By Tim Barlow
What if the divine stopped engaging with the world? For some this may seem like just an apt way of describing life, but for a character, a Soul, in the movie, Heart and Souls, the notion of no longer interacting with the living, leaves him wondering if he is actually in hell. It’s this interaction with the divine, I suspect, that is at the root of why a largely forgotten movie from the early-90’s has made a shocking appearance on Craig’s list.
Heart and Souls tells the story of four Souls who after their untimely, simultaneous death are assigned to newborn baby, Thomas. Only Thomas can see these Souls, and as they grow close to him, each brings their own personal influence. However, after parents and teachers grow concerned about what they perceive to be a strange child overly fixated on imaginary friends, the four Souls make the decision, in one of the film’s few touching moments, to go silent and invisible to Thomas. Still around, but no longer trying to interact or influence.
In the wake of their absence, the child grows up to be a hot-shot, mostly dickish bankruptcy something something, played by Robert Downey Jr. The Souls realize they need Thomas to interact with the world and Thomas needs the Souls renewed guidance to stop being a dick. Also, Elizabeth Shue is in this movie, I love her. Remember Adventures in Babysitting? Did I mention I lover her? …
Sorry where was I? Right. So, despite the temptation to label Thomas’ softening heart as the necessary emotional connection to catapult this onto Craig’s list, what with its parallels to his own self described head-first, heart-second ways, I’m not buying.
You see, despite Robert Downey Jr’s top billing, the real (forgive me) soul of the movie, comes from the four Souls, whom we’re introduced to through a series of vignettes, depicting the various real-life challenges they take, unresolved, to their deaths: crippling fear, a single mother’s struggle to provide for her children, guilt, and waiting love. And it’s these issues, these obstacles to peace, rather than the abrupt softening of Robert Downey Jr.’s prickish, cocky, swaggering, obnoxious heart (Spoiler Alert: most of the time, I can’t stand Robert Downey Jr.), that provide the necessary emotional investment. It’s the divine, longing to engage with and to show their love, which drives these characters and redeems (somewhat) the plot.
During such a moment, towards the end of the movie, one of the Souls (whom normally cannot physically touch the living) wishes out loud she could give a living someone a hug, and then miraculously, right then, she is able to make contact. Through a cynical lense this could be seen as incredible, over-the-top, roll your eyes, terrible terrible cheese, but through innocent, unburdened eyes, maybe like those of someone who saw this movie early on, and will always again see it with that blend of nostalgia and trust that cements young love, maybe through those eyes such a moment was interpreted as a charmingly innocent portrayal of God’s love. Sometimes we relate to stories because they inspire something brand new in us and sometimes we relate to stories because of what we recognize. I think it’s the later that lands this surprising addition onto Craig’s list.