A moment after that he crosses paths with an even bigger break, a mortal break. He falls down a manhole and wakes to find himself on the stairway to heaven, though here it’s more like an escalator to a blinding white light manned by a team of “administrators” who look something like cubist scribbles. Unwilling to give up the ghost on his earthly aspirations, Joe makes a detour in his journey to the Great Beyond and winds up in the Great Before, a holding station where souls who have yet to be born prepare for life on Earth. There, Joe is tasked with mentoring a frightened soul named 22 (Tina Fey) who has been avoiding her turn at life for millennia.
Writer/director Pete Docter is a professing Christian, but he seems to have taken pains not to include Biblical signposts in his highly existential story. There’s no mention of God, only a passing mention of heaven and hell, and there’s nothing angelic about the administrators. But that doesn’t mean the film is bereft of any religious references. Before Joe and 22 take a journey to Earth where cross-species body-swapping hijinks ensue, the film leans heavily on New Age references. To help find a loophole in the afterlife system, Joe and 22 seek a group of psychedelic pirates who all practice various forms of Eastern meditation (though the movie does poke fun at this idea a bit as the captain of the hippy-trippy band gets into an out-of-body state by twirling signs on the corner).