Cold Souls

by writer/director Sophie Barthes

Three years ago, I had a strange dream. I had just read C.G. Jung’s Modern Man in Search of a Soul and watched one of my favorite Woody Allen films, Sleeper. A strange synaptic connection must have happened in my brain.

In my dream, I am holding a box and waiting in line to see a doctor in a white futuristic office. A secretary explains that our souls have been extracted. A doctor will examine them and assess our problems. Woody Allen is also in line, just in front of me! When his turn comes, he discovers that his soul is a pale yellow seed: a chickpea. He is furious. At this point, I feel extremely anxious. I look down at my container to check the shape of my soul and the dream ends.

I shared the dream with my life and creative partner, cinematographer Andrij Parekh. The premise was so absurdly funny and strange that I decided to turn it into a screenplay. Later on, I saw American Splendor and I was so impressed by Paul Giamatti’s performance and emotional charge on screen, that I decided to write for him.

Cold Souls deals with philosophical concepts (soul, body, mind) but I hope that the approach remains playful. I’m very influenced by Surrealism and the Theater of the Absurd. My intention was to make a film in that stylistic tradition: a tone mixing comedy, satire, irony and melancholy—characters caught in dreamlike, nightmarish or absurd situations and dialogue flirting with clichés and nonsense.

To convince Paul to extract his soul, Doctor Flintstein (David Strathairn) finds a compelling argument: “A twisted soul is like a tumor, better to remove it!” For Flintstein, the soul is just a troublemaker. I believe that the desire to be artificially released from the troubles of the soul (from antidepressant drugs to an imaginary soul extraction or soul rental) is part of our obsessive quest for well-being. Maybe the soul is a strange muscle—a tissue of feelings and mood. And, perhaps it’s possible to develop it or to let it shrink.

I hope you enjoy the film.

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