Disney Pixar’s latest animated feature Soul released on Disney+ on Christmas Day. Jamie Foxx voices Joe, a music teacher whose true passion is jazz. Just after getting his big break, Joe dies and passes to a spiritual realm where he’s determined to get back to his life but must first help a spirit (voiced by Tina Fey) find her passion.
From a Spiritual perspective, Soul is a very interesting film. It deals with the afterlife and the human spirit. Soul made me think of some of the great fiction works of C.S. Lewis such as “The Screwtape Letters” and “The Great Divorce.” In those books, Lewis deals with subjects of what heaven is like and how demons work. Those books are thoughtful and interesting, but they’re not theology books. I view Soul somewhat similarly. It’s thoughtful and interesting, but it’s not a Bible lesson.
What Soul does is makes us think about purpose, life, and the things we value. It’s also a story about sacrifices.
If you haven’t watched the movie, you might not want to spoil the ending.
As I’ve already said, the movie begins with Joe’s character finally catching a break in a frustrated music career when a famous jazz musician invites him to play with her quartet. You’re happy for his character, but as he’s walking home, he suffers a fall and is headed towards the afterlife. Not wanting to miss his break, Joe’s soul flees the afterlife (called the Great Beyond) and ends up in another realm called the Great Before, which is where souls of those not yet born dwell.
I’ll pause for a moment and note the interesting idea that the film suggests that a person has a soul even before they’re born. That idea is not Biblical, but what the Bible does teach is that God knows and cares for his people while they’re in the womb, before they’re even born. But what was interesting to me is that it’s a major motion picture which is making a values statement about human life.
Back to the movie. The unborn souls are coached by counselors who’s job it is to help them prepare for life. They need to find their “spark” in life. The unborn souls have badges that fill up as the spirit becomes prepared for life. Joe gets paired with 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), who’s warn down many previous counselors and has never found her own spark. 22 doesn’t have any interest in living in the real world as a person. But she does decide to try to help Joe.
Through other spirits, Joe is able to see himself in the hospital and he rushes to get back to his body. In his haste, things gets switched and 22 ends up embodying Joe while Joe’s Spirit embodies a cat. These actions are all against the rules of the Great Before, and so Joe is trying not to get caught. He has a singular focus on getting back into his own body, and pursuing his musical dreams. But it is through these scenes that 22 actually starts to like the world (and pizza). She has great conversations with people, she experiences life. All of this makes 22 want to try to find her own spark in life.
She tries to run away from Joe, just as the two are discovered and taken back to the Great Before. They discover that 22’s badge is finally filled out and that she’s ready to live, but in anger at Joe (who’s taken all of the credit for her finding her spark), she tosses him her badge.
For a family movie. That’s pretty deep.
Joe returns to his body and after performing with his new jazz quartet, he feels guilty about what has happened. This brings up another interesting aspect of the film. Throughout the whole movie, Joe has assumed that his “spark” is music. It’s what he loves. Earlier in the movie, he had tried to help 22 find her own “spark,” which he also assumed meant helping someone find what they love.
But what we find out in the movie is that a person’s spark isn’t a specific activity or passion. Your spark is living life itself. In that sense, Joe does help 22 find her spark because he introduces her to the world and she realizes that life is a beautiful thing.
Joe has spent his whole life wanting a break in music, and when he finally gets it, he’s unfilled. We sometimes put so much hope into one thing that we can lose sight of everything else, of experiences, of connection.
I think people often think that they have some sort of unknown purpose in life that’ll bring this ultimate fulfillment. Many people feel like they were made for something great, but don’t know what it is. Especially for the younger generations in our society, we’re in an existential crisis for purpose and meaning. We put too much pressure on ourselves and lose sight of the basic joys of life.
The movie soul does have elements that talk about the afterlife, but the movie is actually about living in the real world.
It’s a great movie. Interesting, thought-provoking. It’ll make you laugh, and it might even make you cry.
Again. I’m not saying that Soul is a lesson in theology. I do want to make that clear. I think that the movie touches on lots of themes about the human soul, human worth, and our purpose for living which I think can lead to interesting discussions and conversations.
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