Christmas Day is one of the most popular days for studios to release some of their most significant projects of the year, and this year was no different, despite the ongoing pandemic. WarnerMedia premiered Wonder Woman 1984 on Friday, Dec. 25, simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max to rousing yet polarizing comments from viewers. While it was one of the most talked-about releases this year, two other films released during the holiday season are equally deserving of that attention–Disney and Pixar’s Soul and Amazon Studios’ Sylvie's Love. They are far different from the superhero film, but they are both full of lessons about how we should live our lives, especially after enduring 2020.
[Ed note: Major spoilers for Soul and Sylvie’s Love below.]
Soul has received quite a lot of praise since it arrived on Disney+ . The animated film is intended for a younger audience, but its message about how finding our purpose shouldn’t be the whole of our existence hit home for older viewers. Soul is about a New York City pianist named Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), whose dreams of becoming a jazz musician didn’t quite pan out, leading him to become a part-time middle school band teacher. He then gets invited to play for legendary jazz musician Dorothea Williams—an opportunity that is likely to be Joe’s big break. The day he lands his gig, he has an accident and falls to his death, which results in his journey to The Great Beyond—the place where souls travel to after they leave earth.
Desperate to be on stage, Joe tries to find a way to get back to earth to fulfill his “calling.” During his time in The Great Beyond, he becomes a soul mentor to an unborn soul named 22 (Tina Fey), who is cynical after being unable to find her purpose or “spark” for centuries, which prevents her from being sent down to earth. With each other’s help, they both sneak back to NYC, but 22 accidentally ends up in Joe’s body as she experiences the world for the first time. Through this, they teach one another the real purpose of life—to live every moment and find joy and meaning in even the smallest things. Even after Joe returns to his own body and manages to dazzle the crowd at his first show with Dorothea, he finds that his life outside of being a pianist is quite empty. He had been under so much pressure to succeed as a musician that he forgot to appreciate everything else he did have.
He returns to The Great Beyond in search of 22, to help her find her way back to earth after he wrongfully tells her she has no real reason to exist if she has no real purpose. The soul counselors give Joe another chance, and he vows to do things differently this time around. When asked what he will do with his second chance, Joe says, “I don’t know, but I’m going to live every moment of it.”
Sylvie’s Love has a similar theme regarding dreams and aspirations and the sacrifices it sometimes takes to make them a reality. The melodrama centers around Sylvie Parker (Tessa Thompson) and Robert Halloway (Nnamdi Asomugha), who meet in Harlem in 1957 and fall in love. Robert, an up-and-coming saxophone player, is instantly captivated by Sylvie, who works at her father’s record store and has dreams of becoming a television producer. Sylvie, who is awaiting her fiance Lacy’s return from the war, is quickly drawn to Robert and can’t fight her feelings for him. The pair spends the summer together, but their romance comes to an end when he leaves for Paris for a gig with his band. Before he’s gone, Sylvie finds out she is pregnant, but she doesn’t tell Robert the news so he could go pursue his dreams of becoming “the next John Coltrane.” In his absence, Sylvie has started her career as a TV producer, a part of her that Robert celebrated, but her now-husband Lacy refuses to accept. In one interaction between them, Sylvie tells her husband, “I can’t be the woman of your dreams while also trying to be the woman of my own.”
Robert and Sylvie are reunited five years later and rekindle their love, but it all comes crashing down when his prospects as a jazz musician dwindle with the rise of Motown’s popularity. While Sylvie wouldn’t quit her job for her husband, she is willing to sacrifice for Robert. But the saxophonist decides to take a job at a factory in Detroit behind her back and leaves her so that she can keep her job in NYC. After separating, they soon realize that it doesn’t matter what they do for a living, as long as they have each other. “Do you remember that thing you told me about wanting me to be happy even if it meant you couldn’t be a part of my life?” she tells him in the last scene. “What if I can’t be happy unless you’re a part of it?” During their relationship, they both made painful decisions to withhold information from each other to allow the other to fulfill their passions. Dreams might require sacrifices like those, but life shows us that even when we have it all–whether it’s a big shot job on TV or a career overseas as a musician–nothing matters unless we have the people we love.
Both movies resonate with a theme that many people might find familiar after experiencing all that has happened in 2020. The COVID-19 quarantine forced people to stay home, to put a pause on their careers, and spend a lot of alone time, which inspired plenty of self-reflection. For many people, that meant following their passions outside of a regular 9 to 5, and they pursued other passions—who knew so many people wanted to make and sell candles? Some went back to school to get degrees, got in shape, got married, or moved away. Others, like 22 in Soul, realized that there was nothing wrong with thoroughly enjoying the quiet life inside their homes. What 2020 has also taught us is that life is momentary, and it can turn upside down in an instant; all that is guaranteed is the moment we’re currently living. So no matter what we accomplish, how much we earn, or what our titles are at work, what’s truly important is the people we have by our sides and the memories we get to make with them.
Perhaps Soul and Sylvie’s Love can inspire us to shift our perspectives. Before the world goes back to “normal,” maybe we can all realize that our experiences and existence in this world shouldn’t be reduced to our “purpose”—but instead, we should focus more on how we enjoy the life we were given, the way we love, and make the most of our time here. Our purpose is to live fully, no matter the circumstances. Once the world opens up, maybe we will all live the way Joe Gardner intends to live, by remaining and being present in every moment—good or bad. Because like Robert Halloway says, “Life is too short to waste time doing things you don't absolutely love."