The cab driver is from Senegal. His name is Solo (played by Souleymane Sy Savane). He speaks French, Wolof, and English. His English is a mix of black-American and black-African phrases. He likes listening to Bob Marley, but he is curious about other types of music. Solo, who lives and works in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is generally curious about life. And it is this curiosity that leads him to face the greatest question of all, death. In the film, death takes the form of a white American named William (Red West). He is old and lonely, and has decided to do something final. He hires Solo to drive him to a park where he can do this final thing.
Goodbye Solo is Ramin Bahrani's third American film. His last film, Chop Shop, which received almost universal praise from critics, concerned a Latino street kid, and Man Push Cart, his second feature, a Pakistani pop star who ends up selling coffee from a pushcart on the streets of the center of the world, Manhattan. Bahrani, an Iranian American, has this as his artistic project: developing a cinema of the global. This is not an easy thing to do, as it demands creating something that is terrifically new. How do we speak and act in a world that is converging, a world that is melting cultural walls and making the local the point at which many lines and ways of life meet?
The local in Goodbye Solo, Winston-Salem, is the shallow South. But none of the city's history, nor the history of the characters, matters at all in this story. This does not mean the characters have been flattened to two dimensions. They still have the richness of their traditions in their thinking and manner. But these traditions do not block the communication of or access to the most human concerns. What is life? Why hope? Why not despair? The black-African taxi driver wants to help a person who has given up all hope, the white American. But why does he want to help this man? Is it something in his Senegalese past? Is it a fundamental belief in the value of all life? Almost, but not exactly. It is because his own hope, his desire to improve his lot/life in America, becomes meaningless if he does not help restore hope in another man. Hope is nothing if it is not universal.