Thursday, February 3, 2011

Souls are extremely volatile at altitude

One of my favorite lines from the independent film Cold Souls starring Paul Giamatti. The basic premise? If your soul is weighing you down -- if you're feeling "stuck" -- a company called Soul Storage will extract it for you and then store it in a glass tube, as seen above. But that's not all. You can also have another soul inserted to see what that's like.

Part of what's so wonderful about this film is how seriously it takes this surreal premise and runs with it, yielding a delightful mixture of the mundane and the absurd, the profound and the ridiculous. Giamatti plays himself; he has his soul (which turns out to look like a chickpea) removed in the way one might try a new diet or exercise program or self-help strategy as a way to deal with one's suddenly unbearable life. Check out the exchange when he finally fesses up to his wife about what he's done, since he's behaving so strangely that she suspect he's having an affair:
Paul? Is there someone else?

No. For Chrissake, no. There isn't anyone else.

Well, I'm sorry, but things have been pretty strange round here recently. You smell different. You feel different. What am I supposed to do? Just watch you come in at dawn?

Honey, uh- Honey. If I were a different me... in the same body... would you still love me?

What are you talking about?

I have, uh, extracted and stored my soul. But now, uh... they've misplaced it. They don't know where the hell it is. It's a total nightmare. It's a total nightmare. It's a total- I can't - It's-It's the end of my career. And, uh- And it's-it's the end of us.

Why would you do that?

Eh- Uh- l-I don't - I just told you. I don't know! I don't know. I'm, uh- I don't know. Max told me that his mother-in-law did it. And then she told me that, uh-that Cynthia was thinking about doing it too.


Yeah. What does it ma- Yeah, Cynthia- I just- I got- I got confused. I got confused. It was-It was just for two weeks. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.

So, you're completely soulless right now?

What? No, no, no, no. Not exactly, no. I still have five percent of my soul.

Five percent?

But I rented the soul of a Russian poet.

You did what?

borrowed from an online transcript
Now, mainly I bring this to your attention because it's clever and creative and just a very different film. See it. However, it strikes me that it does fit into the conversation I have with many of my students about the soul. What does a soul do, after all? Once upon a time we thought that the soul was responsible for all life functions. Then it was just our higher cognitive and affective functions. Now those who still believe in the soul have to figure out what belongs to the soul and what belongs to the brain. The upshot is that this kind of dualism suggests that a soulless human being isn't a zombie but rather someone who's missing something -- but what, exactly? And do we need to keep hanging onto the soul when it seems to have less and less to do?

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