The kid and I went to see Disney’s Inside Out this weekend.
The movie choice was mine, but the kid approved. Actually, he’s pretty selective when it comes to movies. Jurassic World seemed a bit too much for eight-year-old him, he said. Of course, he also knows how I feel about live-action movies drenched with buckets-full of CGI, which has done more to ruin films than CIA propaganda and Nicholas Cage, combined. Maybe he was just humoring me for Father’s Day.
Inside Out largely takes place in the mind of Riley, a twelve-year-old girl. Her thoughts, memories, and values are represented as a whimsical high-tech arcade-world monitored and controlled by animated characters. These are her emotions, personified. Big change has just come to her young life: her father took a job with a start-up in San Francisco. The trauma of leaving the suburban comfort-food hockey-paradise of Minnesota behind for the crowded, orthorexic, identity-obsessed Bay Area is too much for Riley, and the inner world inhabited by her emotional characters begins to crumble.
I wouldn’t say I didn’t want to like this movie, but I really didn’t. Disney is a pillar of the evil empire. Their movies became cynical ads for toys a generation ago. It’s Hollywood. Sequels and merchandizing are how you pay the rent these days. Still, the publicity and reviews for Inside Out suggested to me it might be one of those rare times when Hollywood takes a chance and makes something interesting. Even at Disney, oddities sneak through the maze now and then, almost like glitches in the matrix.
* * * * SPOILERS AHEAD * * * * (though not really any plot points)
1. Baby Riley starts at birth with one emotion inhabiting her simple mental world, with a “console” consisting of one button. The character — and thus, emotion — is Joy. The single button Joy presses makes baby Riley laugh. As Riley matures, more emotions are added to her repertoire, and the cast and console grows. The controls on the console gradually get more intricate through the film.
2. We get to see the emotional makeup of each human character in the movie. As a child, the emotions of Riley are of various sizes, with Joy as the largest. In her parents, all emotions are of equal height and size. (sub-point courtesy my TMC classmate Phil LaRose: In Riley, the emotions are of differing genders. In her mom and dad, they are all feminine and masculine, respectively.)
3. Each human (and if you stay through the credits, non-human) character has one “lead” emotion. Mom’s lead emotion is Sadness, though her mature version is better described as moderate melancholia. Dad’s lead emotion is Anger. Anger rides herd on the other emotions in a tightly-run mission-control environment. Both Mom and Dad are healthy grown-ups, but the choice of what many regard as negative emotions as “leads” is revealing. Why did the screenwriters do this? Well, because it’s . . . oftentimes true in real life, I guess.
4. Had sadness and joy remained absent from the control room, Riley likely would have ended up being what we’d recognize as “autistic,” though some might differ with this assessment.
5. Revealing Sadness as the unlikely hero is, of course, inspiring. Without Sadness at least tinging happy memories, there could be no sense of loss, therefore no appreciation for the present, and therefore no ability to embrace the finite. Recognizing sadness as a power in itself — and not just a corruption — is the genius of this movie.
6. The destruction of the “Islands of Personality” in Riley is perhaps the best representation of a rite of passage I’ve ever seen on film. The staunch pillars of her early childhood turn grey and drop away into the abyss. The sound effects and visuals of the collapsing islands perfectly capture this terrifying realization: You can’t go back to that place. It doesn’t exist anymore.
7. My mind is still chewing on what Riley’s life would have been like had Joy and Sadness remained abstractions following their detour into the abstractifier machine. Maybe Riley would have ended up babbling on a street corner somewhere, rolling pieces of bologna in her hair. But I don’t know.
8. In real-life, joy (the emotion) initially tries to counteract sadness. If it succeeds, sadness then corrupts joy so that it’s not really joy anymore. Joy — at that point — is only a warped reaction to sadness. I’m talking about real-life here. The most heart-rending part of this film is when Joy (the character) gets downtrodden and panicked as she tries to counteract Sadness. We sit at the edge of our seats and say “No, no . . don’t do this! Let it go. Just fucking let it go. Let Sadness just be sad. You’re JOY for Chrissakes. Be joyful!” Yes, I nearly did this. In real-life. In the theater.
9. There’s no villain in Inside Out. I mentioned that part to the kid. He said “That’s because the villain is always just inside of us.” Well yes. Further, he noted “The changes in the girl happen to the emotions, too. Same thing happens inside of them.” Well, yes. And “Anger has those levers as controls. It’s not a switch. It’s two levers. It doesn’t just flick on.” Ok. Yes. Uhh. . . I think that’s enough for now. Hey, let’s get lunch. You want lunch? I don’t think I’m ready for you to be smarter than I am about these things just yet.
10. Cats are assholes.