Saturday, April 12, 2014

I have a soul…I just don't have it with me (Cold Souls review)

Note:  This is a review that's reposted from Epinions.

Very few works of fiction try to tackle what a soul is.  What is it about or minds and consciousness that makes us self-aware?  What does a soul do, exactly?  What would happen if we could have our soul extracted and put into storage?

In Cold Souls, Paul Giamatti plays Paul Giamatti.  (A brilliant stroke of casting, I think.)  Giamatti (the character) is preparing for his role in Chekov’s Uncle Vanya, but just can’t seem to get it right.  Someone tells him about a service that will remove his soul and put it into storage.  When he reads about it in the New Yorker, he seriously considers it.

This may all sound sinister, but in this movie, it’s really not.  When Giamatti goes in to speak to a doctor, he’s told that it will remove the burden of his emotions, allowing him to go through life much more easily and clearly.  After a little convincing, Giamatti has the procedure done.

At first, it’s not so bad.  There’s no guilt or fear, but his work and social life do suffer.  When he and his wife are out with some of her friends, one of the friends is talking about caring for a terminally ill patient.  Giamatti casually suggests that she just pull the plug.  When talking about it in the car later, Giamatti has absolutely no idea what he did wrong.  As for the play, he starts overcompensating.  He’s going in a totally wrong direction.  Giamatti soon realizes that he needs his soul back.

Back at the facility, the doctor convinces Giamatti to take the soul of a Russian poet instead.  He gets through the play fine, but realizes that the only soul that will do is his own.  He goes back and insists on getting his own soul back, but it’s too late.  His soul has been stolen by Nina, a woman working for a Russian dealing in black-market souls.  His wife wanted the soul of an American actor and Giamatti’s was the only one available.  After finding out what Nina did, Giamatti sets off with her to get his soul back.

You’ll notice that Russians factor into the movie quite a bit.  Not having actually read Chekov or any other Russian literature, it’s hard to tell how much this influences the movie, but the movie can be somewhat heavy at times.  Giamatti is conflicted about having his soul removed.  A soul is a pretty big thing to have taken out.  Yes, he can have it reversed, but is it really necessary?  He’s a very tormented character.

There are also a lot of aspects of the movie that are depressing.  For instance, Nina is little more than a mule.  Transporting as many souls as she has, she’s left with residue that means that she may not be able to get her own soul back.  There is also a scene with Giamatti waiting in a Russian hotel.  It seems he has little to do beyond walking around the hotel property waiting for Nina to get back.

There are some humorous points.  For instance, each soul looks different.  Giamatti’s looks like a chickpea.  Another looks like a jellybean.  It’s not known why each looks different, but it does bother Giamatti that his is so small.  (Apparently, size doesn’t matter.)

Also, being able to harvest souls does create a black market, complete with the aforementioned mules.  The group of Russians dealing in black-market souls collects them from people that apparently need the money.  They sign away all rights to getting it back, as shown in a scene where a woman wants hers back.

The movie doesn’t deal directly with what a soul is.  The doctor repeatedly admits that modern science knows very little about the soul other than how to remove it, store it and put it in someone else.  I suppose this is a good thing.  There are so many views on what a soul is that to try to pin down a philosophy for the movie would have been unnecessary and probably would have alienated some viewers.  The movie simply explores what it would be like to have your soul removed without being too technical about it.

It gets a bit confusing at times.  Giamatti apparently has visions associated with the former owner of the soul.  It wasn’t until I started reading reviews about the movie that I realized what this was.  I think part of the problem is that even at 1:41, it drags on at parts.

The acting great as was the basic premise.  My only real complaint was that it dragged on a little too much.  About halfway through the movie, I felt like I was still waiting for the movie to get interesting.  At that point, I figured that I might as well finish it.  At the very least, I’d be able to know how the movie ended and write a complete review.

When I heard about the film on NPR a few years ago, the movie sounded interesting.  Having seen it, it’s hard for me to recommend the movie to someone mostly because I had trouble finishing it.  Had it not been for my desire to review it, I probably would have shut it off halfway through.  Overall, I’d give it three stars.  Catch it if it comes on TV, but I wouldn’t recommend renting it.

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