Soul (Review)

Dec 19, 2020

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Soul (2020)
Pixar Studios

Directed by: Pete Doctor, Kemp Powers
Written by: Pete Docter, Mike Jones, Kemp Powers
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove

A life, Jimmy, you know what that is? It’s the shit that happens while you’re waiting for moments that never come.

-The Wire

Watching Soul dredged up some of the most complex, conflicting emotions I’ve felt in quite some time. On the one hand, it’s a film that seemingly could not have arrived at a better time. Many of us, such as this film critic, have been forced to put our lives on pause. Most of our time is lived out isolated at home away from the pleasure of human contact. This isolation is something that begets introspection, and with it, questions. Questions about the lives we are living, the goals we hold, and whether they will even be achievable once this period of forced isolation ends.

Soul is a film that arrives asking those same questions. Telling the story of a man and his journey between life and death, it’s certainly Pixar’s most philosophically ambitious film yet. The man in question, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), was already at a crossroads in his life before his brush with death. Joe is someone whose only passion is music. It’s his lifeforce, the thing he lives and breathes, and from what we see, he’s darn good at it. However, passion and talent alone aren’t able to pay the bills, which is why he finds himself teaching jazz to middle schoolers. It’s hardly a dead-end job, but it’s far from the big break he had envisioned for himself. But that moment seemingly comes when a former student calls him with an offer to play in a band with a legendary musician. It’s here when Joe can finally feel his life turn around, that his dream is finally within arm’s reach, that he dies. And it’s his time in the afterlife, paired with the literal wayward soul 22 (Tina Fey) that the film’s thesis about the things that make life worth living begin to take shape.

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In Disney and Pixar’s “Soul,” Joe Gardner (voice of Jamie Foxx), a middle-school band teacher in New York City, makes one small misstep and ends up in The Great Before, a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth. There, he meets Terry (voice of Rachel House), who is charged with the singular duty of keeping track of the entrants to The Great Beyond. Determined to return to his life, Joe teams up with a precocious soul, 22 (voice of Tina Fey) to show her what’s great about living. Directed by Academy Award® winner Pete Docter, co-directed by Kemp Powers and produced by Academy Award® nominee Dana Murray, p.g.a., “Soul” will debut exclusively on Disney+ (where Disney+ is available) on December 25, 2020. ©2020 Disney/Pixar. All rights reserved.

In almost every way I can think of, Soul is a profound, staggeringly beautiful work. Not just aesthetically (though, yes, Pixar, true to form, has created yet another visually stunning work), but firstly in its music. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails have created a soundtrack that is by alternate turns moving, haunting, and powerful. But the true source of Soul’s profundity. Ideas that beauty and happiness can be found anywhere we look. Or how that yes, tragedies we face can affect us and shape us, but we can push through them with the connections we make, and the passions we forge.

It’s a tender message, but one that rings somewhat bittersweetly for me. One of the greatest sources of beauty and passion in my life was found in the movie theater, a place where I know I would have enjoyed Soul even more. For me, it was one of the everyday joys that Soul implicitly asks its viewer to look for. But when I reviewed Soul on a home screener, it only served to further drive the point home that one of my most reliable sources of joy is in danger of fading. I should be clear: If one decides to view Soul, viewing it at home this Christmas on Disney+ is certainly the most sensible, pragmatic, and frankly safe decision that one can make. But for a film that will certainly bring joy to others, the sensation it left in my heart was a lingering sense of melancholy.

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Score: 9.5

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