WARNING: This article contains spoilers.
I’ve been a fan of Pixar for as long as I can remember. Yet, my years of experience (and packs of tissues) did nothing to prepare me for the sucker punch of emotions Soul served out in this beautifully animated feature film.
The movie spotlights Joe, a disillusioned middle-school band teacher who unexpectedly loses his life. Joe, now a newly departed soul, winds up on a travellator headed straight into a blazing ball of light known as the Great Beyond. Terrified and unwilling to leave life on earth just as things were looking up, he runs away and ends up stumbling into the Great Before, where souls are prepped for life on earth. There, he meets an equally disgruntled soul named 22, who seems to resist being born just as much as he dreads being dead.
Soul good: Small actions, big impact
Joe isn’t willing to die because he thinks he hasn’t accomplished anything worthwhile. In a moment of sad realisation, he states, “My life was meaningless,” echoing Ecclesiastes 2:17 — “All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
Stuck in what he sees as a dead-end job, he has bigger dreams of being a famous jazz musician, which he believes will give him the happiness he desires. Little does he realise that he was making a greater impact on people around him as a teacher than he ever could playing the piano on a big stage!
That’s one of the central messages of the movie — that even those who are doing seemingly mundane and underappreciated tasks can have an outsized impact. It took nearly losing his life to realise that chasing his dream career wouldn’t bring him lasting happiness; if anything, it just amplified the emptiness he had been trying to fill. Joe learns that what brings true meaning to life isn’t success or fame, but the deep relationships you build and the way you use your gifts to benefit others, not just yourself.
Soul questionable: The Great Before and the Great Beyond
While many religions embrace the concept of a holding area for souls before their physical body is created, the Bible emphasises that God creates humans as physical beings (Gen 2:7; Ps 139:13–16). The movie puts an emphasis on the autonomy of the soul separate from God or other higher powers, or even the connection to one’s physical body (22 could enter Joe’s body and Joe’s soul could enter a cat)! Soul also erases the traditional notion of heaven and hell, and takes away the gravity of how one’s actions on earth can affect where they go in the Great Beyond.
That said, the fictional explanations about life before and after death shouldn’t prevent you from taking in the fullness of Soul’s message — that each day is a gift and life is a blessing. True contentment comes only in living life to the fullest but with the understanding that God is the one who gave us life and all its possibilities. Ecclesiastes 3:12–13 summarises it perfectly — “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil — this is the gift of God.”