If you have not had a chance to see Pixar’s movie Inside Out, then you are missing out.
This film explores how our emotional states inform our experiences and the memories we form of them. It presents a painfully honest portrayal of the loss of innocence that occurs as children come to understand the limits and losses that are a natural part of the human experience. Inside Out celebrates our resilience in overcoming challenges while not glossing over the struggles and failures that can also occur along the way.
The movie personifies five emotions: Anger, Sadness, Joy, Disgust and Fear, focusing on the complex relationship between Joy and Sadness and the critical value that sadness has in our lives.
When we meet young Riley, Joy is firmly at the helm of Headquarters - the command center of her mind. As the story develops, Joy tries to maintain her leadership with diminishing success. When Riley is faced with the challenges and losses of a family move, Joy is not the right emotion to lead the way.
In trying to protect Riley from Sadness, Joy cuts her off from herself and from those she loves, her senses become deadened, and she is left with Anger, Fear and Disgust to guide her. In the end, suffering her sadness, while painful, reconnects Riley to her family, to friends and to being fully alive; Ironically, it brings her back to a place of joy.
This journey highlights a critical truth – that grieving allows for coming to terms with what cannot be and, in so doing, it creates a space for what can.
When the internal structures that Riley and her family have spent her lifetime developing start to crumble, there is a tremendous feeling of loss and a fear that this deconstructed state will remain the landscape of her internal world. We suffer this terror with Riley for a bit and then we join with her as she begins to rebuild.
The story provides an appreciation for the fact that while we are resilient and strong, we are also fragile. Riley needs to be in touch with her full range of emotions in order to rebuild. When her parents try to restrict her by requesting that she not be sad (with comments such as – Where is my happy little girl?) she is unable to function.
The truth is that her parents won’t be able to help Riley explore her complex feelings if they are unwilling to explore their own range of emotions. Feelings are most often mixed and helping someone else deal with their mixed emotions forces us to do the same.
Riley’s parents find their way to her because they are both willing and able to do this – but not all parents can. A failure in being able to bear this complexity and the pain sometimes associated with it can ultimately lead to children becoming cut off from both themselves and their families.
The joy that Riley finds when must part company with her, is not that of a young child, it is closer to the joy that we know as adults, tinged with the impact of sadness. She is older and wiser, less innocent and more aware. We have a hopeful feeling as she launches into her adolescence – having survived our own teen years, we know that she will face the suffering of many losses and, hopefully, the discovery and celebration of many joys.