The Meaning of Life: Soul Review

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.

The WALL-E Syndrome: The Toxicity of Current Perspectives on Romantic Rejection

I used to apply this particular metaphor to people.

I’m sure you know about phrases that start with, “There are two kinds of people in the world…”

Well, mine went a little something like this:

There are two kinds of people in the world: WALL-Es and EVEs.

This classification came from the Pixar movie WALL-E. For those of you unfamiliar with the film, all you need to know about it in order to understand my point is that the plot revolved around the unreturned affections a robot named WALL-E had for a more advanced (i.e., prettier) robot named EVE.

When I made that metaphor, I was, in essence, boiling down people into two types: the type who has been consistently rejected by potential love interests and the type who has been doing the rejecting.

In my mind, I always felt that a person who has suffered through rejection knows what it’s like to feel at their lowest. That made them, I believed, ten times more likely to be empathetic toward another person in a similar situation. There’s an understanding you get for another person’s sorrows if you’ve been down in the dumps yourself.

Anyways, what I want to say today is that I was extremely fucking naive.

First of all, you should never classify an entire population of people into two groups with any degree of seriousness.

Second of all, as a frequent recipient of rejection during my high school and college years, I was perceiving the world from a place of extreme subjectivity.

Recently, events in my life have made me realize how messed up my views on rejection were.

I’ll expand on that in a sec.

First, some backstory.

I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus, so I’m not going to name names. The only thing of consequence that pertains to my epiphany is the fact that I had some romantic advances made towards me.

Basically, I got flirted with.

This is a RARE occurrence for me. I’m a homebody by nature, and I’m not exactly a looker.

Anyways, it happened, and since I’m normally pretty obtuse when it comes to these things at the best of times, I was caught off guard when it occurred. Several compliments had already been sent my way before I realized that I was being low-key romanced.

Once I did realize what was going on, I knew I had to set matters straight. I was not interested in the guy in that capacity, and I had to let him know without hurting his feelings.

And that’s when I found out that the only method of rejecting people that I thought comfortable was saying I was already dating somebody else.

Before I get into the massive realizations and stuff, I’ll just say that the dude I rejected was totally chill. He’d had no idea I was seeing someone, and didn’t seem to hold my rejecting him against me the way I had worried he would.

But afterwards, I kept thinking about the situation, distress about the whole thing festering in my brain.

Two questions kept me awake at night:

  1. Why had I needed to say that I was with someone else in order to more comfortably reject someone?
  2. And why did I feel guilty in the first place for not having feelings for another person?

The first question is a rather unfortunate byproduct of the second. Because you see, I think society and pop culture and stuff has taught us over time that not reciprocating feelings for somebody else is equivalent to hurting them.

Persons who go through unrequited love are considered “victims,” and if there is a “victim,” that means that the other person in the equation is an “oppressor,” “abuser,” or “perpetrator.”

In actuality, we shouldn’t have that mindset at all.

We all have our own feelings, and our feelings are no one’s responsibility except our own.

Now, I’m not advocating a mass wave of inconsiderateness. I’m not saying that at all.

What I am saying is that we need to stop having “bad guys” when it comes to romantic rejection.

It is no one’s fault if they don’t like another person. Feeling guilty about not liking another person is kind of like feeling guilty for not liking a specific food.

When I had to let down someone, I was forced to essentially say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t be interested in you in that way because I am currently interested in another person” because that was kinder than saying “I’m just not interested in being with you in a romantic capacity.”

See what I’m saying here?

I had to label myself as someone else’s girlfriend instead of just saying, “Nah, brah, I’m not looking for that right now.”

I had to do this so I didn’t feel like a terrible person.

Expressing your interest in another person is a brave thing to do, and it can put you in an emotionally vulnerable place. But just because you put yourself out there, does not mean that a person who rejects you is a villain.

Thinking of rejection in this manner can lead to outraged, yet misplaced, righteousness on the part of the person getting rejected.

Having been a WALL-E, I know it’s sometimes easier to think that someone doesn’t like you because of outside circumstances instead of your looks, personality, or habits.

But my sense of self-worth shouldn’t be valued as greater than another person’s.

Bottom line?

If you like someone and they don’t like you back, it is nobody’s fault. It sucks to feel rejected, but it is nobody’s fault. Not yours, not theirs.

And if you find yourself in a position where you have to reject someone, don’t hesitate to be honest, but also don’t hesitate to be kind.

WALL-E and EVE ended up together, but I think we should all remember that life is not a Disney movie.

Top Ten Pixar Movies Worth Adoring!

It’s time for another list, you guys! It’s been too long since the last one. What, has it been years? Decades?

(I exaggerate. In case you’re interested, here is my last top ten post.)

I’ve never thought of myself as too old for a kids movie, but I have to admit, my taste in kids movies has gotten pretty refined. Burp and fart jokes just won’t cut it anymore. I want character development and nuanced humor.

Pixar has consistently delivered that to us as the years have gone by (give or take a few exceptions), so I thought I would honor their years of excellence by giving them their very own list on this Below Average Blog.

(Now that I type that, it feels like I’m punishing Pixar more than I’m rewarding them.)

Let’s do this.

10. Toy Story 2

People don’t give Toy Story 2 enough credit as a sequel. Given how poorly sequels to popular movies can turn out, I think Toy Story 2 did a superb job of following Toy Story. It deepened our understanding of Woody’s character (and made him into a non-jerk) while also introducing us to new toys to fall in love with. (Though I still can’t understand why Bullseye can’t talk like the rest of them.) Jessie’s backstory was heartbreaking for me as a kid. I think I vowed never to abandon a toy under a bed ever again. (I have my shoes there now.) Plus, that airport chase was an amazingly huge set-piece for a movie about toys.

9. Ratatouille

Ratatouille is like the middle child of Pixar movies. (No offense to middle children.) It’s easily overlooked and forgotten when you’re trying to recall the names of all the Pixar movies that have ever been. It’s like one of those forgettable Presidents. But it’s always been the most homey of the Pixar movies to me. Where other Pixar movies are these eclectic and fascinating beverages, Ratatouille is hot chocolate. It’s my favorite movie to put on during a rainy day when I’m all by myself. It always makes me hungry though.

8. Finding Nemo

Even as a small child sitting in a theater, I knew that Finding Nemo was gorgeous. I’m not one to linger over and praise the visuals of a movie, but dang, Finding Nemo was stunning. The amount of detail that must have gone into crafting the ocean world staggers me. The story was super heart-warming too. It’s a classic adventure with emotions thrown in. Finding Nemo gave us some of the most memorable characters as well, and what I find funny is that Nemo, the fish whose name is in the title, is overshadowed by Bruce, Crush, Dory, Peach, Bubbles, and all those other sea critters we met along the way.

7. Toy Story

What, you didn’t think that I would forget the OG Pixar movie, did you? Of course I’m including Toy Story on this list. It’s the one that started it all. Even excluding the fact that it was the first in a long line of great movies as a factor, Toy Story made it onto this list because of how imaginative it was. A movie about toys that are alive and have their own society was my cup of tea as a kid. It was thoughtful and hilarious. My dad did get a bit squeamish showing this movie to me. He didn’t like the fact that I was being shown a child sadist in the form of Sid for the first time. Well, dad, I had to find out that psychopaths existed at some point.

6. The Incredibles

If I ever did a list on the best super hero movies, The Incredibles would be on there too. Hell, I think they do a better job of showing a super family dynamic than any other super hero film involving a family does. (*Cough cough* Fantastic Four *cough cough*) They made it fun and they hit all the right notes without getting bogged down in an origin story. The Incredibles focused on that family dynamic and definitely gave the best demonstrations of elastic and speed abilities that I have ever seen on a screen.

5. Monsters Inc.

If I thought that Toy Story was imaginative, I had no idea what I was talking about until I saw Monsters Inc. A movie about the monsters in your closet? A society that gets powered by screams? It’s just too good. When I was younger, I only really knew that I liked the movie, but now that I’m older, I can appreciate the creativity that went into making the world of Monsters Inc. Plus, the humor was just delightful for both adults and kids.

4. Up

I have never cried so quickly while watching a movie. How many minutes passed, 10 or 15, before that movie just ripped your heart into tiny pieces and sprinkled lemon juice on it? No one I know is immune to Up’s opening introduction of Carl and Ellie. And then that one moment where Carl looks at that scrapbook and finds out that Ellie believed that he was her adventure this whole time anddammitI’malreadycryingwhywhydoyoudothistome?! The music for Up was fantastic, too, and helped hit all the right emotional notes. Not that the movie needed anymore help hitting those emotional notes.

3. Inside Out

I have to admit that this movie is definitely higher than it should be on an unbiased list, but the reason it has such a high ranking on mine is because of timing. Before Inside Out, Pixar had released Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University, none of which touch even the bottom of this list. I want to call this period of time Pixar’s Slump. So when I went to go see Inside Out in theaters, I walked out with tears not just because the movie was emotionally satisfying (in more ways than one), but also because I was so happy that Pixar’s Slump was over.

2. Toy Story 3

Oof, it was very hard choosing between my #2 and #1 spots on this list, but I ended up putting Toy Story 3 as #2 because it kind of had an unfair advantage over my #1 since it was the culmination of two other movies. Still, Toy Story 3 hit me right in the feels. I had to see my favorite toys reach a new stage in their life when their owner, Andy, goes to college, and it just hurt too much (in a good way). That one moment at the end when Andy plays with them all for one last time had me crying harder than Sadness from Inside Out. It was the perfect ending to the movies, and I’m low-key bummed they decided to make a fourth. I’m going to reserve my judgment until I see it, but I think that Toy Story 3’s ending is going to be hard to beat.

1. WALL-E

I love WALL-E. Despite having little to no dialogue at the beginning, you learned about the kind of robot WALL-E was and you learned to empathize with him. I have this theory that there are two kinds of people in the world: WALL-Es and EVEs. People who have been WALL-E find it easier to empathize with him and therefore enjoy the movie more. People who have only ever been EVEs get fed up with the movie. This is not an absolute rule; there are exceptions. Still, I adore WALL-E because I’ve been WALL-E. Mayhaps not so desperate, but I’ve been the person who pines and who thinks that the person she likes will never like her. Now, I can’t hear the word “objective” without wanting to hold someone’s hand.

So what’s your favorite Pixar movie? (Please god, I hope it is A Bug’s Life.) Feel free to let me know in the comments!

The Incredible Incredibles

Pixar movies have never let me down. There may be Marvel movie flops, DC movie flops, or Star Wars movie flops, but it is rare indeed (i.e. never) when Pixar gives me a movie I don’t enjoy.

A couple of days ago (or actually more by the time this post gets published), I went to go see Incredibles 2. In case you were doubting whether Pixar could keep up their winning streak, rest assured, this sequel to The Incredibles lives up to the first.

Of course, SPOILER WARNING.

I’m not a movie critic, so don’t think of this as a well thought-out review. It’s more of an ode to how incredibly awesome Incredibles 2 was.

Basic plot is that some hero enthusiast who is super rich approaches Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Frozone about helping a movement to make supers legal again. This dude wants to focus on Elastigirl as the head of their movement, their poster vigilante, since she has a better track record of not leaving total destruction in the wake of her path. Bothered by his dismissal but still willing to support his wife, Mr. Incredible stays at home to look after their three kids, Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack.

It was uber cool to see Elastigirl hero-ing on her own. She gets a motorcycle that can split into two halves, the front and the back, and she goes on a high-speed chase on roads and over rooftops, and she uses her elasticity to Slinky her way over any and all obstacles. Remember when Elastigirl sneaked into Syndrome’s complex in the first movie? Yeah, this bike chase was a more action-packed equivalent of that.

I just wish more of this kind of exposure could have happened with her daughter, Violet. I’ve always thought that Violet’s powers are some of the most powerful (aside from the smorgasbord of  powers that is Jack-Jack). Think of all you can do with force fields and invisibility combined. It would have been neat to see her use them to their fullest strength.

But don’t be alarmed. This sequel is brimming with action, with every one of our favorite heroes getting a chance to show off what they can do. Plus, new heroes arrive on the scene and demonstrate how expertly Pixar can make an awesome superhero movie. Of the new heroes, I thought Void was really cool. Her power was to make portals appear wherever she wanted them to, just like in the video game, Portal. 

And Jack-Jack! He was a riot! Even though he’s a baby, he gave us one of the best action sequences in the entire movie when he got into an epic scrap with a raccoon. If you haven’t seen the movie, you might think I’m joking about that being the most epic fight. But seriously, Jack-Jack brought down the hammer on that unlucky raccoon.

The big villain ends up being the sister of the rich dude who is trying to get heroes legal again. Her big end goal is to discredit supers in the eyes of the average citizens. She wants to accomplish this by hypnotizing the soon-to-be legalized heroes and then having them commit horrendous atrocities on television.

She comes scary close to accomplishing her goal. But thanks to the Incredible super kids, the day is saved.

Did I forget to mention that Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack have to take on all these adult super heroes, including their parents? Yeah, awesome right?

Not only is Incredibles 2 a great kids movie, it’s a great super hero movie. In fact, there are several DC and Marvel movies that it beats by a long shot.

If you haven’t seen it, you definitely have a treat in store for you when you do.