I finally got around to watching Soul a couple of weeks ago. I’d heard and read so many good things about it. Such universal praise made me eager to finally experience it for myself.
First of all, this isn’t a typical review. OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s jump in.
I certainly agree with some of what I’d read. It’s definitely a more mature story; Soul doesn’t feel at all like a children’s movie. The story itself, it’s arc, and bare bones is well-written. The animation and character design are impeccable. The color palettes both for the characters and for the different “realms” were well nuanced.
But, and it’s a big but, I didn’t like Soul. If you really enjoyed the movie, you may want to stop here. I don’t want to color your perception of it. And if you haven’t watched it yet, please go watch it first and then come back. Form your own, independent opinion before reading mine. Plus, there will be all manner of spoilers. You have been warned.
Breaking it Down
So why didn’t I like it? Ultimately, I found Soul remarkably depressing. For ease, I’m going to start at the beginning and work my way through the movie addressing my biggest issues in chronological order.
Joe fights against dying and succeeds. In my mind, this means that the beings that control (or shepherd, however you want to look at it) the souls are killing people off before their time. Joe’s body was clearly fine, as he left the hospital just moments after uniting his body with a soul without any issue. I mean, he can handle the weird way 22 was walking and maneuvering without causing them any pain. So why was he sent to the Great Beyond? And how many others were needlessly killed?
Terry is the “villain” in Soul, but they are really just doing their job. They perform a thankless task that, presumably, no one else wants, and are patronized by the Jerrys for doing so. Is it villainous to do a job? Is it wrong to want some recognition for completing a monumental task? They likely read billions, maybe trillions of records to find out it was Joe’s soul missing, and then tracked him down. The Jerrys should have awarded Terry without prompting.
22 has accepted that they won’t be going to Earth, even despise the idea of doing so. They live a fairly happy life. But rather than leaving 22 alone, the being insist on dragging the through a ritual that continually points out to 22 that they are different, bad, and abnormal. Why not find a different path for 22, or just leave them be?
And yes, 22 does eventually find their spark, but they were plenty content (minus the enforced humiliation and degradation of the mentor program) before Joe came along. We see, when 22 becomes a lost soul, that virtually all of their issues come from being told that there is something wrong with them.
4. Lost Souls
And speaking of lost souls, they hit me hard. In the movie, there is such a fine line between getting lost in the moment and lost in your passion, and then you’re no different than someone with no passion. What a horrid message, and depressing take on mental health in general.
5. Paul’s Fate
Terry accidentally captures Paul when trying to return Joe to the Great Beyond, and leaves him a blubbering mess. I realize it’s supposed to be funny, but he’s just had his mind nuked and is left to deal with it on his own. And we don’t see him again so we have no idea if he ever improved. What if he’s left completely unable to function?
6. Joe’s Treatment of 22
Joe casually dismisses 22’s spark and interest in life. 22’s joy in small things is nullified because “that’s normal stuff” and isn’t revisited until the very end. I know, Joe eventually gets it. But for a character who’s spent several scenes describing the joy in a spark to so easily dismiss someone else’s joy feels wrong. It reminds me how quick we are as a society to stifle kids’ (and adults’) joy in the mundane.
7. Dorothea’s Fish Story
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!”-Dorothea Williams in Soul
Dorothea tells Joe this story and leaves it there. Presumably, the idea is to be more aware of what you have. However, my first thought was, “so where were they?” Because there’s another interpretation to that story.
What if they’re in a lake, or even a pond? Perhaps the older fish isn’t imaginative or curious enough to realize there’s more to life. It’s satisfied with what it’s experienced and has no desire to explore, so will never know what it’s missing out on. A kind of “accept what you have and be thankful for it, don’t look for more.”
If that’s the case, has the older fish just kept the younger fish from achieving its dreams? Maybe the younger fish will continue on looking for the ocean, but maybe it will doubt itself and eventually give up, growing to accept that what it has is as good as it can get.
And sure, it may sound funny or overly thought out in terms of fish, but it also kind of mirrors 22’s journey, doesn’t it. And it sounds an awful lot like the lives of people who get stuck in generational poverty.
8. No Purpose
After 22 finally goes to Earth, Joe asks one of the Jerrys what 22’s purpose ended up being, only to be told there is no purpose. Humans don’t have a purpose. Really? Really? The message at the end of the movie is basically, “You have no purpose and you’re ridiculous for thinking you do.” Are you depressed yet?
9. The Ending
Last, but certainly not least, in my major issues with Soul is the ending. After everything that happened because the “beings” decided to kill someone for no reason (see #1 if you’ve forgotten about that), they “graciously” decided to “award” Joe with a “second chance.” Of course, this is only after he decides to accept their control over his destiny and die/go to the Great Beyond.
So, are they rewarding his selflessness in allowing 22 to go to Earth when it means sacrificing himself, or are they rewarding him for restoring their control of souls. Because now that 22 is gone, there’s no bad influence on other souls, less chance any of them will get “dangerous” ideas. And Joe has agreed to die, thus affirming their control over his destiny. The whole thing strikes me as rather suspect when he really shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
OK, I’m Done.
Well, there you have it. My biggest issues with Soul. Perhaps issues is a bit strong. Things I found rather depressing. There were other, smaller, things, but they mostly fit into these buckets.
If you made it this far, what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my interpretations? I hope I haven’t ruined the movie for anyone who loved it.