The Reality Of Dreams and Existentialism - Pixar’s “Soul” MovieApr 13, 2021 09:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian
Figure 1 - The Protagonist Joe Gardner (Voiced by Jamie Foxx). Source - Google Images
How often have we heard the phrase "Dream big, work on your goals and find a purpose"? In the pursuit of our dreams, we build a linear ladder and climb up, sometimes slow, sometimes fast, and sometimes we don't reach the top at all. During an unpredictable pandemic, many of our dreams had to come to a temporary halt and our realities started to crumble. Just as we were about to lose our minds, Disney and Pixar showcased their staggering creative abilities by launching a groovy and complex animated movie, “Soul”.
Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), the first Black protagonist in a Pixar movie, first appeared on screen looking lost while attempting to conduct his band students towards a rhythm. As soon as we label him as the stereotypical nerdy middle school band teacher, Joe begins to share his love for music and showcases his mesmerizing natural talent on the piano. Just like his students in the scene, we are in awe. He is shown to be a passionate music artist who is painfully squeezed between reality and dream. His predicament feels familiar and his unsatisfied look towards his paycheck hits close to home. Despite all of the “reality” we see in the first few minutes of the film, we also have a visual glimpse of a spiritual connection Joe appears to have when performing a piece of music. Joe refers to it as “the zone” while auditioning for Dorothea Williams (Voiced by Angella Bassett), where he lands the gig he has dreamed of for his entire life. This is his moment to shine. However, one wrong step, quite literally, and it was his time to go to “the great beyond”.
Figure 2 - Joe Gardner in “the great beyond”. Source - Google Images
While wrestling with an existential fall, we see Joe escaping towards “the great before”, where he meets 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), a soul who prefers to stay put rather than jump into the mortal complexities of Earth. In this ethereal adventure, we witness the yin-yang personalities of Joe and 22, where the former is optimistic and the latter is realistic. The balance of the duo brings an unseen understanding with a pinch of escapade, pushing them both towards the mortal world. Once in the mortal world, 22 gets to live in Joe’s body, and Joe sees his life from a 3rd-person point-of-view (through the eyes of a cat, actually). In this exchange of soul, 22 gets to witness the unimaginable beauty and rawness Earth has to offer, but all Joe thinks about is his big break. Ultimately Joe gets to perform, with it being exactly how he always dreamed, but it comes at the cost of losing 22. At the end of the movie, Dorothea Williams tells Joe the following: “I heard this story about a fish, he swims up to an older fish and says: ‘I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.’ ‘The ocean?’ the older fish says, ‘that’s what you’re in right now.’ ‘This, says the young fish, ‘this is water. What I want is the ocean!’” This story resonates on many levels as we find ourselves asking the question, “Well, I did it, Now what?”. After achieving our dreams, we occasionally find that while on the journey to “success”, we missed out on the beauty of the life that we are already surrounded with.
It’s important to have dreams, but in our paths of life, don’t forget to appreciate the smell of roses, the taste of cake, or a hug from your mother. “Soul” teaches us to branch out into every aspect of reality and find happiness in everything we are surrounded with, even if it’s a lousy cup of coffee in your cubical, or a scattered rhythm in your band classroom.
Figure 3 - Joe Gardner and 22 - Google Images