I watched two movies this past Christmas, both of which released that very day directly to audiences at home. One of them was Wonder Woman 1984. After my last post, we both know how that turned out. The other was Soul.
And I just want to say how lucky I was that I chose to watch Soul after Wonder Woman 1984. There was no bitter taste left in my movie-watching mouth when I went to bed that night, all thanks to Pixar’s latest film.
Soul is a delightful movie that shares a great message, a message that I didn’t see coming until quite a ways through the story. (And I freakin’ loved that.)
Joe Gardner is a jazz pianist who finally catches a break when he signs up to do a gig with a famed saxophonist. Unfortunately for him, almost as soon as he finds out he got the job, he suffers a near-death experience. When he “wakes up,” he finds himself approaching the light.
Refusing to accept this fate, Joe leaps away from the Great Beyond and ends up in a place termed the Great Before. It’s a place where souls congregate before going down to Earth to inhabit newborn bodies. Desperate to make his way back to his comatose body on Earth, Joe learns he needs something called an Earth pass to make the dive.
He agrees to mentor Soul 22, a soul that has just refused to gain her Earth pass because she does not want to go through the trials and tribulations of being alive. They enter into an arrangement where Soul 22 will find her “Spark,” thus gaining her Earth pass, and then give it to Joe so he can return to his body.
That’s the basic premise, and it’s such a fascinating concept all on its own. But Soul does not rely solely on the premise to hook viewers. It follows through with a touching story about what it means to be alive.
I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, so I highly recommend that if you haven’t seen Soul, stop reading right now. I refuse to go further into plot, but I do want to talk about the major theme of the film.
See, Joe believes that he was born to play jazz piano. He loves it more than practically anything. When he learns about Sparks, he ties that to someone’s purpose in life. He knows without a shadow of a doubt that piano-playing is his spark, his reason for being alive.
However, as Soul goes on to show us, Joe really is missing the whole point of being alive.
Soul does for living what Inside Out did for emotions. Inside Out’s major revelation showcased that Sadness is a vital emotion when it comes to expressing empathy or seeking help from other human beings. It slowly built this point up over the course of the story, showing how Riley was not getting the help she needed because Sadness was not allowed to take the reins for a time.
Soul reveals to us that there is no materialistic or purpose-driven Spark that readies a soul for life on Earth. All it takes is a passion for the joys of living and an appreciation for the sensations you can only experience by being alive. You don’t need to be a skilled pianist or a talented sports player to justify your existence.
And I have to admit, I didn’t see this message coming, even though after a second viewing, I could see the moments where it was readily apparent. I kept waiting for the reveal of what Soul 22’s Spark was going to be. Would it be teaching? Would it be as simple as communicating with other people? I was ignorant of where the story was leading me until a character outright told me about the silliness of getting hung up on “purposes.”
It’s a hefty concept, and I’ve heard more than one person say that Soul is not a movie meant for kids. Personally, I think those people underestimate the kinds of themes a kid can handle. (Though I do think a kid might find Soul an ounce more boring than, let’s say, The Incredibles.)
I rate Soul a balm-for-the-soul-especially-when-you-have-the-tendency-to-question-why-you’re-alive-and-what’s-your-purpose-in-existing.