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Disney and Pixar Studios are releasing an animated feature film that tries to answer the questions: Who am I and where am I from?

Regardless of your beliefs or their lack of them, these are difficult existential questions that we will grapple with at some point in our lives. But for the individual New York middle school teacher and musician Joe Gardner (voice of Jamie Foxx) it all happened very suddenly.

Joe teaches tape every day but performs on the piano at night. His mother Libba (Phylicia Rashad) runs her own business and says Joe needs to focus and stop wasting his time playing the piano in clubs. But the day Joe says it’s the best day of his life, he is hired by the famous Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) to play with her quartet. After his audition he makes a phone call, cannot see where he is going, and steps into a manhole.

When Joe wakes up, his body is gone and what appears to be his soul remains. He walks with tens of thousands of others in their monochrome “ghost suits” on a heavenly street towards the light. “He realizes he’s going to a place he’ll never return, so he turns and runs. He’s trying to get back into the world, into his life, because he’s not finished with what to do.

Off the streets of New York City, he’s now in what the ethereal counselors (“Jerries”) call “The Great Before,” where, according to the movie’s production notes, “new souls have their personalities, quirks, and interests before them.” Go earth. “Here Joe mentors a moody soul, 22 (Tina Fey), who has resisted going down to earth for generations because she doesn’t see the meaning of human life. “Is it really worth dying for all this life?” she asks when Joe lets her see the joys of his life and convinces her that life is worth living.

In my interview with co-writer and director Pete Docter (“Inside Out”) and producer Dana Murray, they said the film deals with really big questions about the meaning of life.

Docter was “turning something 47 and got into some kind of midlife crisis, having spent my whole life making animated films and loving them and still doing it,” he said. “But I also asked myself, is that really all? I don’t feel like this fixed anything in my life. It’s not that I’m a happily content person now. So, I asked myself, am I doing something wrong? Am I, should I look elsewhere? The film is really an exploration of all of this. “

He also said that this has a downside: “There are a lot of people who have grown up feeling like I don’t know what to do with my life. “. I don’t know where to fit in and connect. 22 embodies this other aspect of people’s experience. “

Murray said the film doesn’t seek to answer life’s big questions, “rather, it tries to browse and explore to get people talking and thinking,” she said. “I don’t think we can really answer the meaning of life – but at least make a film to get people to talk about it. “

Here the film can excite some mature viewers and upset others, especially when it comes to philosophy and theology.

Murray stated that they researched many aspects of the meaning of life and interviewed different people, even shamans. And it shows. This beautiful animated film seems to take all kinds of worldviews about the meaning of life and merge them into a single one, without ever mentioning God – or angels who might represent the Jerries. Instead, the universe is responsible.

But as Docter made clear in his interview, they are investigating these questions and not trying to answer them. You want people to talk about the meaning of life and know that life is worth living.

The movie spends a lot of time preparing souls to join their bodies in “The Great Before”. “The philosopher Plato held the view that souls were created and existed before conception and birth and that people were born with knowledge (which they had to learn anew). . This seems to be a crucial influence on the narrative of the film, although this idea has been rejected by the Catholic Church, which teaches that every spirit soul is instantly created by God at conception. On the other hand, the prophet Jeremiah says: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. “There seems to be room for the imagination here and the filmmakers are taking full advantage of this.

As these pre-born souls are waiting for their time to come to earth in the film, their identity is assigned to them. The only thing missing is “the spark. “Although nobody mentions it, the spark seems to come when the soul comes to earth: birth. We walk into this “room” with Joe as he learns to identify the spark that gives meaning to his life. For Joe he identifies music through self-knowledge as his spark, the meaning of his life. Grammy-winning musician Jon Batiste’s soulful jazz arrangements help us understand how the art, beauty, and joy of music give meaning to Joe’s existence. It is all for him.

I asked the director why the word or concept of love is mentioned only once in the film. Docter replied that every Pixar movie is about the love between two characters who finally get along. But this time he wanted to go deeper and explore the meaning of life.

“It’s not as easy as loving,” he said. “You can fix everything to the one commandment to love one another. But I feel like it’s more expansive than just a human relationship. I think it’s also about connecting with the world.

Docter said he recently met Father Dr. . James Martin’s 2010 book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, which is about finding God in all things. “That really inspired me. I think that’s really at the heart of Joe’s story at the end of the film, “he said.

I spoke to another Catholic critic who was upset that the film does not follow Catholic doctrine, that it appears to be promoting a secular agenda, that it suggests reincarnation and pantheism. I can see how anyone could think that. For me, however, the exploration of the meaning of life and the nature of the soul in the film supports the belief in eternal life and the immanent divine spark in the soul, the human person.

I also think Joe’s story illustrates the elements of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ 1969 book On Death and Dying. Joe undoubtedly goes through all of the stages she describes in the book: denial, anger, negotiation, depression, rebuilding, working through the reality of death to acceptance and hope. One who deals with death and dying can find hope here.

It is unfair to expect a secular film to be a catechism of the Catholic faith. Disney Pixar films are primarily a business with large commercial interests. This movie is being watched by tens of millions of people so members of a very large audience need to find something to connect with, a character, an idea, an experience. The filmmakers have gone beyond white faces to include different races and lots of blacks and browns.

There are also important issues to consider. The film is an ode to the teachers (Both Docter and Murray’s parents are educators). Most of all, I was thinking of a person who might be depressed or consider suicide, who might not have discovered the meaning of their life, and who might offer this film a glimmer of hope, an encouragement to look for that gift, are you and catch on at the front.

Sr. . Rose Pacatte, a member of the Daughters of St. . Paul is the founding director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles.

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News – PH – Asking questions, not giving answers, ‘soul’ is an animated joy

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