Directed by - Pete Doctor
Written by - Pete Doctor, Mike Jones, Kemp Powers
'Soul' is in many ways a representation of the evolution of Pixar's storytelling. From the playfulness of Toy Story to the earnest innocence of Finding Nemo to the poignant maturity of Up, Pixar has constantly refined and innovated and given us tales with themes that resonate in more ways than one. Of course there have been pitfalls, with films that didn't quite hit the mark, but one thing that is undeniable is the meaningfulness that is infused into the layers of their stories.
And this is what makes their latest endeavour shine as brightly as the gleam in Buzz Lightyear's grin. Soul, in a nutshell, is a story about...Souls. Sounds rather simplistic, and yet the film, in its simplicity, explores those layers of complexities that make us who we are. A soul is not a tangible thing, but still you feel it within you. It is that feeling that drives you to do what you do every day of your life.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven't watched the film yet then don't read further. Go watch it first!
In this film we have Joe Gardner, a middle-aged music teacher who harbours unrealised dreams of a career in Jazz. His life has not gone to plan, he has faced constant rejection and even his own mother doesn't believe in him. Yet he holds on to hope, because he truly believes that being a musician is his purpose in life and that is what drives him. But when he finally gets a big break, he suffers an unfortunate accident that puts his body in a coma and sends his soul to 'The Great Beyond.' Now even in this manifested form of a soul, Joe is unwilling to give up on his dreams and endeavours to find a way back to his body on earth to prevent himself from dying. On the way, he is mistaken for a 'soul counsellor' and assigned to train 22 - a cynical soul who, for thousands of years, has found no passion (the spark of passion, being a requirement for every soul to pass on to earth) and has thus refused to be born, happy to spend eternity in 'The Great Before.' Joe's job as a counsellor is to incite that passion within 22. This relationship forms the heart of the story, juxtaposing Joe, who exudes passion for his music and believes that to be his purpose in life, with 22, who is entirely indifferent to everything and believes she has no purpose.
It is these contrasts and parallels that are drawn between passion and purpose that forms the thematic heart of the story. So when this unlikely pair of souls accidentally get propelled down to earth, they are thrust into a situation that forces them to confront their world views and look at life with a different lens.
While this film is made with consideration to younger audiences, it doesn't shy away from dealing with the complexities of life. It shows us that passion need not necessarily translate to purpose and purpose need not be extraordinary to be meaningful. Both Joe and 22 are well layered characters with sufficient depth and character growth. But what makes us empathise with them is the relatability of their issues. Who hasn't struggled with a lack of a purpose or an unrealised dream?
For most of the film, the narrative weaves its way rather unpredictably. Although it does fall short by providing us with an annoyingly convenient resolution, it does leave us with open ended thoughts - how do we define ourselves? Does our purpose make us who we are and do we let our passions define our purpose? Not all of us get to pursue our passions and not all of us realise our purpose but life isn't about the destination, its about the journey and that's what this film drives home in a way that is both endearing and thought provoking.