man with a surprising talent. Foxx plays a homeless man named Nathanial who is both a gifted musician and schizophrenic. An unlikely friendship blooms, and the writer tries to help Nathanial to get off the streets, to play his music, and to get his mental illness under control.
But the writer, Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.), makes mistake-after-mistake. For example, he's considers lying in order to get authorities to force Nathanial into mental health treatment. But as the movie goes on, Nathanial starts to trust his friend more, and he eventually accepts help on his own terms.
A Northern Michigan Story
"I got hooked on the movie," says Ernie Reynolds, from Roscommon.
"I enjoyed it because there was mixed emotions, from sadness to danger to comedy, to ...it was involved.
"And I felt that there was not just one message in that, that there were a lot of messages in there and if you just have an open mind, that you would learn so much from that movie."
Reynolds doesn't know anything about navigating the urban perils of the streets of Los Angeles, but the 66-year-old man does know what it's like to live in a van, a motor home, and even as a hermit. For 12 years he lived in the woods of northern Michigan, at times with no heat or electricity.
"I came from downstate to move up here to the woods. I came here to die," he says.
Reynolds has bipolar disorder, which means he's prone to wide mood swings - from a driven, frenetic zeal for life, to severe lethargy and depression.
"I could step out the front door of my old cabin and hope I drop dead before I made the first step, that's how depressed I was," he says.
"And then I would go out there and I'd work three-four-five days without any sleep, six days, two weeks sometimes. And I would then suffer the consequences of that."
Today - the life of a hermit is behind Reynolds. The bipolar remains, but he's learned to better cope with it. In treatment, the swings from high to low are less severe. And he's learned to lean of those around him for support, and to look to them for a reason to continue on each day.
"The son that lives with me know is one of my five kids who, years ago they could've cared less. They were glad I came up north to the woods because they figured, 'Well, he's out of the way. We don't care if he dies out there anyway.'
"So, I think that realizing that by evolving that my kids now say, 'Geez, dad, you're not who you used to be. You're somebody different. We love you dad.'
"That's the best tool I've got right now," he says.
Today, Reynolds works with Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, mentoring others who have mental illness, and he'll be part of a panel discussion following the movie tonight at the State Theatre.
The movie starts at 6:00, with the panel discussion immediately following. The event is free.