Like so many of us, I sat down with my family on Christmas day to watch Pixar’s newest release, Soul, on Disney+. Like Mulan, the film released straight to the little screen rather than in theaters. But unlike Mulan, the film didn’t come at a premium price but was instead included with your usual monthly dues.
I have a lot of thoughts about this movie. But I’m not quite ready to talk about the whole thing yet. I’d been looking forward to it since seeing teasers at D23 in 2019…and I’m juggling my opinions now that I’ve seen it in full. Suffice to say it was nuanced and intellectual enough to warrant another viewing…both to take it all in and to see how much I really connect with the film as a whole beyond its central, subtle message.
All of that being said, there was one exchange in the film that warrants its own discussion. That stopped me in my tracks in both its simplicity and its truth.
***Mild Spoilers Ahead***
Joe Gardner, a band teacher with lifelong dreams of making it big with his passion of jazz piano, finally gets his chance and it is…everything. He is flawless. The night is magic. The audience is transported. As he walks out the door his elderly mother voices real pride for him for the first time. She finally seems to understand. The group’s esteemed saxophonist, Dorothea Williams, voiced by Angela Bassett, walks out behind him and welcomes him to the group, remarking that “you don’t get many like tonight.”
Joe seems unsure of what he should say or feel. You can tell he wants to be elated as he fumbles for his words and finally manages “Yeah. So uh…what happens next?”
“We come back tomorrow night and do it all again……..”
Joe hesitates further.
“What’s wrong teach?”
“It’s just that I’ve been waiting on this day for my entire life. I thought it’d feel…different.”
And to this, Dorothea offers what might be the greatest lines of the movie.
“I heard this story about a fish. He swims up to this older fish and says ‘I’m trying to find this thing called the ocean.’
‘The ocean?’ the older fish says. That’s what you’re in right now.
‘This?’ says the younger fish. ‘This is just water. What I want is the OCEAN.'”
Upon which she turns to leave and tells him she’ll see him tomorrow.
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I think we’ve all felt it. That moment that you’ve waited for your whole life. That moment that, when you’re in the thick of it, perhaps doesn’t feel as big as it should. That moment that you’ve worked for for what feels like forever – that you crash a little after achieving because, after all, what comes next?
I used to jokingly say that I wanted a life with cornstarch. A life that was enough in its simplest simplicity – in the mundane bits that held it all together – to feel whole and right and…whatever else that’s supposed to feel like. It’s hard to realize that the moments that we dream about are just that – moments. In the thick of them we are still human. Filled with all of our faults and wondering what comes next.
It’s a big thing to tackle on screen. It’s a nearly impossible thing to sum up in a few lines exchanged by animated characters.
I don’t know how I feel about Soul as a whole. I don’t know if I connected with it like I would expect to connect with a movie that shared a heritage with the likes of Inside Out and Coco. I don’t know if upon future rewatchings I’ll connect with it fully emotionally or just be content to appreciate its subtle intellectual message that seems geared primarily at adults. Honestly I don’t even know how fully I agree with that message.
But that scene. I feel that scene to the depths of my…well…my soul.
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