To my American readers or those with American friends or family, I wish you all an (early) Happy Thanksgiving on Thursday and a Native American Heritage Day on Friday. It is also Native American Heritage Month here in the U.S. For my post this holiday week, I’m analyzing a film that focuses on, like the name reveals, the soul: Disney/Pixar’s 2020 film, Soul. This animated movie features a diverse voice cast, including Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner, Tina Fey as 22, Rachel House as Terry, Questlove as Curley, and Angela Bassett as Dorothea Williams. The film earned two Oscars, for Original Score (featuring the musical genius of Jon Batiste) and Best Animated Feature Film. This movie does not technically feature a librarian, landing it in the Class V category, but it includes a library scene as well as a different kind of archives.
Co-written and co-directed by Pete Docter (who also directed 2001’s Monsters, Inc., 2009’s Up, and 2015’s Inside Out), Soul‘s themes explore determinism, often contrasted with “free will,” and what helps shape individual personalities and characteristics. The plot focuses on Joe Gardner, a Black jazz musician and teacher who dies before his “big break” playing with jazz legend Dorothea Williams; in an effort to return to his body in time to realize his jazz-playing dreams, he mentors 22, a soul who resists every opportunity to develop a “spark” and complete the process of being born. There’s more to it than that, and here’s a trailer to provide more context:
At 27 minutes into the movie, Joe takes 22 to the Hall of Everything, in an effort to inspire 22’s “spark.” They walk into a library space — which is totally empty, by the way (sigh) — filled with the outlines of bookcases, a dropped ceiling with fluorescent lights, rolling carts, and a desk with a computer and a hanging sign labeled “Information.” My favorite detail? That the rolling carts have items in them waiting to be shelved. But with no librarian there… who’s going to shelve them?! 😉
Joe: How about a librarian? They’re cool.
22: Yes, amazing. Who wouldn’t like working at a thankless job you’re always in danger of losing due to budget cuts? Though I do like the idea of randomly shushing people.
Joe: Oh, obviously, this —
22: Shhhhhh! Oh yeah, that’s good.
This scene lasts about 10 seconds total. And what an emotional ride those 10 seconds were for me!
At the beginning of this scene, I felt like this:
By the end of this scene, I felt like this:
I am feeling @bethforbooks here:
The archives of souls
Although there is no actual librarian in Soul, we do get to see the archives… of souls! Terry, who is very clearly referred to in the film as the accountant, is trying to figure out why the count of souls is off.
At 18 minutes into the movie, Terry zips off to the archives of souls — which is shown as a vast universe of file cabinet drawers — and starts at the A’s to doublecheck each file and soul, in order to find the one soul unaccounted for.
The archives in Soul reminded me of the archives in Blade Runner 2049 (2017), which I analyzed in this 2018 post. The color palettes are very different, as are the angles, but the vastness of the archival spaces feel similar in scale to me. Below is a side-by-side comparison:
We check in with Terry the accountant a couple more times throughout the movie:
- 43:32 minutes: Terry has made it to the G’s in the archives. “You’re out there somewhere, little soul, and I’m gonna find you.”
- 49:49 minutes: Terry holds up Joe Gardner’s file and exclaims, “Found him! See that, everybody! Who figured out why the count’s off?!“
And speaking of souls and how we form our personalities… I don’t think it would come as a surprise to anyone that I do actually picture a card catalog drawer when I think of my own brain. When I have to access a memory or piece of knowledge, I mentally picture flipping through the card catalog of my brain, much like Terry flipping through the archives of souls. And… now we’ve come full circle. 😉
Have you watched Soul? What were your thoughts of the devastating way that 22 summed up the librarian profession? Please leave a comment and share!