Is there a set moment in time your life is supposed to begin?
Soul is an animated Pixar drama-comedy that debuted in 2020. Directed by Pete Docter, the story follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), our first African American Pixar protagonist, who is a band teacher at a middle school, with a passion for Jazz. Wanting a chance, a former student gives him an opportunity for his big break. While Joe believes he is walking on sunshine, he is really falling down a manhole of all places. His soul and body separate, leading Joe to go on a pursuit to reunite the two before his big performance.
What’s admirable about this film is not only the ‘everyday’ atmosphere representing the contrasting instability of life, but the irony of our protagonist helping out 22 (Tina Fey), a soul from the Great Before, who is eager to enter life, just as Joe saw himself leaving it.
What to take away from Soul is learning to be more than what others want for you and more than just your career. Though society places heavy emphasis that you will be happy doing what you love, that is not always the case. Soul doesn’t so much beg as invite the viewer to find individual fulfillment through improvisation not just in Jazz, but in relationships.
Joe has a dream, while 22 is looking for hers. The film weaves mysticism into existential ideology as the characters seek the true meaning and reasoning for their lives. This is especially evident when 22 takes shape as a cat and proceeds to die multiple times, reiterating the notion of reincarnation and cats having nine lives, a dramatized trial and error sequence normalized in certain cultural mythologies.
As someone who can relate to Joe’s limited perspective on the combination of purpose and career, the Barber Shop scene is one to note as memorable. Here Joe looks at others, believing this community of barbers and customers were all born to do what they are doing, not recognizing that sometimes people must make sacrifices due to uncontrollable life circumstances, and are still able to feel contentment.
As we are living in this pandemic, we forget ‘thrownness’, being thrown into our own existence, not necessarily having a beginning, and desiring to open up to existence rather than retreating from all life’s possibilities and accepting responsibility. The animated, colorful cinematography shifting both Joe and 22 from the real world and the alternate Beyonds goes to show that happiness can be seen ‘off the stage’, a philosophical approach to avoid limiting.
My final note is the subtle and significant theme that uses Jazz as the underscore for the narration to bring the whole story together since Jazz is famous for its improvisation, and the lifeline, literally, for Joe. Jazz is Soul’s metaphor for exploring the human experience. Soul doesn’t try to be anything more than it is.
Naima Said, A&E/News staff writer.
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