The movie ‘Soul’ has made quite a mark on this year. With its gorgeous, detailed animation it upholds the movie magic we’ve come to expect from Pixar. It did strike me, however, that it is not exactly a kids movie. The movie was certainly marketed for children and many of the animation choices would seem to suggest the same. Despite this, the themes addressed were mainly applicable to adults and would leave most children scratching their heads. This movie strikes the heart of adulthood. It tackles job security, having a purpose in life, finding independence and more. At the end of it, children are left with dry eyes while adults are left with a new lease on life.
Job security versus chasing one’s dreams
In the beginning, we see the protagonist Joe use incredible patience to instruct a mostly nonchalant Middle School band. For adults, the thankless work that teachers do comes to mind. This sentiment is solidified by Joe being offered a full-time position as a music teacher as opposed to the part-time gig he has been working. The best part? The position comes with healthcare and a pension.
As he returns to the room, he solemnly stares at black and white images of great musicians who have come before. A permanent position is just that. Permanent. He is afraid that he will never be free to pursue his dreams because it will mean giving up job security. In that one glance, the struggle of a generation stuck between dreams and practicality is articulated. In all of this poignancy, children will likely only laugh at the part where a student is left bewildered after accidentally pulling apart their trombone. Although to give them some credit, it was pretty funny.
Thinking that the ocean is just water
In the movie, the legendary saxophone player Dorothea Williams tells a beautiful story about a little fish looking for the Ocean. The fish is swiftly informed that they are already in the ocean. The fish intones that they are looking for the ocean. This, after all, is just water. After Joe plays the show of his life and essentially lives out his dream, he feels flat. He has been constantly chasing the ocean that is living his dream life as a musician without realising that his life has been the ocean all along.
As an adult, it can be easy to find yourself constantly chasing something more. More success, more money, more relationships. We also find that even when we achieve these things, they don’t feel how we think they should. They do not live up to the great expectations we have of what being at the pinnacle of achievement is like. The movie asserts that we must enjoy everything including the journey. All of it is the ocean.
Finding the meaning of life
Majority of the movie circulates around the idea of finding a purpose in life. Having a raison d’etre or reason to be is something that plagues the minds of adults. At some point, humans are taught that there will be one singular thing that makes life worth living for each of us. It is the thing that will wake us up in the morning, give us something to look back on and look forward to. It will push us forward and make the hard times worth all the strife. In the movie, these are referred to as sparks.
We often think of sparks as talents. What comes to mind is the person who can whip up cakes that are so realistic that they make us question whether the whole of the universe is actually made of cake. We consider the ripped athlete who can score impossible goals by seemingly defying the laws of gravity. The only problem is that these people are in the minority. This makes the ‘unexceptional’ people amongst us wonder if they can have a place in this world without having a single stand-out skill that overshadows all the rest.
The movie humorously addresses the assumption that all humans have one singular purpose as ‘basic’. Reason being that there is inherent value in life on earth. In a poignant montage, we see Joe experience the little things that we take for granted every day. The feeling of the warm sun caressing your face, staring wistfully out of the window during a train ride or enjoying the taste of a cheesy pizza.