MOVIE: Cold Souls (2008)

Cold SoulsNew Yorker Paul Giamatti (played by . . . New Yorker Paul Giamatti) is a middle-aged stage actor working on a new production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.  The role is emotionally intense and dark, as Russian plays are wont to be, and the more Paul sinks into his part, the harder it becomes for him to shake off the darkness after hours.

Concerned, his agent steers him toward an article in the latest issue of The New Yorker he thinks may hold the solution.  It’s about a new organization, the Soul Storage Company, that, for a hefty fee, will extract your soul and store it for you, either temporarily or permanently.  Freed of your soul, your cares will float away, leaving life a fluffy piece of cake.

At first, Paul finds the very idea ludicrous — not to mention completely unbelievable — but curiosity and his deepening depression get the best of reason and he soon makes an appointment.  The extractionist, played by the ever-soothing David Strathairn, makes it seem so obviously the cure for all that ails him that it’s not long before Paul is sitting in a chair holding his soul in his hand.  A soul he’s rather disheartened to discover looks exactly like a garbanzo bean.  He was expecting something . . . a bit more. . .  substantive, I guess.  A bit less bean-like, I suppose.  Though he’s somewhat hesitant to leave it behind, Paul finally locks his soul away in the storage facility and heads for home, relieved to find himself feeling lighter already.

Alas, as it turns out, being soulless isn’t as great as it sounds.  Without his soul, for example, Paul can no longer act, and his inability to empathize with others begins to cost him friends and strain his marriage.  So, a few weeks later, Paul returns to the Soul Storage Company to retrieve his bean, where he’s horrified to discover it’s been stolen.  Apparently, you see, there’s a huge black market in Russia for American souls, and that goes double for the American soul of Al Pacino, which Paul’s has been passed off as erroneously.

Panicked, Paul demands that the extractionist, clearly in on the game, reveal the name of the “mule” who smuggled his soul across the ocean, and when he finds her, she quickly offers to help him get it back.  She’d worn his soul for a few days herself — that’s how the mules get them out of the country — and she’d become rather fond of it, and of him by proxy.

Working as a team, they begin a quest that, in essence, ends up saving both their souls, changing their perspectives on life forever.  Awwww!  How nice!

This dark comedy is loaded with elements of social satire:  the lengths to which modern humans will go to avoid feeling anything too complicated being but one of them (I can relate, and am now picturing my soul as a piece of sea glass, dulled by rocking waves and time.  Helas pour moi).  Giamatti is, as usual, absolutely delightful — it’s a character drawn perfectly for him in more ways than just the name (though writer/director Sophie Barnes says the inspiration for the film was a dream she had about Woody Allen’s garbanzo bean of a soul).  And, of course, I never say no to anything starring David Strathairn, which is why I’ve seen the movie Twisted.  More’s the pity.

Clever, weird, funny, and thought-provoking, this is definitely one to check out.  Highly recommended!

[Netflix it | Buy it from Amazon]

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Cast:  Paul Giamatti, Armand Schultz, Dina Korzun, David Strathairn, Emily Watson, Lauren Ambrose

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4 Responses to “MOVIE: Cold Souls (2008)”

  1. briantoohey Says:

    Been wanting to check this one out for awhile. Guess I’ll have to bump it up in the Netflix queue after this glowing review. 🙂 Thanks, Meg!

  2. Liz Says:

    Never even heard of this one before, but it does sound really good, and I love Paul Giamatti. It sounds a little like that one with Jim Carrey, about erasing your memories (my God, I can’t remember what it’s called!), which I avoided for a long time (I HATE the “funny” Jim Carrey, but like the dramatic one), but which turned out to be quite good. (I have a “Swiss cheese” memory myself! Got the phrase from “Quantum Leap.”)

    Very interesting, to think about what a person might be like without a soul. They’re dealing with that on “Supernatural” – and quite well, I think.

  3. Liz Says:

    “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”?? Have I still got it??

  4. megwood Says:

    It reminded me a little of that one too, Liz!

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