Soul Movie Review Part 1: Misrepresenting the Character of God
After much hype and excitement around the newest edition to Disney+, Soul, my roommate and I spent our New Years Eve watching the movie. Ever since I heard about this movie, and even after reading the title, I was skeptical. I'm always suspicious yet curious whenever the secular culture seeks to expound upon the meaning and intricacies of the soul.
I started out this post, desiring to talk about the way in which the movie depicted Mother Teresa. For those who don't know, I LOVE Mother Teresa, whom I affectionately call Momma T. I was heartbroken at the way in which the movie misrepresented her, and would like to dedicate a post specifically to her life and legacy.
As I started reflecting upon what the Father was inspiring me to write, I decided to break this post into two parts. For this first part, I will be addressing how this movie misrepresents the character of God. For my second post, I will dive into all things Momma T.
This movie is advertised for individuals 8 years and older. I don't have children, but if I did or if I was working with kids, I would say this film is not for anyone under 14. Not trying to tell you what to do with your life or your family. I could see this film being a great movie to watch with older children, as a teaching tool for a discussion on Heaven/Hell, who God is, the dignity of the human person, the purpose of life, and a whole host of other topics. I could also see this movie being a great topic for a campus ministry forum. In my mind I'm picturing a riveting and lively discussion between students mediated by a priest, sister, or theology teacher/campus minister.... if someone knows where I can find one of those, hit me up because I would love to participate myself! :D
The film does not outright deny the presence of God, but rather supposes that there is a place outside of life on earth called The Great Before and The Great Beyond. The movie makes it clear that these supernatural realms are not synonymous with Heaven and Hell. The film does not outright deny the presence of hell, but definitely dismisses hell as if it is not real.
The Great Before is managed by these weird doodle things called "Jerry." Jerry interacts with souls yet to be sent to earth, and prepares them to experience life. The Great Beyond is managed by a weird doodle that looks like a rat called "Terry." During the movie you don't get to actually see The Great Beyond. Viewers see a conveyor belt headed towards a black hole. The black hole is The Great Beyond. Terry watches "the count." Monitoring how many individuals have died, ensuring their souls make it on the conveyor belt to meet their destiny...The Great Beyond.
The movie is about a struggling musician, Joe Gardner, who spends his whole life seeking his big break as a famous jazz pianist. After a lifetime of waiting for his moment in the spotlight, he finally gets a gig with a famous jazz band. On his way to get a suit for the gig, he falls into a manhole and dies. However, instead of the movie ending right then and there with Joe's death, the viewer is taken to the conveyor belt, where Joe is to meet his destiny and enter The Great Beyond. Although Joe is unsure where he is or what is going on, he is sure that he has a gig at 7:00pm and is intent on not missing his big break. Long story short, the movie is about Joe escaping death and trying to make it back to his body in time for the gig, and ultimately discover the meaning of life.
So what's my deal with this movie. . .
As I stated above, although this movie is PG, this movie is not suited for young children at all. This movie not only touches on concepts such as the reality of heaven and hell, but also incorporates alternative theologies such as astrology, shamanism, zen meditation, and hints of New Ageism.
You could say that the movie is not pro any particular spirituality, however, the protagonist, Joe, is only able to save the day through entering into meditation which was taught to him by a hippie and some shamans. Is that not suggesting value and merit to zen meditation and shamanism? If not suggesting value, it is certainly presenting these alternative spiritualities in a positive light.
Another question would be if the same movie presented a main character saving the day by means of practicing Christian virtue, would popular culture still embrace the movie? I find it hilarious that in modern media it is perfectly acceptable to introduce new age and eastern spirituality to young children. Yet if any hint of Christianity is mentioned in media today, it is deemed offensive and a potential threat by our cancel culture.
This movie is just one example of the many ways our secular culture is seeking to indoctrinate children with anti-Christian spirituality and disfigure the image of God in our world. The depiction of the supernatural realm outside of earth, as well as the depiction of supernatural being(s) that govern earth is not Christian. As a Christian people, I understand that drawing lines in terms of consumption of media is challenging and rather subjective. We live in a secular world and 99% of our media is created by individuals who are not in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Does this mean that we cannot consume any media created by non-Christians? No, of course not. However, I do think as a Christian people, we have to be discerning about what we are consuming, because what we consume we will exude. Especially in regard to the rearing and educating of young people, we need to be careful about the ways in which images of God are portrayed to impressionable minds and hearts. Although this movie doesn't portray God, it does portray being(s) who manage and govern the before/afterlife...One could say the movie portrays gods... Therefore, in regards to this movie, we need to ask what perception(s) of God does Soul presents?
After watching this movie, I believe that Jerry/Terry depict the two most common false images of God in our culture today. Jerry is the apathetic, peace-loving, Jesus who never wants to offend you or make you do anything with your life. Terry is the indifferent, record-keeping, justice without mercy, rigid, impersonal god.
Jerry depicts a permissive, fun, loving god who just wants you to find your spark and live your life. Jerry does not like/nor dislike anyone. Jerry is easy going, helps you on your way, and has minimal contact. Overall, Jerry reminds me a lot of surfer Jesus... if you don't know what I'm talking about google it and you'll understand what I mean.
Terry is an emotionless and impersonal God of pure judgement. Obsessed with his abacus, Terry spends his days calculating and watching the soul count. His entire focus and fixation is record keeping, making sure the scales are right. Terry doesn't care about you, take the time to know you, or interact with you at all. According to Terry, you are not unique and unrepeatable, but a soul just like the rest of em' on their way to The Great Beyond.
These images could not be further from the reckless, passionate, and personal love of Jesus Christ. Emmanuel, God with us, the Word Incarnate who came to earth to interact with us, eat with us, laugh with us, suffer with us, guide us, correct us, teach us, lead us, encounter us, be with us. Jesus Christ Our Savior who could not stand the idea of eternity without each and every one of us, and died on a cross so as to assume our debt and open the doors of eternity. Our Father who created us in love and for love to bear the image of His Son uniquely to the whole world, so that every soul may be integrated into the divine family in the mystical body of Jesus.
In a world where our image of God is that of Jerry and Terry, we really have no need for God because we are our own god. I found it interesting that although Jerry/Terry were the supreme beings of this movie, the little soul of Joe was able to elude their presence, attention, and power in trying to get back to his body. This totally contradicts the reality of the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient nature of Our Lord, who knows all our thoughts, who is almighty, and is ever present to every single soul. This storyline of Soul, further promulgates the popular idea of our culture that we really have no need for God. Why would we when we can just meditate our way to victory?
In a world where our image of God is ordered and congruent with the true character of Jesus, we are in need of daily relationship and reconciliation with our God who nourishes, sustains, and ultimately saves our souls from the condemnation and judgement we deserve. In this relationship, we are fiercely and whole heartedly delighted in by the Father, and through His love our hearts are pierced, purified, and transformed just as Jesus was on the Cross. In a relationship with the Lord, we learn how to walk through the sufferings and circumstances of our life, so as to encounter Resurrection glory, joy, and power here on earth as it is in Heaven. All of this is initiated by our God, who despite the failings and faults of man, deeply desires intimate connection and communion with His children.
As I ponder what a true image of Jesus looks like, Caravaggio's The Incredulity of Saint Thomas comes to mind. As I sit with this image and ponder the Lord in His resurrection majesty, my heart longs for more movies that can portray the Lord in truth, goodness, and beauty. Although all forms of art, words, and even this blogpost fail to capture the fullness of His glory. I am convinced that as a Christian people we need more artists who are brave enough to steward gifts of creativity to illustrate the goodness of the Word Incarnate Jesus Christ.
My desire with this post is not to rip on and criticize Soul... although I may have just done that... let me know if I was too savage in a comment or email lol. Really my heart was moved out of a place of sadness in seeing such a poor representation of Momma T (post to come), but after some thought and prayer wanted to also talk about the ways in which I think this movie misrepresents the character of Our Lord. Take what resonates, toss what does not. Open to a lively discussion in the comments or via email. My prayer is that each of us may come to know the Lord in a more profound and personal way, and that more creatives may be brought forth to cultivate true, good, and beautiful representations of Our God.