Struggling with his portrayal of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, actor Paul Giamatti (playing himself) has reached the point where he can no longer "separate himself from the character." So in order to help him get a grip on the play, he seeks help from a company that specializes in removing the soul from the body, "de-souling," as Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn) puts it. "Believe me," he tells Giamatti, "when you get rid of the soul, everything makes much more sense."
So Giamatti goes for it. After a simple operation, his soul, which ends up being the size of a chick pea, is extracted and put into a glass jar. But he's no better able to portray Vanya. In fact, he's about to lose the role and is struggling with his decreasing feelings and emotions. So he heads back to Dr. Flintstein and opts to have a soul transfer, picking a Russian poet's soul to replace own lost one.
That proves to be a mistake too. Giamatti reconnects with the role, but he can't handle the amount of angst associated with his new soul. So he heads back to the doctor. But it turns out his old soul has been shuttled off to St. Petersburg to help an aspiring soap star. Furious, Giamatti heads overseas and, with some help from a soul-trafficking mule, tries to find the woman who has taken his soul.
Giamatti is terrific as his highly strung self, and Sophie Barthes' film — which mixes clinical, whitewashed sci-fi shots with warmer images of Giamatti at home and walking the streets of his neighborhood — is visually striking, especially when Giamatti undergoes the operation. Much like Being John Malkovich, Cold Souls is an exercise in metaphysical humor, and well worth the deep thinking that goes along with it.