SOUL Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

SOUL Review

Alexander Wallace has got Soul. And is all the better for it.

When I started watching Soul I heard a sound that I had not heard in years: the dissonant cacophony of a middle school jazz band, and more generally young people in wind ensembles. I was an alto saxophonist for about a decade from elementary school into college, and it’s a sound that brings back vivid memories. I was in jazz bands from eighth grade to the end of high school (ages 13-18 for non-Americans), and it was in public school practice rooms that I gained an appreciation for that form of music.

That, more than anything else, is what brought me to Soul. Having watched it and ruminated over it for some time, I can say with confidence that it is an absolutely wonderful film. One about music, about teaching, and about life.

Soul starts with our main character, Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle school jazz teacher in New York who more than anything else wants to be a professional musician. He is offered a steady position at the school, but is also given a chance to shine at a gig with a famous singer, throwing him into an internal conflict between stability and aspiration. By virtue of an inconveniently placed manhole in a street, Joe finds himself sent to a spirit world, where through a convoluted series of events he is tasked with teaching a soul named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey) to find its passion before she is sent to live in the real world.

The emotional core of this film is the two separate yet intertwined journeys of Joe and 22, and they play off each other remarkably. You have Joe who is trying to figure out what he lives for when confronted by two very real things, and 22 who is trying to figure out passion when all the possibilities of the world are mere abstraction to her. The two are teacher and student, and play off each other very well as they navigate New York on a literal level and what it means to be a human being on a metaphysical level.

Joe is a teacher; this is not incidental to the story. Throughout Soul you see him teaching his students how to play their instruments and to discover the joy of music. From there, he makes a very good mentor for 22 as she tries to discover something more fundamental. I see this film as being, in part, about the dignity in teaching and in being a teacher, about how there is something very important and very honorable about the act of passing knowledge onto others. As someone who was at one point one of those students, I was reminded of band teachers and dance instructors and history professors who have all exposed me to wonderful things I would never have seen otherwise.

On a more fundamental level, Soul is a movie about what we do to survive versus what we would really want to do. It’s a theme that would have hit me hard even before the pandemic, but is doubly important now. I have worked at several jobs, none of which have been spiritually fulfilling but have been pecuniarily fulfilling. These were, for a while, to achieve some mythical ‘good life’ promised to me by my middle-class Beltway upbringing, a promise that turned out to be so ill-defined as to be a phantom. There’s a part of me that wants to read and to write and to dance and to make music, but alas we must do what we do to continue to put food on the table. It’s a dissonance that many people won’t ever be able to fully resolve, and as we are imprisoned by a virus that dissonance becomes all the more poignant. On that level, Soul is a brutal reminder of what we have to sacrifice by virtue of cold necessity.

The music in this film is phenomenal. There is jazz that makes you want to tap your toes at least and more ethereal music for the more supernatural scenes. It’s something of a strange juxtaposition, but then again so is everything in this movie, and in any case it works. Overall, Soul was a pleasant and welcome surprise as the miserable year of 2020 came to an undignified end. It should be a calling for us to cherish what we have and those people whose company we enjoy, for to us to know variety and to see wonder in the world in a manner not unlike Bill Bryson. I encourage anyone to watch Soul who may be so inclined.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad