Pixar’s Soul – Themes and Reflections

Rather than be specific, which I couldn’t be without re-watching the movie and taking notes, I’ll give you a summary of what happened and make comments along the way.

The main character is a part-time band teacher in a middle school. The movie opens with him getting promoted to full-time work. He immediately feels let down because he really wants to be a full-time jazz musician. I felt that as I’ve often had to compromise on ‘my dreams’ for ‘a job’. And that is part of the central theme of this movie, which I’ll come back to later.

However, as luck would have it, the main character gets a phone call from one of his former students who is in a band with a famous jazz musician and needs someone like him to fill in for someone who recently left the band. He ends up getting the gig, but dies shortly afterwards. The main character is now in the afterlife and very upset that ‘he finally got what he wanted and then it was taken away’ so he escapes to the ‘before life’ where souls are born. We have now seen a second aspect of the central theme, which is ‘for the fish to recognize water’, in other words, a misplaced search for something you already have.

In the ‘before life’, the main character is matched with a soul who hasn’t been able to graduate to earth because they are never satisfied (a kind of opposite twin of the main character). The rules are that you have to get a spark of something you like in the ‘before life’ before you’re allowed to go to earth. The characters mistakenly believe that this is their ‘purpose’ in life and without having it or achieving it, then their life is meaningless. The main character believes their life is meaningless despite people like his students telling them they helped improve their lives. I felt that.

The soul’s name is 22, which is the day of my birthday. I took this personally. 22 was never satisfied with anything. Nothing excited him. He had seen everything and tried everything and nothing moved the needle for him (or her). However, along the way, after being mentored by all of the great minds in history, 22 had become very intelligent, but not necessarily wise (intelligence applied). I felt that too because I’ve often spent a lot of time learning, but never really finding what I want to do in life.

Eventually they figure out a way to escape to earth where the new soul learns about things on earth and realizes…I’m not quite sure….something about ‘living itself’ or ‘life itself’ or ‘the act of learning how to live’ is that soul’s spark. They like to learn, not necessarily do. And once learned, they like to tell other people about what they’ve learned, but not necessarily as a teacher, but as an unintentional mentor. I felt that, too. The fact that I’m sharing this with you right now shows that I’m like that. It’s why I used to blog and vlog.

Eventually they learn, like the fish looking for the ocean, that each person doesn’t have a pre-destined purpose. The barber wanted to become a veterinarian, but he needed money sooner to pay for his daughter being born, so he became a barber. People who know him think he was born to be a barber because he is so good at it. The barber says he has found joy in being a barber despite it not being what he wanted. He realizes that he is still able to help people and in doing so, help himself. That is the theme of this movie – to realize that what you have and what you are doing is your purpose and you are having an impact. Realize what you do have and the impact you are making and think less about what you don’t. That thing you’re searching for…you already have it.

And that’s also the theme of books like The Alchemist who goes on a grand journey for treasure that ultimately leads him back to a treasure under the house where he started. Or the idea of “diamonds in your own backyard”, a famous sermon repeated over the years about a farmer who sold his farm to go looking for treasure only to later realize his farm had a natural abundance of diamonds.