The creator of Disney/Pixar’s “Soul” — Pete Doctor — recently sat down and spoke with Jesuit priest the Rev. James Martin about the influence that Martin’s book, “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything”, influenced content of the film. Doctor is a Christian and said he researched a number of faith traditions as he explored his own faith in developing the film.
During the interview, which was published in America Magazine, the two discussed the notion of finding God in all things and the idea that getting too deeply involved with the notion of success that it can lead to disappointment.
Mr. Docter was also inspired by Ignatian concepts of freedom and detachment. His main character, a jazz musician, gets the chance of a lifetime when he plays in a concert with a jazz legend; but, as Mr. Docter described, “he’s still the same guy at the end.” As a writer, Mr. Docter resonated with this notion because of the disappointment he felt when his professional triumphs did not bring him the sense of fulfillment he had anticipated.
“I guess somewhere in the back of my head was this idea that I have to earn my way to being loved. That someday, if I do a good enough job, my life will be complete,” he said as he described the “unsettled” feeling he experienced after the overwhelming success of his films, which at the time included “Monsters, Inc.,” “Up” and “Inside Out.”
Father Martin and Mr. Doctor also discussed the ways in which the drive to find success and purpose in American life can distort the Christian notion of vocation. As Mr. Docter put it: “I feel like you’re given a sense of something you’re really good at and passionate for. But I think a lot of us make the mistake that that somehow becomes like self-defining or that there’s something to be achieved. The message of the film is really trying to tease those two things apart…. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a jazz musician or a cartoonist or whatever, but that doesn’t have to be the totality of who you are in the world.”
During the discussion, Doctor said that while he had kept his faith close to the vest before, “Soul” forced him to put it out there more.
By creating “Soul,” Mr. Docter made a parable of his own, Father Martin suggested. They agreed about the power of storytelling to facilitate better communication and deeper connections. “I think that’s where the conversion comes. And I think that’s what Jesus knew,” Father Martin said.
Mr. Docter said that he had heard from faith leaders of various backgrounds, Christian and non-Christian alike, who said that they saw tenets of their faith in the film. “Either we were so vague that we appeal to everybody, or we found something kind of deeper…at the core of these things,” he said.
Watch the video interview here:
Read the America report here.