I was skimming through movies on my friend’s Disney Plus account one night, when I chanced upon a vaguely familiar-looking poster. It was coloured in this soothing shade of blue. I paused scrolling for a closer look to see if I could possibly recall any memories of ever having come across it before. That was when I remembered the numerous movie posts that I had been seeing on my WeChat feed.
It was called Soul.
I quickly clicked into it. Little did I know, at the end of those 100-ish poignant minutes, my eyes were red – my vision was blurry from crying.
Directed by Pete Doctor and Kemp Powers, Soul recounts the inner life of a stalled-out, middle-age jazz teacher, Joe Gardner. Joe is a passionate musician, working part-time at a middle school. One day he lands a big break, earning a special shot to play with jazz legend Dorothea Williams at the Half Note Club. Yet all is foiled when he accidentally falls into an open manhole and finds himself transformed into a little ghost blob en route to the Great Beyond (the afterlife). The movie proceeds to unravel Joe’s journey as he tries ceaselessly to get back to his body, which is apparently hooked up to life support.
For me, Soul was unique amongst all the other Pixar movies I’ve watched growing up. The fact that it begins with the “death” of its central character even before the opening credits, is extremely unanticipated. The animation is whimsical, boldly metaphysical and rather unconventional for a children’s movie. I think young kids will unlikely be able to fully comprehend the message of Soul, because it indeed tackles many, many philosophical themes that even grown-ups probably do not have exact answers to. With that being said, Soul has led me to contemplate deeply on many things in life.
What comes after?
When Joe finds himself on a conveyor belt, slowly being transported to the Great Beyond- a place supposedly for “late souls” to enter before they are zapped into oblivion- he panics and falls off the belt, bringing him through several dimensions to the Great Before (“before-life”)! The theme of life and death is explored here – “what happens to people before and after life on Earth? Do souls leave the body? And where do our thoughts go?” I have many, many questions.
Yet, I rarely sit down and ponder about death. I guess it’s too sombre of a territory to dive into, so my subconsciousness tells me to just quit thinking about it. But that night, I asked Quora.
According to one Quora user, he/she equates components of human thoughts to chemical reactions in hypothesising where our “souls” would potentially go. The equation goes like this:
A human thought = (external/internal) event + chemical activity + nervous system reaction + “something beyond that”.
Logically speaking, when we die, our internal systems would stop functioning. But given the equation, the “something beyond that” is an exception. It is the mysterious “X” that makes the conclusion to the question elusive.
We don’t know what happens to X after death, and we cannot assume everything is destroyed or transformed into something else at death, due to a force/matter chain reaction. That means, the X may just continue to be unaffected, giving a sense of continuity when nothing is continuous at all.
I sat there and introspected… this is deep… now I couldn’t help but to think about… until…
“JUST LIVE EVERY MINUTE OF IT” the voice of Joe dragged me back to reality. And so we should. Death may be too confusing and eerie to wonder about, but the present moment is something we can modify and potentially control with our own decisions and actions. I needed to get out of this pothole and just live the present wisely and earnestly!
What’s the “spark” in our life?
When Joe flees to the Great Before – a fantastical celestial place where new souls receive their personalities before proceeding to Earth, he becomes the mentor of 22. Now, 22 is a soul who has no interest in developing a personality and heading off to live in the real world. As the two embark on their journey to investigate a way for Joe to return to his life and a “spark” for 22, Soul reveals that “a spark isn’t a soul’s purpose” and that sometimes, achieving your dream can leave people feeling emptier than they were before.
A favourite line of mine goes like this:
“I heard this story about a fish, he swims up to an older fish and says: ‘I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.’ ‘The ocean?’ the older fish says, ‘that’s what you’re in right now.’. ‘This’, says the young fish, ‘this is water. What I want is the ocean.”
Appreciating the details in life is actually more important than we think it is, because ultimately, everything is temporary. So just pause for a second, take a deep breath, and look at the world around you through a lens of deep gratitude and wonder.
For anyone who holds any magnitude of interest in Pixar movies, I hope this review can spread love for the incredible animation production that is Soul. And hopefully, Soul’s heart-wrenching storyline and beautiful visuals will make you nod your head in appreciation. It’s great timing that it came out at the end of last year, amidst troublesome and unpredictable times that made people around the world acutely aware of loss and mortality.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that 2021 can treat us all better!