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The Theology of Pixar's Soul: Catholic Movie Review

Well, it's not a stroll through the Baltimore Catechism. However, Pixar's SOUL may be the basis for some good discussions with your family. It's an amazing exploration of the "meaning of life". 

"Everybody has a soul. Joe Gardner is about to find his." The movie's tagline is bold considering the typically anti-supernatural and hyper-materialist Hollywood culture. Acknowledging the existence of the soul is a just a half-step away from acknowledging the Creator of the soul, God.  

The central premise is exploring the soul's journey from the perspective of a soul musician. So what do you think? Did Pixar push the pro-abortion agenda of unborn babies having no souls? Or did they come down on the only logical conclusion (also the Church's teaching): ensoulment occurs at conception?

Find out below:  

[SPOILERS AHEAD!]


SOUL: Joe Gardner's Death

No scary death scenes here for our young watchers. After avoiding several near encounters with death, Joe falls through an open manhole in the street and lands as a soul somewhere else. 


When Joe Gardner dies, he lands on a giant keyboard-like bridge-elevator leading to the a massive light called "the great beyond." But, as in many of these movies, Joe declares "I can't die now." After landing pretty far ahead in line, he fights his way backward in line. 

Eventually, Joe falls into a black abyss of abstracted forms. He falls through a window in the sky and lands in a field of blue grass. It is a nursery of "new souls".

 

SOUL: The Great Before or "You Seminar"

Joe is discovered by a friendly pack of new souls. He is greeted by a sort of nursery mother. She calls herself the "Coming Together", that is "all quantized fields of the universe" appearing in a manner Joe's "feeble mind" can understand - or "Jerry"  

It is interesting that Jerry refers to Joe's "mind", even though he is purely soul at this moment. What does she mean by "mind" absent our bodies?

For that matter, Joe is absent his body, but not his hat:

Joe then asks the all-important question: "Is this heaven?" "Is it H-E-double hockey sticks?"

Jerry answers "no" to both. It's not the Great Beyond. It's the Great Before. The Great Before is now called "You Seminar" as a bit of "rebranding". 

Joe asks another all-important question: "Does this mean I'm dead?" "Not yet. It means your body is in a holding pattern." What that means ... 


Personality and Original Sin: Excitable Pavilion, Aloof Pavilion 

Joe asks "This is where personalities come from?" 

Jerry answers "Of course, do you think we're just born with them?" 

Some souls' personalities are benign: one soul describes himself as an "agreeable skeptic who's cautious yet flamboyant" and another as a "irritable wallflower who's dangerously curious". One, however, describes herself as a "manipulative megalomaniac who's intensely opportunistic." 

These highly developed personalities result neither from nature, nor nurture. It's not genetics or environment. 

Could this be SOUL describing the effects of Original Sin? Pre-birth and pre-ensoulment, these souls are prone to personality disorders. These souls haven't done anything wrong and haven't had anything wrong done to them. Yet, some at least suffer inclinations to sin. 

"Insecure" and "self-absorbed" personalities are also very common - thanks, Original Sin. 


Earth Portal - Joe's Attempted Reincarnation

Joe tries to jump to earth along with all the new souls, but he keeps getting plopped back in the nursery. Apparently, reincarnation is highly unusual, if not impossible, in this universe. 

Joe is offered the job of "mentor" in the soul nursery.  

Another Jerry leads the New Mentor Seminar - All the Great Before's "Coming Togethers" are named "Jerry", unfortunately. He states, among other zingers, that "forgetting the trauma of childbirth is one of the great gifts of the universe."

Is Jerry alluding to ensoulment occurring pre-birth? More on this in the ensoulment section ... 

This Jerry tell the mentors that all these souls, despite their highly developed personalities, are missing something: the spark. You can find the new souls' sparks in the "Hall of Everything" or the "Hall of You".   


SOUL and Intercession: Joe is Mentor for Soul Number 22

Joe, under a false name, is assigned as mentor for Soul #22. 22 still lacks her "spark". 22 has apparently failed to be successfully mentored by all the greatest mentors in history including Mother Teresa, Copernicus, Muhammed Ali, Marie Antoinette, and Carl Jung. This is likely why her number is so low compared to the other souls numbered in the hundreds of millions.  

A flashback of Mother attempt to mentor 22 quotes Mother Teresa as saying: "I have compassion for every soul. Except you. I don't like you."   

These mentors could be a form of saintly intercession, especially since the mentors include Mother Teresa. 


SOUL and Dualism: The Souls Cannot Feel or Taste

There are definitely some issues with dualism here, meaning the disconnect between body and soul. The Church teaches that the body and the soul are one. 

The new souls are not able to taste food, for example, in the Hall of Everything:

This is especially true prior to ensoulment. Ensoulment occurs at conception. As soon as the body exists, God creates a soul. 


When Does Pixar's SOUL Portray Ensoulment Occurring?  

Pixar's presentation of souls existing prior their bodies is heretical. There may be ways to get around this as time does not exist in the nursery. Also, it's not revealed when the new souls enter their baby bodies. It may be possible for the souls to enter their bodies at conception.

Pixar, as far as I can tell, side-stepped the whole issue of when ensoulment occurs. I was worried Pixar would push the pro-abortion agenda of unborn babies having no souls. 

Pixar left this as a gray area. While gray areas are dangerous, it could also be an example of restraint. Hollywood exercising restraint in deep moral areas (as opposed to haughtiness or contempt) is a good thing. Not ideal, though. 

There is a hint that birth still lies ahead for these new souls. The Jerry leading the New Seminar states that "forgetting the trauma of childbirth is one of the great gifts of the universe." This seems to suggest the new souls will enter their bodies pre-birth. Again, we can't exactly pinpoint when ensoulment occurs in SOUL, but it does appear that an unborn baby does indeed have a soul in the Pixar universe.


The Pre-Existence of the Soul   

Pixar's SOUL does dabble pretty heavily into the heretical idea of the pre-existence of the human soul. That is, that our souls exist pre-conception. I take this as mostly creative license, not a theological point. 

To their credit, Pixar does not present the soul as existing for eternally prior to conception. This would be worse. There is a moment in the Pixar universe when the soul is created. The logical, if not addressed, moment for this would be conception.  


The Zone & Moonwind: Psychedelic Hippies "Mystics without Borders" Dedicated to Getting Lost Souls Back Home

22 leads Joe into the Zone: "The Space Between the Physical and the Spiritual".

Joe and 22 find a ship with tie-died sails and full of entranced hippies, describing themselves as "Mystics without Borders" dedicated to getting lost souls back home. Moonwind, by the way, is voiced by the ever-irreverent Graham Norton, so it's appropriate that he would be a crazy hippie. 

Moonwind's ship appears to be powered by Bob Dylan music. 

Moonwind describes the people they are helping: "Some people just can't let go of their own anxieties and obsessions leaving lost and disconnected from life." They help free "another hedge fund manager". 

These so-called great practitioners of meditation are all yoga or psychedelic-based. None of the "Mystics without Borders" are actually praying, apart from "centering prayer".   

There are some serious astrological references, plus "astral migration" - all the crazy things hippies love. 


Earth Portal - Joe's Successful Reincarnation

Joe accidentally tips himself and 22 back into living bodies. 22 lands in Joe's body, so now we have a female in a man's body. Joe lands in the body of a therapy cat named Mr. Mittens, so now we have a human in a cat's body. 

Lots of soul-body confusion! Not good. 


Fortunately (maybe), Pixar is here portraying a female in a male's body as a mistake, not at all normal or natural, and exceedingly rare, though nevertheless still possible. Not great, but better than typical depictions of transsexual identity disorders.  

What is a Spark? The Meaning of Your Life is More Than Your Greatest Accomplishments and Skills 

"Meaning of life," (first) Jerry says, you humans have such basic concepts. 
 
This is a good message. Joe thinks his only purpose is music. He thinks after this great adventure that his life is only about to start when he gets his big "start" in music. But there's a lot more to Soul and the soul than just playing soul music.

This is what Joe discovers. After playing the night of his life, he thought it would feel different. As Dorothea explains with a parable, Joe is a young fish swimming in the ocean that is searching for the ocean, who says "this is the ocean; this is just water." 

The meaning of life is not so "shallow" as our greatest professional accomplishments. Joe discovers there's nothing regular and old about "regular old living".  

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1 Comments

  1. Forgive me for the sincerity, but it sounds just like this movie is just another attempt to lead people astray from the truth, which is what pop culture has been doing since the 60s. Demonic influence at the very least, heresies and deceit everywhere. It’s become very hard to watch TV if one os truly catholic. Most stories contain attacks to our faith and morals, even if disguised sometimes.

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