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Friday, February 23, 2024

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) and 22 (Tina Fey) teach viewers not to sweat the small stuff and just let life play out. 

Pixar’s first Black character lead revolutionizes cinema

Finally! After two decades in filmmaking and the digital outbreak of the Black Lives Matter movement, it seems as though Pixar has finally responded to the cries and voices of those who have been silenced for years. 

As the first ever Pixar movie with a leading black character, ‘Soul’ is taking the next innovative steps in animation. Though, despite such a great leap in the right direction, ‘Soul’ is revolutionary in more than just this aspect. It tackles the introspective question of “what is the meaning behind life?” which has puzzled generations for centuries. In Pixar’s surprisingly enlightening movie, we come to learn that there really is no purpose to life — except for living. 

‘Soul’ follows the life of Joe Gardner, a jazz pianist and a less-than-satisfied middle school music teacher whose true aspirations transcend the confines of his tiny classroom. After getting an exciting invitation to perform with the jazz legend Dorothea Williams, he hurries back home in a cheerful frenzy, but, on the way there, falls into a manhole. Joe is transformed into a soul and transported into the “Great Beyond” where he is supposed to unite with a giant white light and die. Alarmed by this sudden outcome, Joe refuses to accept his death and tries to figure out a way to get back into his body. He then meets 22, an unborn soul who rejects the idea of living on Earth. Fortunately, 22 offers Joe her badge which has the ability to return him to his real body but only after completing it. The badge can only be used once 22 finds her “spark” in life — something that brings her unconditional joy and a reason to live. 

From there, Joe and 22 explore the meanings of life. Prior to this, 22 had attempted everything with every single soul imaginable. From praying with Mother Teresa, and boxing with Muhammad Ali to debating with Abraham Lincoln, 22 remained unimpressed by all aspects of life — nothing has ever impressed her. It is now up to Joe to convince 22 into falling in love with Earth. By breaking the laws of the universe, Joe takes 22 with him back to Earth, but this time, he is brought back into the body of a therapy cat, meanwhile his body becomes occupied by 22. 

Joe first tries to teach 22 how to play the piano but nothing seems to please her. It wasn’t until 22 was introduced to the small things in life when she unlocked her spark, truly grasping the beauty behind life. Taking her first bite of pizza, 22 felt her world enveloped by a sensation of warmth. Lying down on top of an air vent, she chuckled and laughed uncontrollably, letting her imagination fly her through the skies. Even lying next to a tree, she admired the autumn leaves slowly twirling their way to her palm — their delicate edges crumbling in her firm grip. It was only in these short-lived seconds where 22 felt the most alive — suddenly, she never wanted to depart Earth or give up living.

The movie paints a certain perspective to life — one that suggests that all the stresses of life over “what is my true purpose?” or “what am I meant to do in life?” are not worth it. Life is not about how or when things will happen, but about the act of living itself — it is about being, simply existing. That is the true joy behind life. That is happiness itself. 

In the beginning of the movie, 22 asks: “Is all this living really worth dying for?” The movie never directly answers this philosophical question, but by the end of the story, it is clear what 22 would say. Now, would you be able to say the same?

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