‘Soul’: A New Life

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Disney/Pixar

‘Soul’ released on Disney+ on December 25 2020. It’s the first blockbuster film to exclusively debut on the platform.

Joshua Smith, Managing Editor of Entertainment and Editorials

On December 25, 2020 the movie ‘Soul’ was released exclusively on the online streaming platform Disney+. It was the first exclusive launch of a blockbuster movie on the streaming service, and as it was the first major release of a film following the success of “The Mandalorian.” It is a movie to me that felt unlike many other Disney films in both tone and theme, for it delved into uncharted territory for many childrens films: existentialism and simple will to be alive. The film follows Joe Gardener (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a music teacher who is also an aspiring jazz musician whose story goes from finding a new gig that could change his life to that possibility being cut short. The film then follows him trying to manage his life back into the real world from the afterlife with a character named Twenty-two (voiced by Tina Fey). “Soul” remains a film that left a lasting impression on me personally, for not only does it question the purpose and direction of the characters involved, but brought me to have a deeper connection than expected with those characters that left me on the edge of my seat for much of the film. 

As the exposition comes to a close, the main character Gardener is sure of his direction in life, but because of past blunders with the music business (shown by  quite a sad montage) there is a lot of doubt cast over his success in that moment by not only his mother, but by himself as well. He really feels as though he has had his breakout moment, and in doing so he has created a new future for himself. This future is cut short though, for on his way home from being invited to the gig he falls into a manhole. In the next scene the audience is greeted with a  dystopian afterlife, where little blue beings are being herded up a stairway into “the great beyond,” and Gardener is having none of it. This is where the true themes of the movie start to come into play, for not only does Gardener feel as though his life had not been given appropriate time to play out, but he felt as though he had just begun the journey that fulfilled his life’s purpose. This fight to fulfill that purpose becomes a motif throughout the film, for not only does he struggle to maintain the drive for that purpose, but is given the opportunity to train the other character, 22, into finding her own purpose and desire to live in the first place. This is the primary sticking point of the movie though, for 22 is at the very least uncooperative and at most times during the film actively working against trying to find her life outside of what the film charmingly calls “the great before” where they take unattached souls and have mentors (in this instance Gardener acting as if they were someone else) that train them to find their purpose so they can ascend into existence on Earth. 22’s plot coincides with Gardener’s story in a unique way though, for as Gardener fights to get his life back, 22 lives in utter arrogance that they would rather live forever in “the great before” rather than exist on another plane. That is, until they walk a few miles in Gardener’s shoes. They do so by finding a loophole back onto the plane of existence that is Earth, and when Gardener’s soul was supposed to go back into his body, he went into a cat instead and 22 into his own. 

This creates the basis for the conflict of the film though, for now Gardeneras a catmust guide 22 into not only following through with Gardener’s life, but aiding him in getting back into his own body. This is where the sticking point shifts though, for as they find a resolution to getting him back in his body, 22 does not want to leave it as she has found her purpose in music and little things such as eating food. [SPOILER]: The film is eventually resolved as 22 gets a separate pass into Earth and Gardener resumes his life as the successful jazz musician of his dreams. As the credits roll, everyone is happy and has found their purpose in life, but for me the ending was lackluster to say the least. 

The reason why the ending of the film deserves so much criticism in my mind is because even while everyone had found happiness, to me it had felt as though the entire conflict of the film was based on limited ability to live and breathe on Earth, and the end of the film just magically wishes that conflict away, making the whole of the film appear more shallow than I had hoped it would be. That, of course is by design for some reason, but I wish the film had played into the themes it invested in earlier in the film, for loss of life and will to live become practically meaningless as the credits roll. Throughout the film it plays into these themes of existentialism and desire to maintain and build new life, but life being finite no longer matters when 22 as well as Gardener live life at the end of the film. There is no lasting conflict, there is no compromise within the resolution, there is just complete resolution. Maybe I’m just a cynic, but especially in movies with a lesson along the lines of finding purpose in life and living each day to the fullest, it seems contradictory to wash away that conflict and therefore lesson by resolving all possibles avenues instead of choosing a road that causes inner reflection as much of the rest of the film does. 

In the end, the vast majority of this film was very impressive and to see this kind of work coming out of Disney-Pixar even if it’s just released on online platforms gives much promise to the future of the brand. Even while there is a less-than-fulfilling ending, the film still comes out of it as one that not only do I enjoy, but have connected with on a great level. I would recommend it to anyone, as it is one of, if not the best new releases from late 2020 with a solid 7/10 rating.