Soul-searching and simply living

Fatema Bangee watches Soul on Disney+.

The debut of Pete Docter's new whimsical Pixar animation movie ‘Soul’ hit our Disney+ screens on Christmas Day and could not be more timely – the end of 2020, the year of Covid. The creator and director of previous Disney masterpieces UP! and Inside Out does it again, providing youngsters with interesting insights into the ‘meaning of life’ while sending some adults into a rather amusing (and, possibly real) existential crisis!

Soul expands on films of a similar Docter vein. As UP! centres on integrity and despair, and Inside Out focuses on the impact of events and the importance of different emotions aside from happiness and joy, Soul spotlights anima and makes us question who we are. Why are we even here? What is our spark? What is our purpose? Deep questions for a Disney movie, I know!

We see the movie open with the life of ‘average’ Joe Gardener (Jamie Foxx): a determined music teacher with a passion to become a successful musician. Throughout the opening of the movie, we see Joe’s frustration of being the guy that just can’t seem to catch a break, but then to his surprise, he is finally invited to audition with The Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) and lands a place in her quartet. Joe celebrates ecstatically – and it turns out carelessly – on the streets of New York.

Joe ends up in the ‘Great Before’; an angelic meadow-like place, where he is surrounded by new souls, ready to acquire demeanours and traits of their personalities. Each new soul is allocated a mentor to help find their ‘spark’, and a precious ‘Earth badge’. Seeing this as a ticket to a second chance at life, Joe is allocated as mentor to No. 22 (Tina Fey), a stubborn new soul that wants to skip any chance of having a life. As No. 22 becomes acquainted with her new mentor, Joe is mistaken for an award-winning child psychologist; a white male in his early to mid-fifties. Cue some fairly stereotypical stuff about the nature and role of a psychologist, complete with Rorschach test.  

Here we also get Jung jokes and reference to different aspects of psychological theory and philosophy to give audiences a new way of exploring their meaning of life within easy-to-absorb metaphors. Moon-wind (Graham Norton) is a spiritual character who teaches Joe the importance of grounding techniques and meditation to help him feel alive and create a portal back to earth. I found this to be such an important message: in our daily lives we can become obsessed by the idea of acquiring success, or we are consumed by a monotonous routine in which grounding ourselves and noticing our surroundings can help us feel very much alive. I felt this reflected the simple yet empirical importance of Mindfulness, and being focused on the present moment. 

For me, the main message of Soul is that constantly searching for the purpose and meaning of life may actually be the exact thing that prohibits us from living our lives the most. Western psychology has great emphasis on goal setting and Soul teaches us that the passion and obsession we have for our goals can be at two ends of the same spectrum. Focusing on finding our absolute ‘spark’ and meaning for life may take us away from the adventures we experience, connections we make and our own handiwork: the very things that make us feel alive. 

As such, this movie is another thoughtful Pixar film that touches upon the importance of values, community, and the awareness of simply living. Although it feels like a lighthearted animation, it may even prompt psychologists to indulge into a little soul-searching themselves!

- Reviewed by Fatema Bangee, BSc (Hons) PGCert; Self-Employed, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner, Mindset Coach and Psychology Careers Mentor. IG: @mypsychcareercoach; T: @mycoachfatema. 

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