If you’ve got any questions about Pixar’s Soul after watching it, read on!
Pixar’s latest film, Soul, is definitely a different sort of movie than people might have been expecting from Pixar. It’s more philosophical than you might expect and it doesn’t necessarily feel like a “kid’s movie.” I absolutely loved Soul, but it definitely made me think and ask questions. I know a lot of people walked away with many questions about Pixar’s Soul after watching.
I figured I would attempt to answer many of these questions for you! Of course I can’t claim to know everything – Soul does ask existential questions like “what is the meaning of life?”, and somehow I personally don’t have a definitive answer for that. 😉 But I have watched the movie 5 times now and read a lot of interviews and articles so I feel pretty good at least being able to help explain some of the other questions that seem to pop up frequently. (And if you’re interested in discussing the more philosophical questions about Pixar’s Soul head over to my other blog post, “What message is Pixar’s Soul trying to share?”).
What is a “spark”?
Joe takes spark to mean your purpose in life. But it’s not as grand as that. A spark seems to be more the reason why a soul wants to go to earth. A reason why they want to live. It feels like a subtle difference but it’s actually pretty major, and an important part of the film. “Your spark isn’t your purpose. That last box fills in when you’re ready to come live.” A spark doesn’t have to be a specific hobby or item, though for some souls it is. It’s a moment that makes you want to live and experience life on Earth.
Then why does it seem like every other young soul has a specific “spark”, like basketball or chess?
Well, these are the souls that we see glimpses of, so they are not representative of all souls. But my guess is simply that in the Great Before they are somewhat limited in ways that they can convince souls they want to live. The most obvious way to do that might be to introduce them to something they are passionate about which gets them excited and makes them want to go live and experience it in the “real world.” Even though Joe’s spark may have been caused by music when he was in the Great Before, it just means that was the trigger for him to have a desire to live. 22 is kind of a unique case because they actually got to experience living and not just a replica of it.
What is 22’s spark?
As stated above, 22 doesn’t have a specific activity or something that is their spark. But they do get a desire to live, which interestingly is caused by actually experiencing life. 22 experiences things other pre-souls don’t, like feeling the elements, eating pizza, hearing live music, and connecting with other people. Once 22 feels all that they want to live and so 22 gets their spark.
What is “jazzing”?
Because Joe is such a fan of jazz music, 22 starts calling any good or happy moment of experiencing life “jazzing.” It comes up the first time after the trip to the barber shop and when 22 connects with Des. 22 says “I just let out the me – hey, like you said about jazz. I was jazzing!” And Joe goes on to shut that down, saying that’s not jazz. But 22 sticks with the phrase and he picks up on it. After he reconnected with his mother Joe says “That was amazing. That felt like jazz.” And then when 22 feels they have no purpose Joe tells them “That last box fills in when you’re ready to come live. And the thing is – you’re pretty great at jazzing.” So the characters throughout the movie use the phrase “jazzing” to mean feeling that spark or moment of happiness.
The Great Before
Why do some people become mentors in the Great Before?
There are probably going to be a lot of answers to questions about Pixar’s Soul here that begin with “we don’t really know, but…” If Soul answered every single question like this it would probably be about 6 hours long and no one wants that! We’re not told but given the amount of famous, well-known people who are mentors it seems likely that they are selected due to their accomplishments on Earth. The Jerrys don’t seem surprised when Joe is confused about being there, so mentors probably don’t know what’s happening until they arrive. We also know that if they want they can choose to opt out of being a mentor and go directly on to the Great Beyond.
What happened to the mentor (Dr. Börgensson) Joe was pretending to be?
The movie doesn’t tell us this, so we can just try to speculate and guess. Most likely he just went directly to the Great Beyond without serving as a mentor. Maybe he showed up later complaining after they realized what had happened and gave him another shot at being a mentor. This is one of the many things that the writers considered but ultimately couldn’t include in the film. One solution the writers considered was that Dr. Börgensson’s soul is the one that ultimately ended up inside the therapy cat – which would make sense since he lived his human life as a therapist! (Source.)
How are Joe, 22, Moonwind, and some others able to travel back and forth between the Great Before and the real world?
The easiest way for them to go back and forth is by entering the “zone.” This is described in the land of lost souls, which is how Moonwind goes back and forth. It’s also how Joe returns to the Great Before towards the end of the movie, when he is thinking about 22 and their earth memories while playing piano. There is also a ritual Moonwind refers to that can bring people back and forth – it’s how Joe and 22’s souls fall through the first time, and it’s how he was planning to bring them back there. When 22 decides they want to live they are brought back to the Great Before due to Terry, who is looking for them and creates a portal. And then of course there’s the earth pass and earth portal, which new souls use to enter earth for the first time (and which Joe also uses while he has 22’s earth pass).
What is Terry’s purpose in the film?
As a character, Terry is one of the counselors in the soul world who acts as the accountant. Terry is a a bit obsessive about “the count” and keeping track of the souls, and getting Joe back where he belongs. In terms of the story I think Terry’s character exists to have an antagonist sort of element. The other counselors don’t seem overly concerned with the count or keeping track of Joe. Producer Dana Murray says that Terry “turned out to be the perfect antagonist.” (Source)
What are “lost souls”?
The lost souls are described like this: “Some people just can’t let go of their own anxieties and obsessions, leaving them lost and disconnected from life.” We get the humorous example of a hedge fund manager, who is so lost in his daily obsession of working that he seems little more than a robot. When he is freed from being a lost soul he immediately smashes his computer off his desk to run out, quit his job, and go live his life.
Why does 22 become a lost soul?
22 develops their own anxieties and obsessions, in this case becoming fixated on the idea that “I have no purpose.” When 22 can’t let go of that, even though they now have an earth pass, they are disconnected from life and what it means to live and so becomes a lost soul.
Why doesn’t Joe feel fulfilled after his big concert?
Joe has insisted throughout the movie that he could die happy if he performed with Dorothea Williams. Once he does it, though, he’s left asking “what comes next?” It’s not that the concert itself was a disappointment. It’s just that Joe spent his whole life focused on just one thing and neglected so many other aspects of his life. Once he has that I think he is slowly realizing that just one dream isn’t enough to create a happy, fulfilled life.
What is the purpose of life?
For all intents and purposes, the movie seems to take a more existential approach and lean towards the idea that we don’t have one great purpose of life. Many of the questions about Pixar’s Soul center around this. Having a purpose in life involves the idea that you are meant to live for some specific reason and to bring something to the world. But Soul indicates that life is just about living and enjoying moments in life. It’s about the taste of delicious food, the feel of a warm shower, the sensation of seeing fireworks, and hearing good music. It’s also about more intricate things, like developing relationships with people, sharing our passions with others, and feeling the pleasure in accomplishing a task or becoming better at something you previously were not good at.
What is the difference between a Spark and a purpose?
“A spark isn’t a soul’s purpose. Oh, you mentors and your passions. Your purposes. Your meanings of life. So basic.” We are told this by one of the Jerrys, so they make it clear that a spark and a purpose are not the same thing. As stated above I do not believe people in this movie have a “purpose.” That is a concept in the film that only Joe talks about and is never acknowledged as true by any of the counselors. We learn that last box (the spark) fills in when you’re ready to come live. So, a spark is just that moment when you want to experience life.
Why doesn’t Joe die at the end?
The Soul counselors decide to give Joe another chance at life because he inspired them. That’s the straightforward answer in terms of the movie. The writers definitely toyed with many different endings in which Joe both lived and died but ultimately wanted to end things with a bit of hope that Joe could actually live out the lessons he learned.
What does Joe end up doing with his life?
The movie doesn’t answer this on purpose. I know some people felt frustrated by the end of the movie because you don’t learn what path Joe decides to follow (full time musician or teacher?), and you don’t see where 22 ends up on Earth. But that’s kind of the point, really – we don’t know where life will take us but whatever it is, we should make life worth living. Personally, I like to imagine that Joe does both teaching and music. Many of us (myself included!) have full time jobs that we enjoy many aspects of and also have hobbies and passions we can pursue after hours.
Where does 22 end up?
Like with Joe, the movie doesn’t answer this question and you are left to draw your own conclusions. Much of the point of the movie, again, is that 22 could end up anywhere on earth. They want some of the questions about Pixar’s Soul to remain unanswered. The writers originally tried to answer this question a few different ways (such as having 22 become a student at Joe’s school, or showing 22 as a baby in India). But ultimately they wanted to audience to come up with their own ideas. (Source)
Possible plot holes
Are there plot holes in Soul?
Like any movie there are definitely some plot holes, and when you’re dealing with such an expansive topic like souls of course not everything can be adequately explained. The movie’s creators wanted to focus on the message of the movie and admitted that sometimes they had to ignore logic to be able to do that. Producer Dany Murray says, “Our editor Kevin Nolting, on his big whiteboard in his office has ‘logic’ in big X.” (Source)
If Joe died in that manhole how could he just get up again like nothing happened?
Joe doesn’t die in the manhole. Is he on his way to dying, yes. But it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t die when we see his body in the hospital, because he still has a heartbeat. When he’s in the Great Before he asks if being there means he is dead. He is told “Not yet. It’s complicated – your body is in a holding pattern.” I’d guess he’s in some sort of coma or something on earth.
Well, if his fall was bad enough to potentially kill him, shouldn’t his body be injured or something?
Yes. Yes, I would think so. Just gotta chalk this one up to a legitimate plot hole as I can come up with no great explanation!
Why is Joe the only soul to ever try and get back to Earth?
This is probably one of my top questions about Pixar’s Soul after watching the movie so many times. When Joe realizes he’s headed for the Great Beyond he freaks out and tries to escape. Everyone else seems perfectly content to just head on up. Why? I wonder if he somehow skipped some sort of introduction to the Great Beyond that other souls got. Surely many other people have died unexpectedly so why is no one else trying to escape?
Okay, but what about the cat?? We see Mr. Mittens is alive – how did his soul return to his body when we saw it headed for the Great Beyond?
Director Kemp Powers has an answer for this one. “The cat had 9 lives, to answer your question about how he got back. We actually boarded an entire sequence that showed how Mr. Mittens got back to his body.” Sounds like that would make a great Pixar short for Disney+! (Source)
Is Soul a movie for kids?
Honestly, just like with adults, there will be kids who love it and kids who don’t. The creators were concerned kids might not get it, and they did a screening of the movie just for kids. From talking to kids and my friends with kids I’ve gathered that most kids pick up on more than you expect, or else they at least like the music and the cat. Pete Docter says “Afterwards, we got up on stage, and we just started to ask a bunch of questions. They just recited the movie right back to us. They got it, and they might get it on a different level. Mostly, they followed it, and I think I love that. Because when that kid comes back to Soul in 5 years or 10 years or 15 years, then what I hope is that new layers are revealed to them as they bring their own experiences to it.” (Source)
What questions about Pixar’s Soul do you have after watching the movie?
Debbie Kolacki says
I think people like to have answers and see everything tied up neatly in a movie and in life, but when dealing with philosophical/theological matters, some things just can’t be known. We just have to accept that there are mysteries we can’t know the answers to.
Kait | Slumber & Scones says
Soul really is such a thought-provoking movie, and I think that a lot of the ambiguity was part of the point of it, which is what makes it so interesting. When I first watched, the lack of a true conclusion made me uncomfortable, but after having time to sit with it, I realized that’s kind of the point.
The Animation Commendation says
I think this a great attempt to answer the many questions posed by Soul! Great work!