I couldn’t believe how much I loved Inside Out. I’m so thankful that I went. Really. These kinds of movies always impress me, but there especially was so much good stuff in the new animated feature from Pixar. There is so much good to learn, and also it tells me a lot about how we see our world too.
The movie follows the life of eleven-year-old Riley. She’s ripped from her hockey-filled, friendly life in Minnesota to follow her dad and his job to San Francisco. My first thought was, Who doesn’t want to live in San Fran? But if you are used to a long suburban winters, living in the tight quarters of Cisco can be a little daunting. Especially when you’re eleven and there’s dead mice in your new house.
The movie follows five characters, who are Riley’s feelings: Sadness, Joy, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. As Riley experiences one or the other, the character, who exists in Riley’s subconscious, light up. The emotions have personalities of their own and relate to own another in the world of Riley’s subconscious. They serve to protect Riley and guide her along her journey. They mainly deal in memories, which are all colored according to emotion. Riley’s core memories are crucial fortresses and they are all joyful.
In the flick, those core memories are made up of five islands: Hockey Island, Honesty Island, Friendship Island, Goofball Island, and Family Island. When Riley is traumatized at her school (she cries in front of her class remembering what she’s left in the Midwest), a new Island forms. The premise of the movie surrounds suppressing that sad core memory because joyful memories is all we should have, or so the characters think.
You can get already the first good point the movie makes:
Happiness isn’t all that matters. Sometimes you simply need to feel sad and that’s OK. Riley’s mom tries to get her to chin up about the movie to San Francisco, saying that Riley’s attitude will help Dad with all of his stress. That’s a problem! It’s not really Riley’s job to make Dad feel better, right? Mom doesn’t get that, neither does Riley. But they learn that sadness can help. Sadness keeps Riley from running away. And the family is united when they share that they all are missing Minnesota at the end of the movie. Sadness is part of us and our memories.
Another good point the movie makes is that we are not our feelings. The emotions in this movie are their own characters. They exist inside of Riley, but they aren’t her. That clear difference is really important. Moreover, we are the controllers of what happens with our feelings to. All of them, joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust, can pass in time.
I’m not sure the movie makes that point (feelings aren’t something Riley seems to be able to control) explicitly, but they are moving in the right direction it seems to me. In the movie, we are swimming through Riley’s subconscious, and there is a “train of thought” the emotions can catch if they want to get into Riley’s awareness. So she isn’t always aware of her feelings. And she struggles to understand how she is feeling. I think that’s why it is a great movie for kids and adults to watch, because it teaches us to name our emotions. It is a hard thing to do! When the characters are so obvious, it can help us feel and know how we feel too.
With all the good it has, I wanted more. Here’s where I think the movie missed.
Firstly, it channels the basic American idea that you have what it takes to overcome your circumstances. Riley overcomes her problems with the right thought processes and the right relationships. It works out in the end because of her hard work at sorting through her emotions. But even the perfect emotional awareness and “balance” won’t save us.
The movie disembodies its characters. I think I mainly notice that because the church is so not that—we are the Body of Christ. And Jesus Himself came to us “Incarnate,” as in in the flesh. We are connected to Him, to one another, and to ourselves. The movie ultimately gets this, because the voices of the actors have bodies on screen. But I think the flick showcases disembodiment in its characters. It misses our body altogether. I think how active we are, what we eat, how much we sleep, what stimulates our mind all affects those five main characters; it affects our emotions. Moreover, how we relate to the Greater Body matters too.
Finally, it lacked a hope beyond our emotional processes. We may be more than our emotions, but the film doesn’t really supply us with the meaning of what else we are. (I did appreciate how it warned its audience about deconstructing its emotions too much, though.) The movie ran over Jesus. There is no faith, not a lot of redemption or forgiveness, and certainly no prayer. Even love is missing (I wonder, why there wasn’t a Love Island?) Riley needs something more when her family is unreliable, or not there; when the kids are mean; when she fails or feels lonely. I couldn’t help but wish that Riley found a supportive church, an interior life, and some spiritual nourishment during her impossible transition. She needed it. Sometimes our emotional processes, those five characters in our mind, aren’t enough. But Jesus is.
Our emotions, and our control and awareness of them, as important as it is, won’t save us. Only Jesus will. I think we need to have spiritual depth, along with emotional awareness, to really live into our fullest. Certainly there are Christians who need some self-awareness, but my prayer for Riley and her family, is to find the hope of Jesus.