‘Soul’ features honest and hard-hitting questions about the purpose of life

Illustration by Myah Anglin | The Signal

Disney released their newest animated film, “Soul,” about the story of a fictional middle school music teacher who dreams of becoming a jazz musician, on Dec. 25 on its streaming service Disney Plus. It is a family-friendly film that is easily entertaining for children and adults alike. 

The movie director is Pixar’s first-ever Black co-director, and it features its first Black protagonist. The film’s cast and characters are a feat of diversity and representation. 

Disney and Pixar’s “Soul” is a melancholy trip through the longings of life. It delves into the questions and subjects that have and may always leave us unsettled, some of which are answered and some of which are left up to interpretation. 

I appreciated that the film leaves some things up for interpretation because we all have our beliefs about life after death and any pre-existence to life. The most memorable parts of the film are not the metaphysical characters and settings but that it dares to acknowledge the purpose of life and mortality.

“Soul” acknowledges these heavy subjects while also discussing and portraying passion versus obsession, a career as the litmus test for a life well-lived, depression and lack of satisfaction in the life you are living.

The film spells out the existential crises and the dread. It presents it to you raw in its most relatable form, as two characters, both of whom we could relate to. 

Editor’s Note: spoilers up ahead

Joe Gardner, the film’s protagonist, is a middle school music teacher with a dream: He aspires to be a jazz pianist, and just as he reaches his goal, he falls to his death deep in the jaws of a manhole. He then finds himself in purgatory as a metaphysical soul on his way to “The Great Beyond,” except he insists that he isn’t ready to go.

Sound familiar?

He just got his dream of playing a gig as a jazz pianist, and then, BAM — he’s dead. 

In his endeavors to avoid cementing his death, he meets another soul, 22, who has never lived and doesn’t want to live. In this metaphysical world, “The Great Before,” souls are mentored to find their “spark” before going to Earth. Some of 22’s mentors included Mother Teresa, Muhammad Ali, Nicolaus Copernicus, Abraham Lincoln, Marie Antionette and Carl Jung. 

22 doesn’t have a spark; every one of her mentors failed to help her find inspiration. So, Joe’s assignment is to mentor 22, and like any good mentor and mentee relationship, they both come out of it having learned something—Joe about the values of life’s experiences he takes for granted and 22 the will to live.

In 22, we see all of us. We see our pessimism, our obsessions with our flaws and our inability to accept that life is not totally in our control. In Joe, we see that our dreams may not be all there is to life—we learn to let go of the precedence we give to our careers. The message is clear: life is not just a career.

The moral is to allow our passions to inspire us, not obsess us, and Joe learns along with us. Jazz music embodies one of Joe’s lessons: You cannot force life. It’s a series of improvisations, and it has to be felt and experienced. 

To us students, the message is not to restrict yourself to a career’s confines, and don’t forget that our mentors are our experiences just as much as our professors are. So take risks and chances, live each day as if it’s your last and remember that it is okay not to know what your spark is.