Speed Run Pixar Soul Movie Discussion

Speed Run Pixar Soul Movie Discussion
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I generally don’t do animation. Yes, I know animation is brilliant. Yes, I’m a comic book fan from way back (Akira is my favorite all time book). And yes, I love the art of animation. (I almost went off to art school solely to get into doing animation at a big animation studio.) But here on THiNC. I prefer to talk about small budget surprises that force us to figure it out, or cause us to discuss what it wants to talk about. But last night I watched Soul with the kids and there were a few ideas in there though that I thought were worth talking about. So this is just a Speed Run Pixar Soul Movie Discussion conversation. It’s not my full court press, just a few interesting ideas here that I can’t not talk about. OK?

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, it’s basically free on Disney+. So go check it out.

I guess some of the things I will be talking about will be something of a spoiler? It’d be better if you watch the film first before continuing on.

In the film Soul, we follow a middle school music teacher, Joe (played by Jamie Foxx), as we learn about his disappointment in his personal career. (My own personal favorite Jamie Foxx movie? (Why thanks for asking) That would be Collateral! So much brilliance in Collateral.) Anyway, if you’ve seen Mr. Holland’s Opus? It’s literally the same opening. Like, the first 20 minutes are ripped straight… We watch as Joe tries to mentor music students who aren’t doing too well. We watch and learn that his real dream was to perform Jazz in clubs and on the stage. But here he is. Stuck. (Did I mention the opening is LITERALLY Mr. Holland’s Opus? Yeah, literally.) BUT HE GETS HIS CHANCE. Out of the blue he gets a chance to fill in for a pianist of an acclaimed Jazz Sax player!!

BUT DIES. Wait, what? Yeah, he dies.

Instead of heading off into the “great beyond,” he turns, runs, and finds himself in the “great before.” What the heck? Where is this movie going? In short, he becomes the mentor to 22 (Tina Fey)… a reticent soul that absolutely refuses to head down to that god forsaken planet earth. Joe eventually talks 22 into letting him head back to earth on her pass, or something. I don’t know, I really wasn’t paying attention. Regardless, through some tragic-cosmic-screwup, 22 ends up in Joe’s body. And Joe ends up in his cat. (? I don’t know, but I would pay significantly to be in this pitch meeting.)

Right there though, we know we have three objectives for the rest of the movie. The first? To figure out how to get Joe back into his old body. The second? To get Joe to his big night – to play for the Sax queen. And third? To convince 22 that life is worth living on planet earth… that she ought to give it a try. And they do. Of course. 22 loves pizza. Lollipops. The sky, the smells, the little wonders that is life on earth. And Joe gets his gig playing on stage. He does so well that he’s offered a permanent slot in the band. But to do that night, after night? He, well he figures – ultimately – that he would be stealing 22’s chance at a life on earth. So, Joe enters the zone, hijacks his way back the big before, and goes looking for 22. Ultimately they find 22, and realize she’s become a lost soul. Using a maple seed that had enamored her so on earth, Joe entices her to come back from her lost soulness, and then to use her badge to go back to earth. Ultimately, Joe though must head off to the Great Beyond. Because, we all have to pay the piper eventually. Just before Joe heads into the light, he’s stopped by Jerry who thanks him for inspiring them all, especially 22, and she offers him a chance to return to life. This time though, he’s ready to appreciate every single moment that he is given.

You Got That Bit Right?

That was the what of Soul. But the nuance of the movie was really interesting. Joe, a musician, wanted nothing more for his life than to play for a big Jazz band like the Dorothea quartet. He was certain that doing that would make life have meaning and purpose. That to arrive at that pinnacle would be to make life have meaning. But, poor Joe was wrong. Why? I mean, is music such a bad life goal? Or architecture? Or becoming an author? What is it that you have worked your whole life for? Or what if your goal was to become a doctor and save children from rare diseases?!? That has got to be a worthy goal worth making life worth living for, no?

Well, no. It’s not. And that is the interesting point about the movie, and a larger point that is worth really circling back to. Well, think about this for a moment. If life is contingent on your architecture, or your acting, or your surgerying, then when your book writing ends, does your life end? Well, yeah, right? Logically? If your life is contingent on the thing you do, then when that is done, your life is then over.

We all get caught up in what we do. Don’t we? And I’m not necessarily talking about our careers. Our 9 to 5, nah. Maybe you are all about being a househusband, oh, excuse me, or a housewife. Or writing this blog. If I make life about this stupid little blog, and, for some reason, it keels over and dies? Then what do I do then? Suicide? Check out? Drugs? Start a different blog? Or start a new hobby? Hire a career counselor?

The answer is no to all those things. And if you were wondering what this was all about, I’m talking to myself here. Fine, be voyeuristic and all that. But I’m sure no one else needs to hear this but myself. Or something. Seriously though, the movie Soul was good – but this message of purpose? That s%#* is legit. Like, profound. If I lost my job tomorrow, I would have a hard time. Not because I wouldn’t be able to figure something out. No, I’d work my tail off for sure. (Side note, if I really was looking for a job, I’d probably go about it all wrong. You know those stories about job hunters who show up in front of the hiring manager’s house, or spray paints their resume on the building next to the corporation? I’d go too far. …

I’d find myself slapped with a restraining order in 2 seconds flat… it wouldn’t be endearing at all.) I’d have a hard time all the same. Why? Because of purpose. And the ease with which it is possible to conflate purpose with meaning. Yet, it’d be so complicated to de-conflate (ex-conflate?) the two, and realize that one’s purpose and busyness aren’t even remotely connected. Note: still talking to myself here.

Which is why this simple “children’s” movie is still plaguing my mind long after it ended. Fear? Fear of being tested enough to really learn this lesson actually? Worry that I won’t ever be able to learn what was necessary in spite of the circumstances requiring it? I have been giving this idea tons more thought during the past year of quarantining and working from home. It’s one thing to realize one needs to learn a lesson, it’s an entirely other thing to actually learn it. Maybe though Soul is helping to give it one more layer of reality. To see every day as its own purpose. To value the little things as precious. A smile. An embrace. A laugh. All way more purposeful than the tedium of work. Maybe someday I’ll get there. What about you?

Edited by: CY