Movies You Might Have Missed: Cold Souls

TitleCold Souls
Release Date: 2009
Rating: PG-13
Length: 101 minutes
Director: Sophie Barthes
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Emily Watson, Dina Korzun
Language: English, Russian
Country: USA, France

Cold Souls is much more like what I hoped Being John Malkovich would be like than Being John Malkovich actually was. Paul Giamatti plays a fictionalized version of himself. He’s an actor rehearsing to appear in a stage production of the same title as the film. Unfortunately, he’s having problems. He’s oppressed by his inability to find the center of his character and has gotten into his own head about it.

This is where the SF macguffin is introduced. A new company offers to remove your soul and store it so you no longer need to be burdened by it. Paul is, understandably, reluctant. He feels like a drastic change is necessary, however, and goes through with it. He is freed from his anxiety about the play, but finds the world stale, flat, and unprofitable. He has lost both his fear and his joy.

When he returns to complain about this, they offer to rent him another soul, and he chooses a Russian poet. He performs the play to rave reviews, but troubles start and he begins to discover what has already been shown to us, that this matter of souls cannot be handled as scientifically and straightforwardly as he has been led to believe. It turns out there are effects which linger from the original owner.

Moreover, since souls are a valuable commodity, like any other thing for which people will pay money, they will be illegally trafficked. Now, there are the smugglers to consider along with the Russian mob. Giamatti decides he wants his own soul back, but how to be sure he gets his own?

For anyone with a thorough spiritual grounding it won’t be changing your views on humanity or eternity, but it is a fascinating way to meditate on the importance of the non-physical aspects of ourselves. While I found the conclusion of the narrative to be a bit unsatisfying, overall the movie is engaging, thought-provoking, well-acted, and somewhat, well, gloomy and bleak about the human condition. It’s not as frivolous as Being John Malkovich and deserves to be better known.

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