As an avid 17-year old film enthusiast, my days and nights (not spent drowning in work) are usually used to catch up on movies, both old and new, that I would like to check off my seemingly neverending list. With a year as tumultuous as 2020 has been for the film industry, the movies being released have been more so from a broader spectrum of genres. Specifically, with the rise of independent filmmakers, considering bigger production companies were too occupied making back all their money when theatres closed down. For the most part, we’ve received a surprisingly good selection of cinephile-worthy projects; honourable mentions including The Gentlemen, Trial of Chicago 7, Minari, Mank, Tenet, Ma Rainey’s, Nomadland, Sound of Metal, etc. But I truly would’ve never thought that it would be an animated Pixar film, a genre with a mixed history of critical acclaim, that would be the movie that resonated with me the most. Regardless of picture technicalities, Soul is truly one of the most heartwarming, empowering, and deeply emotional journeys you will ever experience. It is a must watch for the entire family, and it’s got such a spirit that truly made me fall back in love with the magic of the movies.
The film follows the story of a middle school band teacher named Joe (Jamie Fox), whose passion and incredible talent for jazz finally gets him the ultimate chance at fame; playing in the band of one of his musical idols. There’s just one problem — just hours before he’s scheduled to hit the stage, he dies. Yep, I mean straight falls into a manhole and ends up with a one-way ticket to the afterlife. Being a bit of a stickler for not meeting his end before the biggest night of his life (who would’ve thought?), he manages to get himself into “The Great Before”; a place to mentor new souls to discover their “spark”, which completes their personalities. After being paired with the one soul no one could possibly help, and ending up back on earth, but in the wrong bodies, the new soul 22 (voiced by Tina Fey) and Joe go through a life-changing journey of discovering who they are, and the true meaning of their purpose and their “spark”.
Being a self-appointed film critic myself (if it wasn’t already abundantly clear), I must at least make some commentary on the movie from a filmmaking perspective. Sure, I won’t say that this is the technically-riveting Kubrick picture, that makes you rethink the entire purpose of movies, I won’t say that. But that’s not necessarily what animated movies are for, and so in the realm of realistic standards for them, I’ll admit that I did see some fantastic work done in the film. The animation was incredibly well-done, I loved the incorporation of both 2D and 3D characters moving through space. The attention to detail in both the character and setting work was beautiful (especially with the fingerings on instruments), and I really enjoyed how they were able to portray such a diverse group of people using realistic traits — something many animated movies are unable to accomplish. In terms of the script itself, I couldn’t say I had anything particularly negative to mention. It was well-paced, didn’t feel shallow or overdone, and the added bits of comedy definitely made it an enjoyable movie for the whole family (the Knicks shade was hilarious). And of course, the soundtrack was just, wow. I’ve never been a huge Jazz person myself, but clearly I’m missing something because the score was so well done. It had a good balance of traditional and modern styles of jazz, and it truly felt like such a celebration of the power of music. Key word; it made you feel. That in of itself is a major victory for the composers.
Now that all of the nit-picking is out of the way, I can talk about the real reason this film touched me so deeply, and of course that is the message behind it. You see, when I first went into watching the film, like I’m sure many others did, I assumed it would be about the importance of following your dreams and working hard to do what you love. But what I expected to be this constantly overdone narrative, turned into something so much more. Because what the film was really about, was that not everything has to have such a meaning in your life. When 22 comes down to earth for the first time, she is so inspired by everything she sees. The flow of the wind, the taste of pizza, the hustle and bustle of the city; it makes her feel like she’s a part of something. She mentions to Joe that these normal-day things could be her “spark”, to which Joe dismisses it as being too ordinary to be them. And let’s be honest, he’s right, in terms of modern-day standards. We don’t reward people for hobbies, or mundane activities everyone can do. We reward them for their advancements, their jobs, their contributions to society. And that’s how Joe thought of it. Well, that was until he played his gig, the biggest night of his life, and he felt completely normal afterwards. That’s probably everyone’s biggest nightmare, right? You dream of something your entire life, and you work and you work at it, and then it happens and…nothing. You get your hour of happiness, and then you’re back to living life. It’s an incredibly scary thing to realize, and that’s exactly where it gets personal for me.
As I mentioned before, I am a huge film buff, have been for a long time. But my adoration for the artistry behind the camera, actually turned into a love for what’s in front of the camera. Since I was 5, my dream was always to be an actress. I used to hide it from my friends and family out of fear of judgement, but it was always there. I couldn’t help but think of it as my purpose; out of all the things I screwed up and did wrong, that was the one thing I could proudly say I did right. And so, I spent the last two years of my life working every day to make it happen. I would take classes, I got myself a professional agent, I would read and train, I would network, I even began to build connections to studying at my dream school. I did all this because I knew that there were millions of people who had the same dream as me, and I had to do whatever it took to make myself stand out — to prove it was my purpose in this world. And then I watched this film, and I realized…what am I doing? For so long, all I could think about was the future, my destiny and my purpose and my passion, and all the other words you could think of. But with doing that, I stopped appreciating the present. I stopped appreciating… living. Soul, in all of its metaphors, taught me that no matter how hard I work to make those dreams come true, they don’t define my value as a person. Not everything I have to do needs to fit into this regurgitated societal expectation of being useful or being successful. Because there is no one path to true happiness, if that’s something that is even attainable. And so, when Joe put all those little meaningless items on the piano, and closed his eyes and started to play how he felt, I started to cry. All these memories he had came on the screen, and I couldn’t help but feel….heard. It was the first time I felt supported in not having to prove myself every minute of my life.
And so, out of all this jumbled mess that is somehow still a film review, I want you to get this out of it. Yes, this movie was by all standards a thoroughly enjoyable one. It had a great script, a phenomenal cast, beautiful animation, an impeccably well done score, and a spirit that could garner the attention of anyone who watched it. But I also want you to truly understand the message. Life is not about one single spark. Your worth is not based on one single spark. Your happiness is not based on one single spark. Life is about enjoying all the little moments; the smell of the air in the morning, that picnic with your family you were dragged into going, the one shift at work where someone complimented your hair. You cannot believe that you are only here for one single purpose, because if that was the case, what would be the point of doing anything else? So whether you’re a student like me, stressing about what to do with their lives, or even an adult who is feeling annoyed with their predictable life schedule, take this message into account. Because as cliché as it is (and it really is), the present is gone before you know it. So let’s bring back a little more soul into our lives, shall we?