I was reading a book review of Sarah Cooper’s The Soul of Film Theory (2013), which brought up something I haven’t thought of for a long time (although, I must have encountered somewhere in grad school) regarding the concept of the “soul” and how it evolved in film theory, from “classical” to “signifying” to “body and.” The article talks about how, in a post-structuralism world, the concept of the “soul” has become too … um … demonstrative for us. Perhaps not so much in the flotsam of everyday life but certainly in academia. Yet this was a very real concept in previous decades and was attached to semiotics related to ethical and political views. I would argue that a more secular society is still operating underneath some sort of schema (albeit perhaps restricted in some senses by the empirical), but I doubt the sorts of morality found in a predominantly liberal Hollywood adheres to ideals that are equally as touchy-feely as any religious doctrine. And, are they really exercised all that differently? Both sides would say they are all about inclusion, and both sides are more than quick enough to exclude those who have opposing viewpoints. What becomes interesting, from a critical standpoint, is how these views are either exercised, or subconsciously bubble over into, our various avenues of popular culture. We go into this a bit when discussing ideology in my Film 101 class (films trying to be subtle, overt or staying away from broadcasting an agenda).
But, it’s still an interesting question to toy with. When looking at something like It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) or A Christmas Story (1983), it isn’t hard to look into the work to find a sort of “soul” or spiritual repository of the work. Is that different from theme? Theme is the main idea. If I say “It’s a Wonderful Life is about the importance of a life and how it touches others,” do I tamp down on its soul? That message appears to be immortal, as subsequent generations come in contact with the film, even long after the people associated with making the film have passed on. What we take away from films (or books or pieces of music or other art), the overall meaning, the values and virtues it extols, can be grasped, so long as there is an audience to perceive.