Warning: Spoilers ahead.
I was both stunned and pleasantly surprised when I learned that Pixar would be examining spiritual concepts in Soul. After watching the film twice, I still couldn’t believe what I was witnessing in a mainstream Disney movie! Astral projection, spirit guides, OBEs (Out of Body Experiences), and NDEs (Near Death Experiences) were all explored in what was disguised as a children’s film. And while it’s certainly an important film for children to watch, they may not grasp the depth of its meaning until they potentially discover what it feels like to lose touch with who they truly are, only to find that spark once again.
Soul is being praised as the first Pixar film featuring a Black protagonist and Black culture, and I couldn’t be more thrilled that this also coincides with becoming the first Pixar film to explore existential themes and the afterlife. Representation absolutely matters, but as I was immersed in the movie, I didn’t think much about the race of Joe Gardner because there were far too many philosophical moments occurring. The body is simply a container for the soul, used to experience physical life. Thus, I hope that the collective can look past race and see the brilliance in what Soul is depicting on a spiritual level.
In Soul, the rebellious yet wise soul known simply as “22” (Tina Fey) was ultimately the teacher for Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), allowing him to understand how special this earthly experience can be. As 22 became accustomed to being in a body, they were bright-eyed and playful like a child, running around New York City without a care in the world. Indeed, examining the nature of children can give us profound insights on the joy of simply being. Joe, who believed his purpose was to become a renowned jazz musician, was unsatisfied with his life as a middle school band teacher. He yearned for more, always searching, even when his dream opportunity of playing for a well-known local Jazz band fell into his lap. Still unfulfilled, Joe began to understand that true happiness comes from within, and it requires a shift in perspective. After his near death experience and being granted a second chance at life, Joe no longer felt the need to satisfy some sort of vague purpose, but rather, he took a far more simplistic approach and vowed to enjoy every moment of life, regardless of what occurred. To cultivate gratitude for all aspects of the human experience is how inner peace is achieved.
The film also brings up lost souls, creating a terrifying image of unconscious dark energy that occurs when one is out of touch with their light, lost in the illusion and stuck in the everyday grind and routine of daily life. In one of my favorite scenes, a stock broker who had essentially become a zombie for money experiences a reunion with his soul, resulting in him saying, “What am I doing with my life?” and proceeds to destroy his computer, urging everyone to free themselves. While the scene was humorous, the truth will surely cut deep for those who are living an unconscious life.
After my own awakening in 2018, I began finding the sacred in the everyday. Listening to the birds chirping, the trees whistling, and watching the sky paint a new picture each day and night all felt magical and left me with feelings of awe and inspiration. I have always known that the purpose for my own life was not to work towards materialistic goals, but to awaken to my spiritual nature and find joy in even the most ordinary of moments. To experience the breadth of emotions, to create, and to evolve through all types of relationships which serve as our teachers. Watching this wisdom come to life in Soul was incredibly special, as I knew the film would serve as a tool for many on their personal journeys.
In perhaps one of the most important films of our era, Soul reminds those severely out of touch with their true selves of the teachings that date back to ancient times: Look within for joy, practice gratitude, and play like a child! Don’t take the temporary human experience so seriously, as this causes suffering. Like Joe Gardner, I intend on reveling in every moment of this fascinating and thrilling existence.