Soul, the Great Before, and the Purpose of Life

Disney/Pixar’s new movie Soul was a perfect Christmas present to the world, debuting on Disney+ over the holiday. As is often the case with Pixar’s masterpieces, this movie was deeper and more poignant than those ostensibly made for adults only. Movies rarely consider the deepest questions of the “soul” such as where we come from, we why are in the world, and where we go after we die. But Pixar movies have never been afraid to ask these kinds of deep questions.

And what is even more remarkable is how many of the things that the movie showed were consistent with revealed truth.

Of course, not every aspect of the movie is consistent with what members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints know about the plan of salvation. Indeed, the movie doesn’t feature God or include anything about a Savior. But the movie nevertheless touches on many aspects of eternal truth, particularly regarding the premortal existence.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I would highly recommend that you go and watch it. What follows will have at least some spoilers (though I think you would probably know all of this from watching the trailer.)

At the center of the film is an exploration of the true purpose of life. Main character Joe Gardner is a middle school music teacher who is down on his luck and feels that he has wasted his shot at life. He gets the opportunity of a lifetime to perform with a jazz quartet. But he suddenly falls into a manhole and his spirit leaves his body and prepares to enter the Great Beyond. But Joe refuses and as he tries to escape death he ends up going back to the Great Before which is the film’s depiction of the premortal existence.

The key conceit of the Great Before is that souls develop their personalities there and prepare to come to earth. But before they can come to earth the souls must gain their “spark” which provides a purpose of motivation for life. 

Souls are assigned mentors who will help them find their spark. These mentors are ordinarily illustrious people like Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln. The mentors help their mentees find their spark whether that spark is music or painting, politics or philanthropy. 

Joe pretends to be a mentor and is assigned to Soul 22, a very old soul who has either been unable or unwilling to find her spark. She enjoys her time in the Great Before and does not see a point in life on Earth. If you have ever seen another Pixar film, then you will not be surprised to hear that Joe and 22 end up inspiring and transforming each other.

There are so many parallels to the Plan of Salvation. In the premortal life we were tutored by God and developed our personality and prepared to come to earth. God designed our mortal experience to help us to develop traits and attributes that we could not develop in God’s presence. 

We knew that earth life would be difficult. We knew that we would face trials and challenges. We knew that at times we would feel disappointment, sorrow or pain. Maybe we were afraid of failing.

Indeed, many souls never came down to earth at all. They rebelled against God and refused to come. But we courageously embraced God’s plan and even shouted for joy at the opportunity.

One of my favorite things about the Plan of Salvation is that it properly contextualizes the purpose and significance of life. This life is just a part of our eternal journey. But it is the most important part. It is where we can develop ourselves and make critical choices that shape eternity. It is also where we develop eternally binding and lasting relationships.

The movie was such a beautiful exploration of that purpose of life. The movie shows that the purpose in life is not necessarily to do some great task, but rather to take advantage of all of our many opportunities to bless and enrich the lives of others. Our relationships matter a lot more than our worldly triumphs. At the end of this life we will not be measured by whether we played in one great gig, but whether we made a difference for those we care about. That vision is fully consistent with the plan of salvation

It is so easy to coast through life without fully thinking about these questions of eternity such as where we come from and where we are going. I love how this movie looks at these deep questions of the soul and offers a hopeful and optimistic vision, just as the Plan of Salvation does.

The doctrine of our pre-mortal existence is one of the first things that really drew me to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More than 12 years ago I read about it in the book Mormonism for Dummies and I felt something stir within me. When I read about it I felt like I was rediscovering truth that I had always known about even though I had never learned about it before. That feeling led me to go to Church for the first time and to try to learn more.

Hopefully, this movie will help stir its viewers to explore these questions further and perhaps help them find the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although it is not intended to be a missionary tool, I suspect that there will be many who will feel the light of Christ when they learn about the preexistence.

1 thought on “Soul, the Great Before, and the Purpose of Life”

  1. The premortality is a profoundly interesting doctrine to me. I don’t quite know how developed our personalities were, how our spirits interact with our brains to create our mortal persona, how much of our persona is carried over from premortality, or how that relates to agency in this life. But I think knowledge of premortality is an essential link in answering many of the problems of life.

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