Jazz, Buddhism and “success”: the idea of the cartoon “Soul”. In 2020, Pixar released another masterpiece with a deep meaning – the cartoon “Soul”. Rental in cinemas in January-February 2021 became the highest-grossing movie in USA in the history of Pixar. The cartoon with amazing animation turned out to be both philosophical and easy to understand.
What is the cartoon about
According to the plot, a middle-aged musician Joe Gardner, who has dreamed of becoming a great jazz pianist all his life, is forced to be content with little – to work as a music teacher in an ordinary New York school. He is offered a full-time position, which he is not particularly happy about. But his mother is satisfied, who believes that it is high time for the unlucky son to take up his mind and stop dreaming about the stage.
Great Before and Great After
Suddenly, Joe receives an invitation from his former student to audition for jazz star Dorothea Williams, whom he impresses, and he is included in the concert program. On the way home, in seventh heaven, Joe does not look down, falls into the hatch and seems to die.
The hero finds himself on an escalator that guides souls after death to the Great After. Not wanting to put up with fate, Joe escapes to another space of the other world – the Great Do, where the guards prepare young souls for incarnation on Earth. Here, future people receive individual character traits and, most importantly, their spark, without which birth in the human world is impossible.
Return to the world of the living
Here, Joe becomes a mentor for the impudent and rebellious soul Twenty-second, who categorically does not want to incarnate on Earth. Yes, this is impossible, because she did not find a spark. Twenty-second has been in the Great Do for a very long time and knows its most hidden corners.
One of these is the astral space, where the souls of living people who have entered a state of spiritual ecstasy soar. There, with the help of his friend Moonwind, Twenty-Two helps Joe return to the world of the living.
But things don’t go according to plan: Twenty-second gets into Joe’s body. The musician himself finds himself in the body of a cat, who lay down in the hospital room at Joe’s feet. Now friends need to save the day, because the concert at which the main character performs should take place in a few hours.
spark twenty second
While on a difficult “quest” to get Joe’s body in order, Twenty-Two settles into the human world and begins to feel a spark. But this spark is not a life goal at all. These are simple joys in the form of enjoying the surrounding beauty, smells, tastes. By improvising, Twenty-Two helps mend Joe’s relationship with his mom and opens his eyes to people’s lives.
The bookkeeper of the heavenly office Terry intervenes in the affairs of the heroes, who returns them to the Great Do. And here it turns out that the Twenty-second really has found a spark and can incarnate on Earth. Moreover, having visited the world of people, she wants to be there again.
But Joe, believing that Twenty-Two simply took away his musical spark, convinces her of this and returns to Earth in his body. He, as he wanted, successfully participates in a jazz concert, gets a permanent job as a musician and recognition from others.
The meaning of the ending
Arriving home, Joe looks at the objects that helped Twenty-Two feel the spark. He plays the piano and flies away to the astral world, where, with the help of the Moonwind, he seeks out Twenty-Two, who has turned into a black lost soul, obsessed with the idea that she is a failure and will never find her spark. Jo explains to her that she was right and that she really found her spark. He was delusional about what makes sense in life.
Friends say goodbye. Twenty-second, having received a pass, goes to incarnate on Earth, and Joe stands on the escalator towards the Great After. However, he is stopped by one of Jerry’s touched guards and offers the hero to take the chance to return to his body again. The hero agrees, promising that he will no longer waste his life in vain. A happy ending.
The meaning and moral of the cartoon can be formulated as follows. Many people set important goals in their lives and try to achieve them, giving them too much importance. They have a “successful success” philosophy in their heads, under the influence of which people strive with all their might to achieve their dreams. When the goal is achieved, it almost always turns out that this is not quite what you really wanted. Or maybe there is no “really” at all. This is conveyed through the parable of the fish in the ocean, told by Dorothea.
Joe had only jazz in his thoughts and dreams, as Twenty-Two was convinced when she was in his body. Even the image of a beloved girl seems to have flashed only once during this time. Joe was too selfish to make time for other people, his family and friends.
The dream of becoming a famous musician and doing what you love overshadowed everything. But Joe did not even think that jazz, which he loves so much, is even more than the music he adores. The twenty-second, not knowing how to play musical instruments, showed him how to “jazz”: improvise, fly through life and enjoy it.
The meaning of life is to live, and not to achieve anything at all costs. It is worth appreciating the little things, and the troubles that happen, and in general everything that we encounter. These are all manifestations of the spark.
A happy ending makes it clear that everything will be fine with the characters and allows the audience to look for their own philosophical meaning.
“Soul” speaks to the audience, children and adults, on a very serious topic – the topic of death and the meaning of life. And he does it cheerfully and with humor, very delicately avoiding any religious references.
The metaphysical world, which, unlike the real one, is depicted in an abstract and simplified way, has no direct relation to any of the worlds described in esoteric and theological literature. At the same time, it includes their characteristics. Here you can see similarities with the ideas of Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, the works of Robert Monroe and even Carlos Castaneda. But more here, perhaps, the thoughts of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers predominate, who believed in the existence of a certain spirit, which endows a person with unique talents even before birth.
However, the authors clearly prescribe the laws of the metaphysical world and provide a rather specific (albeit not exhaustive) explanation of the events taking place with the heroes. The moral here is also simple and clear.
The genre does not allow the authors to plunge into too deep reasoning and give entertainment a multifaceted psychological meaning. And this has its own charm: if it were different, it would be easy to slide into the depressing existential problems of humanity with ease and kindness.
It’s all about the beauty of the animation that Pixar has always been known for, and the attention to detail. Artists and directors tried to make the metaphysical and earthly worlds, drawn in different ways, harmonize and resonate with each other. And they have achieved this goal – it is interesting to watch what is happening both there and there. All the characters are bright, lively and cause sympathy.
You can, of course, start digging deeper and try to find a meaning that, perhaps, was not laid down by the authors at all. Does the Great After process the souls of the dead, erase their memory and send them to the Great Before?
Twenty-second – is this Joe, who lives in another time (this can be hinted at by the slogan of the cartoon “Everyone has a soul, Joe Gardner is going to find his own” and the timelessness of the metaphysical world)?
After falling into the hatch, Joe died and in fact never returned to Earth, and everything that happened to him is a posthumous illusion?
These questions can be answered yes or no and delved into explanations, but it would be more correct to assume that all this simply does not matter. There is no particular hidden meaning here – the morality that is revealed in the ending is presented gradually, but directly, throughout the story.
What does the scene after the credits mean
In a post-credits scene, Terry yells to people who may still be in the theater, “Hey, the movie is over! Run home! Maybe it’s just a joke technique that is sometimes used in the finale of comedies. But perhaps another reminder that it’s time for viewers to dedicate time to their own lives instead of watching movies.
For the most part, viewers leave admiring reviews on movie sites, in which they write that the cartoon is suitable for people of any age. They notice how the authors were able to easily and unobtrusively tell an instructive story, touching on the taboo topic of death. Although there is a small percentage of those who understood the moral of the film too clumsily: “Relax and do nothing.”