The meaning of life according to Soul
Creating movies on difficult topics is a staple for Pixar. But have they been able to tackle one of the most difficult questions to answer?
The pandemic reality we all have found ourselves in provides little to no possibility for experiences at cinemas. We had to get used to watching movies at home, and the smell of freshly popped popcorn from a microwave is nothing compared to that at your local movie theatre.
I think we can all agree that 2020 was a difficult year. A lot has happened, and nothing could prepare us for the events that unfolded. We found comfort in TV shows, fictional worlds, which ultimately helped us escape from this dark reality.
Unfortunately, this global outbreak is far from being over, and we still have a thirst for comfort found in narratives. One of the most surprising creations from Pixar tries to satisfy that appetite with the movie Soul; a narrative for all the 20-year-olds around the globe. Why is it a surprise?
Compared to other movies, like Inside Out and Up, the protagonist looks like a thirty-year-old facing some kind of personal crisis. As the protagonist of Inside Out was a young girl and the
heroes of Up are on different spectrums of youth, there was a need to introduce a character that was in the middle of that spectrum.
Let us welcome Joe Gardener, a jazz music teacher, who seems more than qualified to be an ordinary school teacher. The movie begins with him being offered a stable school job, but Joe seems unpleasantly surprised with that offer. His mother disapproves of his reluctance to accept the job.
In a short amount of time, he is also offered an opportunity to get on stage with a recognizable jazz musician. Joey accepts the offer, and out of joy and excitement, he fails to notice a manhole and unfortunately falls into it.
Do not worry, those are not spoilers, it is all in the trailer!
This is where the hero of our story faces his greatest enemy - death. He falls into the Great Beyond and is scheduled for life discontinuation. Like any sane person, he has not quite come to terms with this outcome, so he forces his way out of this predicament. The main storyline starts here.
The movie tackles one of the most difficult subjects known to man - the meaning of life - and it does it in quite an astounding fashion. Apart from Joe, there is yet another important character to the story, and his name is 22.
22 has never been on earth, as he is a soul that is about to embark into the world. Before the soul does that, it needs to find the spark, a hobby, or interest that will be suitable on earth. Many have tried to instill passion in this troubled character, but all have failed, up until the point when Joe arrived.
Here we are introduced to that aforementioned concept of the meaning of life. The soul needs to find a sort of direction, which it is supposed to follow after it is put into the meaty sleeve we call a body. But what is that passion?
We are greeted with all things human - archery, music, speaking, helping others, but none of those seem to appeal to 22. Thousands of personalities tried to convince 22 of the variety of activities you can undertake as a human. This did not change the soul’s perception on that matter.
Towards the end of the movie, every problem and major roadblock is done away with. But is the question posed at the beginning truly answered?
Our hero was looking forward so much, that he forgot to be in the right now, and fell down a manhole. The opposite can be said of 22, as he was discouraged from trying, as he has failed to gather his spark. The soul was constantly not enough and felt as if the future was not for him.
Another important figure that came to my mind while watching the movie was Victor Frankl. His book “Man’s search for meaning” caused an impact on the lives of many people. As it is difficult to describe his life at a concentration camp as “living in the moment”, he managed to gather enough willpower to change the connotation of his stay there. This reminds me of a Polish poem.
One of the lines from Zbigniew Herbert’s poetry is fitting to this situation: “repeat: I was called - weren't there better ones than I” It is exactly that there were no others to fulfill this task, that you were chosen - this kind of information resides in the poem The Message of Mr. Cogito.
None of the hardships 22 or Joe faced were as severe as the reality of war. We can conclude that we should cherish life in the moments, and not look forward to a faraway goal. We are given a chance at life, and the meaning can be found in the simplest of events.
There is one scene in particular that contains this message. It is more towards the end of the movie, escalation of conflict as the narratologists would say. The celebration of life is visible in a moment, a slow pan of the camera to a perfect bit.
It is exactly that one moment that makes me certain of the director’s outlook on reality. Just as Viktor Frankl said:
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
This is his answer to the millennia-old question, and I think that the directors of the movie itself aimed for a similar outcome. It is a spectacle to witness, so get your online friends together, and give this one a try. Find out for yourself what the meaning of life is according to Pixar’s “Soul”.