I was told to veer away from Soul, as a parent to a six-year-old, until my child was perhaps a bit older, considering its subject matter. Admittedly, perhaps I would have been a little more cautious if my child were even younger or if we had previously had no discussions of death before. But my son has experienced a fair amount of death in his young life, and I found the film to be so beautiful that I found sharing to be entirely appropriate. Far from raising harrowing questions, the film seemed to be healing for my son, and I would argue that it is accessible and important across the board.
The intellectual curiosity that it strikes in opening the door to imagining and querying depictions of life and death, both metaphysical and real, provides children with the kind of tools I always hope they may have when questioning their place in the universe. The imagery is open-ended, hopeful, and sardonic, and while it is not simplistic, it is somehow universally and archetypally understandable.
Unhitching the imagination and releasing it to an open-ended and generally abstract concept of existential reality is a hugely meaningful thing in allowing children to approach the world with authentic inquiry, separated from (but not immediately discounting) preconceived notions. As would be expected with a Disney/Pixar film, the tone remains playful even when discussing death, birth, and the afterlife, yet certainly does not fail to mix in meaningful moments of solemnity and reflection. This playful tone (mixed with sincerity) seems just the right tenor with which to welcome the concept of death into children’s conscious experience of the world with fearlessness and normalcy. I took great Jungian pleasure at the universality of the imagery in the metaphysical realms and the themes of perennialism. One can even delight in a visual interpretation of an originating collective consciousness. There is an implication of a certain type of predestined theology in this depiction, but the messaging remains abstract enough that it does not provide any easy answers. From a philosophical and theological standpoint, one can begin to cringe slightly when archetypal attributes of human nature are discussed and depicted with such literalism, but the representation serves more as a humorous imaginative field with which to bounce off of, rather than a clearly defined blueprint. I wish I had been granted this field of intellectual possibility to play around in as a child. Regardless of any family’s religious or secular framework, the imaginative macro and micro lens with which to contemplate and explore the structure of reality and define your own purpose is a wonderful gift to children.
Of course, the final takeaway of valuing the experiential and profoundly beautiful experience of living any and every life inside a body is a vitally important message for children as well. So often, societal expectations of success can be crippling to children and adults alike. The release of this need and the subsequent acceptance of the profundity of every human life in and of itself is another universal message which is both clear and accessible to children and so powerful for their sense of self-worth and self-acceptance. In a wash of hero stories, princess stories, and stories that glorify the “special”, recognizing the profound uniqueness and power of simply living a life and being a part of the world, anywhere, and under any conditions, is crucial validation for all.