Friday, January 22, 2021

Soul felt like a backdoor movie about suicide and depression and I loved it.


The other movie that came out on Christmas day (I'm clearing out a backlog of ideas here) was the Pixar movie, Soul. Hopefully, you've had time to see it by now. But just in case you haven't, I'm issuing a soft "spoiler" warning as I'd like to talk about some of the themes that I saw in it.

First off, I really enjoyed Soul. It was a beautiful movie that swiftly veered into territory that (I felt) seemed like a backdoor discussion about suicide and depression. Most of this centers around discussions about "the spark," which is an interesting concept. The spark isn't a thing. Rather, it's a passion for living. Joe (the main character) found his spark in music and jazz. But in the afterlife, Joe meets a soul that has yet to experience life and doesn't really want to. This unborn soul is called 22, and they are afraid of living. In fact, they never got their spark until they experience life in Joe's body.

This whole thing about the "spark" then seems to be a love of life itself. It is triggered by something that gets you wanting to step across the threshold and see what's out there. 22 felt like someone who had preemptively lost any taste for the world and any sense of purpose and had decided that life just wasn't worth it. It took having to explore an actual community and to use actual senses in order to be able to disconnect from this negative need to perform, conform, or achieve. In other words, 22 could just be present in the moment, and that empowered them to devour life.

I also like how Pixar went about explaining what the spark was not. Just because a soul found their spark sinking a swish while playing basketball doesn't mean that their spark is basketball. All it means is that something about playing basketball made the soul want to experience life. Another character in the show is named Des, and he's a hairdresser. Des's spark wasn't cutting hair or to be a veterinarian. We actually don't know what Des's spark was, and it may not have been connected to anything they actually do in real life. By this same logic, we don't actually know what 22's spark is. Rather, it's unidentifiable. All that we do know is that during their brief time on Earth in Joe's body, they found their spark.

And maybe...just maybe...this is what happens when people commit suicide. They lose their spark, or lose touch with it. We all like to think of people like Anthony Bourdain (who had a fabulous life), but after seeing this movie I think to doesn't matter how fabulous his life actually was or whether he experienced joy ten times a day. For whatever reason...he lost the connection he had with his spark. And it probably didn't take long after that before he decided that life was no longer "worth it."

It's also not lost on me what 22's role actually is. In the movie, they're not just an obnoxious kid who doesn't like to learn even though they have access to the smartest people. They are a metaphor for a kid stuck in the education system that inner-city children are most susceptible to: rote learning and recitation with no experience or exposure. The experiencing and participating is something schools are paring down and throwing away, and that is exactly what 22 is meant to symbolize.

If you haven't checked out Soul, which is on Disney Plus, I think that you should. It has a lot of things going on, but it is also a story about lost souls, sparks, and black experience. When you are not seeing Joe struggling to return to a life just so he could return to not living it, you get lots of voices: a single black mother, a black barber, a black woman who's an expert at Jazz. There's a lot of people expressing themselves and explaining themselves as black people rather than just riding along with one man imposing himself on the entire narrative with a single-minded obsession. It's honestly quite refreshing and masterfully done.

Pixar hits it out of the park yet again.


  1. Sparks are also what the souls of Transformers are called. They came up with that almost 25 years before Pixar. Just saying.

  2. I want to see it, but I don't have Disney + yet. One of these days I'll do it, but I figure it'll be at a time when I can store up and watch a bunch of things I want to see.