Recap of a “Soul”-ful Weekend

Sunday morning, January 29, a group of us gathered in the Etz Hayim library and discussed the Disney Pixar movie Soul. At the center of the movie is a man, Joe, who wants to be a jazz pianist. On the day of his “big break,” Joe is critically injured and ascends to a conveyor belt which the movie implies is heading toward the afterlife. Joe refuses to go and maneuvers himself instead into where souls are trained prior to being put into bodies. This is where he meets 22, who has no interest in moving on and becoming a person. The movie uses Joe, 22, and their adventures to ask questions about the meaning of life, what our purpose in living is, and how best to spend our time on earth.

The group’s discussion ranged broadly from how specific elements and artistic pieces in the movie worked, to how certain scenes or lines spoke to us and made us consider our own beliefs on the topics being explored. In particular, we ended up looking at the way the movie used Joe’s point of view to show how the things he believes might not always be right, while also using his beliefs, values, and experiences to challenge a larger societal narrative. An example of this is in the tension between Joe’s desire to be a musician, and his mother’s wish for him to take a job as a teacher. In the opening of the movie, his mother is framed as the voice of society at large, telling him being practical is more important than his dreams. However, later the viewer learns that his mother has reasons for her concerns, and genuinely thinks taking a steady job will make Joe happier in the long-run. We also learn that Joe is a very good teacher, who has changed lives without realizing it. Nonetheless, Joe’s love of music and need to engage in it are clearly significant, and cannot be dismissed as frivolous, or even secondary to his nature. As a group, we discussed how these narrative shifts allowed us to question both our own assumptions about what is important, as well as keeping us on our toes about what the movie was saying.

Unshockingly, we did not formulate an answer to the meaning of life (or afterlife) after viewing the movie and discussing it for a little over an hour. It was still very enjoyable. 

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