Joy, it is a wonderful emotion. There was a time when I thought all I wanted from life was to have joy but I am wiser now and because of Pixar’s latest movie, Inside Out, millions of children will learn that lesson much earlier in life than I did. There is much more to a fulfilling life than having joy. Personal happiness is not a worthy of being an ultimate goal because it doesn’t consider the larger community. Also, a life without balance and purpose makes one much more satisfied than one filled with empty, childlike happiness.
My generation grew up in a time when being sad was unacceptable. The message to teenagers in the 1990’s was that if a person experienced any sort of prolonged sadness they suffered from depression and should take a pill to fix it. Unlike many of my classmates, I was able to avoid being put on anti-depressant medication during my years of teenage angst but it was often because I hid my unhappiness which made me feel worse. Fortunately, for kids today there is a different attitude towards emotions. Inside Out teaches kids the importance of understanding emotions and knowing that it is not only okay to be sad sometimes it is necessary for growth. Instead of minimizing feelings that may seem unpleasant, the message is that all emotions have a purpose.
The movie has two settings and two sets of characters. The frame story is of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley and the other set of characters are each named after the emotion that they represent: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. The story begins with Riley and her family moving across the country to a new life. It is a rough transition and then, on the first day of school, Riley embarrasses herself and cries in front of her new class. This experience becomes a core memory. In the movie, these are described as important memories that make up the facets of Riley’s personality. This is the first core memory that isn’t happy and Joy scrambles to get rid of the memory before it reaches the chamber where it becomes stored as a core memory. Joy’s attempt to repress the memory sends Riley on an emotional journey with Anger, Disgust, and Fear in charge of the outside story and Joy and Sadness navigating the inner story. The inner story cleverly portrays the inner workings of the mind suffering from memory repression and outer manifestations of the emotional crisis.
Beatrice Hinkle discusses how memories become repressed and how the reason those memories are repressed is because something in the brain decides the emotions experienced with the memory are too uncomfortable or painful so the memory is hidden. This is just like the memory Riley creates on her first day of school. When a memory becomes repressed it doesn’t just disappear, the movie shows how memories are stored in long term memory, accessed and sent to headquarters or forgotten and sent to the mind dump. As seen with Riley, a repressed memory can manifest itself in other areas to cause mental unrest or illness. The person that is suffering the repression of memory must face it and the painful emotions associated with the memory in order to heal. This is precisely why the movie tells kids that it is okay to feel emotions because they are still there whether they acknowledge them or not (xiii-xiv).
The loss of the sad memory set off a series of events that caused major shifts in Riley’s personality that could only be restored when the core memories, including the sad one, were put back in their proper places. When Joy tries to send the sad core memory to the mind dump, she and Sadness scuffle and an accident occurs and they, along with all of Riley’s core memories, are ejected from headquarters and end up far off in long term memory. It is in their absence Riley’s personality becomes damaged and her situation deteriorates so far that she feels the only solution is to steal from her parents and run away from home. The loss of her core memories causes those facets of Riley’s personality to shut down and she spirals downward. With only Anger, Disgust, and Fear running Riley’s head, she becomes much like person suffering from depression. She becomes irritable and hopeless. She sees no possible good outcome without Joy and can’t empathize with others without Sadness. This portrayal of depression shows that it is not just a sadness, it is often a numbness when the individual feels neither joy nor sadness.
Much of what is represented in the movie is typical for a person around Riley’s age. When a child begins to transition to adulthood, they lose some of their carefree joyfulness and there is a sadness with that loss. Many memories become more complex and often have a “touch” of sadness. In the movie, the yellow, happy memories become sad and blue when Sadness touches them. All through Riley’s life, Joy was in charge of running the operations. The control panel only had one main control button with several other smaller controls but the inside of the adult’s minds are different. In both of Riley’s parents’ heads, the emotions all sit at a larger control panel with many buttons sharing daily operations. Children’s emotions are fairly simple. When they experience an emotion, they express and feel that emotion. This explains why the control panel has one main button to push, one lead controller. Adults, because they have experience and knowledge, have more complicated emotions and a more complex control panel. In the movie, Riley’s once happy memories become sad because she recognizes the loss of the times when those memories were made. She realizes that she is growing up and her life is changing. Life teaches that things aren’t simple and emotions become more complex to match the complexity of our experiences and thoughts. Each emotion has its functions, each emotion is necessary and useful.
At the start of the movie, Joy informs the audience that each emotion has a purpose. Joy is in charge of keeping Riley happy, Fear keeps her safe, Anger makes sure everything is fair, and Disgust makes sure that Riley doesn’t get poisoned physically or socially but they don’t know the purpose of Sadness so they try to push her aside. Jung wrote that “emotion is the chief source of all becoming conscious. There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion” (32). Emotions are a driving force and when they are suppressed because they are uncomfortable the individual may begin to cease to grow mentall and have difficulty dealing with change or functioning properly. Joy’s attempts to confine Sadness and destroy the sad memory actually harm Riley more than experiencing the emotions. Joy attempts to busy Sadness with reading manuals, at one point she tries draws a tiny chalk circle and tells Sadness to stay inside the circle and not to touch anything.
Many people try to do the same thing as Joy, they try to minimize sadness and push it aside but sadness has a purpose even in the movie. First, when Joy and Sadness need to find their way back to headquarters, it is Sadness that knows the way. While reading is not a sad activity, it is a quiet one. Just as different emotions are necessary, so are different activities, some require the energy and enthusiasm of Joy and some require the quiet contemplation of Sadness. Empathy is another function of sadness. Sadness, like other emotions wants to be shared. This is shown in the movie when one of the characters, Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong, becomes sad that his wagon is taken away to the mind dump and cries. Joy tries unsuccessfully to cheer him up. Sadness comforts him simply by sitting with him and acknowledging the sadness, allowing Bing Bong to feel sad and process the feeling. Joy tried to avoid the emotion but Sadness faced it. Sadness shares the emotion with Bing Bong and through this experience the two become closer. It is sadness that creates empathy and it also lets others know when we are in need. Sadness, fear, anger, disgust, and joy are all needed to live a life of balance and purpose.
The mental sickness that has infected much of American society is the need to be happy, that to experience anything other than joy is unacceptable. The success of Inside Out is a positive sign that more people are realizing that there are problems with solely pursuing happiness. One problem is happiness is just a temporary state of mind and is dependent on outside forces. At least joy is from the self but to have true joy, one needs have a satisfying life with meaning. To live a meaningful life, experiences need to have meaning and depth which means things become more complex. Also, sadness has a way of creating lasting bonds between people. Hiding sadness also hides the true self and keeps people separated by causing a fear of exposure. The world needs more people that understand their emotions and those of others so they can respond to those in pain with love and understanding instead of fear and disgust. The world may become a gentler place if more people learn emotional intelligence.
With movies like Inside Out, many children will learn the language necessary to express the complex feelings they have. A person with emotional intelligence can recognize and understand their own feelings and also those of others. This allows them to predict how other people will react to their actions. An emotionally intelligent individual can judge which actions or words will illicit which emotions and how to react to those emotions once they surface. Emotional intelligence is not just beneficial socially but personally. People that understand emotions understand that they are in control and if they don’t like the way they feel they can make changes to have a better life. The movie introduces the audience to basic concepts of psychology, how the brain works, and why it is important to feel emotions. Having this knowledge at such a young age may help this generation to live more meaningful and satisfying lives, full of emotion, depth and complexity.
Hinkle, Beatrice. “An Introduction to Psychoanalysis and Analytical Psychology.” Introduction. Psychology of the Unconsciousness. By C.G. Jung. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2002. xiii-iv. Print.
Inside Out. Dir. Pete Docter and Ronoldo Del Carmen. Perf. Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith. Disney’s Pixar, 2015. Film.
Jung, C.G. Psychological reflections: An anthology of the writing of C.G. Jung. New York: Harper, 1961. Print.