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Film / Heart and Souls

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A 1993 fantasy comedy-drama film directed by Ron Underwood.

In 1959, four people riding on a San Francisco bus and Hal (David Paymer), the bus driver, get killed when the bus crashes into a car in which a woman is going into labor. Hal ascends to Heaven while the other four get stuck anchored to the newborn baby. The baby is named "Thomas," and only he can see the four of them. After seven years of being his invisible friends, their effect on him is noticed and Thomas is about to be sent into a psychiatric hospital, so they resolve to become invisible to him so they don't ruin his life.

Come 1993, Thomas (Robert Downey Jr.) is now a liquidator at a bank, with the ghosts continuing to watch over him. Then, one day, Hal comes back and informs them that their time is up, and they have only a few days to resolve all of their unfinished business.

The four ghosts are:

  • Harrison Winslow (Charles Grodin): A singer who couldn't bring up the courage to audition.
  • Penny Washington (Alfre Woodard): A woman who orphaned her three children when she died.
  • Milo Peck (Tom Sizemore): A thief who was killed before he got the chance to go straight.
  • Julia (Kyra Sedgwick): A waitress who let her true love get away.

This movie provides examples of

  • Afterlife Express: The trolley-bus that comes (way behind schedule apparently) to collect the ghosts now that they've had time to finish their Unfinished Business. In fact, it is the same bus (and driver) from when the four of them were killed. After they explain that nobody ever told them why they were still around as ghosts, the driver agrees to give them some time to finish their affairs now that they know HOW to, but the bus returns periodically to pick them up one by one with no more negotiation or leeway.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The ghosts were supposed to have ascended long before the bus driver eventually comes back for them. They each need to resolve their Unfinished Business so the bus can transport them "on" because their souls are needed for new babies.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Harrison and Milo for Thomas.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Julia, Penny, Harrison, and Milo are all killed in a bus crash that Thomas's parents barely escape themselves. Thomas is born moments later at the scene of the accident.
  • But Now I Must Go: After a serious heart-to-heart conversation, the ghosts decide they're doing much more harm than good in young Thomas' life, and they willingly make themselves invisible to him, telling him they need to say goodbye and go away. The only problem is that they're still supernaturally tethered to him, and this abandonment has left him with serious trust issues well into adulthood, leaving them all at odds when it comes time to finish their business on earth.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Through his escapades with the ghosts, Thomas often finds himself at odds with a sergeant of the police department. Turns out he's Penny's son Billy all grown up.
  • Closed Circle: The ghosts are cosmically tied to Thomas and can only remain a certain distance from him without being pulled back.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Premise of the movie.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: What leads to the accident that kills the four people.
  • Empathic Environment: It immediately starts to rain on Julia and Thomas when she discovers John died many years ago and she won't be able to see or speak to him. It immediately stops raining when Julia has a revelation a moment later.
  • Faking Engine Trouble: The trolley bus driver fakes engine trouble as a way of delaying looking for the missing souls, so they will have time to complete their unfinished business. It should be noted that the being he is attempting to fool with this ploy is God.
  • The '50s / The '60s: The setting during Thomas's birth and childhood.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The four bus passengers died as strangers but become very close as they spend decades together in the afterlife.
  • Four Is Death: Four innocent bus passengers are killed because the driver wasn't paying attention to the road.
  • The Four Loves: The ghosts each represent a different kind of love based on their relationship with Thomas or their final tasks: Harrison is fatherly love, Milo is friendly love, Penny is unconditional love, and Julia is romantic love.
  • Freudian Excuse: Thomas grows up to avoid close relationships because he fears being abandoned, just as his "invisible people" abandoned him as a child.
    • Lampshaded by Milo, who, in the course of being dragged along to Thomas's therapy sessions, figured out that he turned to petty crime due to his unresolved Parental Issues.
  • Ghostly Goals:
    • Penny needs to find her children, who became orphans after her death.
    • Milo needs to return the valuable stamps he stole to their rightful owner.
    • Harrison needs to overcome his stage fright and sing in public.
    • Julia needs to find her long lost boyfriend John and tell him she always loved him. Subverted when John turns out to be dead, and Julia instead feels that her goal is to help Thomas learn from the mistakes she made in life, renewing his relationship with Anne.
  • Grand Theft Me: Julia and Milo embarrass Thomas during a board meeting when they take over his body. The ghosts threaten to forcibly take over Thomas's body again if he does not willingly help them.
  • Historical Domain Character: Bob Newhart is seen in the 1959 section (played by his actual son!).
  • I See Them, Too: A woman in the psychiatric ward at the hospital is the only other person besides Thomas who can see the ghosts.
  • Impeded Messenger: An angel was supposed to come from heaven at the moment of the ghosts' deaths to inform them of the rules of securing passage to the afterlife, but he or she never showed up, leaving them stuck with Thomas for seemingly no reason.
  • Love Is a Weakness: Thomas has grown up afraid to commit to his relationships due to losing people he cared about (the ghosts) as a child, and the cycle is repeating with his current girlfriend Anne.
  • Meet the In-Laws: Anne's parents are visiting her during the duration of the story, and she and Thomas often conflict when his need to help the ghosts prevents him from meeting them.
  • Mentally Unwell, Special Senses: As an adult, when Thomas once again starts seeing the four ghosts who'd been anchored to him since birth (they'd made themselves invisible to him after his parents nearly had him committed because of his obsession with the four, whom only he could see, and as a result, he wound up convincing himself that they were only a childhood delusion), he thinks he's losing his mind again and tries to check himself into a psychiatric hospital. There, he and the quartet meet a schizophrenic woman who can see the ghosts too, and her accurate descriptions of each of them are what convinces Thomas that the four are real after all.
  • National Anthem: When the group is looking for a place for Harrison to sing, they happen upon a B.B. King concert, but tickets are sold out. Penny concocts a scheme to get them inside, and Thomas completes it by posing as a staffer who will sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before Mr. King's performance. King is so impressed by Thomas/Harrison's singing that his band officially accompanies the anthem to uproarious applause.
  • Not So Above It All: Harrison delights in encouraging Thomas' performing chops and introducing him to Franco Corelli's music as a child, but even he asks Thomas to hold a page in a nudie magazine for him to see.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: The ghosts. For most of his life, Thomas believed the ghosts he knew as a child were imaginary friends. He is shocked to find out they were all once real people.
  • Offscreen Afterlife: We only ever see the five dead people in this world.
  • Performance Anxiety: Harrison is terrified of the prospect of performing on stage. When he's introduced auditioning for a musical, he lets literally every other applicant go before him, and when the piano player begins his piece, Harrison goes completely silent, eventually excusing himself from the audition.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Milo often tries to exploit his invisibility to look up women's dresses, and at one point has a young, blindfolded Thomas turn pages and unfold spreads in a porn magazine.
  • Psychopomp: Hal after his death, stuck driving the bus to the afterlife for the next 500 years.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Thomas gives Harrison a brief one to make him get over his crisis of ability.
    Thomas: No offense, Harrison, but you died a failure because you never tried!
  • Reincarnation: The reason why it's suddenly urgent for the ghosts to finish their business — they're needed because new babies are being born soon.
  • Sharing a Body: The ghosts borrow Thomas' body to resolve their unfinished business.
  • Team Mom: Penny's first thought once she has died and gotten over the confusion of "surviving" the crash is about her kids, and she's the most mature of the ghosts in their bonding with Thomas. Even when he's become an adult, she's not above scolding him as if she was his mother.
    "Thomas Kenneth Reilly, you get back here!"
  • Unfinished Business: Each of the ghosts has some. It's pretty much the main plot of the film.
  • Visible Invisibility: The ghosts are invisible to the other characters (apart from Thomas), but the audience can see them just fine.