Inside Out Makes It Okay to Cry in the Theater

I don’t remember crying at the beginning of Up. I can remember the opening sequence relatively vividly, but the rest of the movie is a blur. I remember Doug the talking dog. The balloons. A colorful bird? An airship? Some other dogs? While the opening sequence of Up is beautiful, even a recognizable masterpiece, the movie on the whole is of lower Pixar quality (which is still quite good).

Inside Out is a masterpiece all the way through. I was sitting in the middle of the theater, surrounded by families, kids, even teens on dates. And there I was, sobbing, tears streaming down my face, snot coming down my nose, and the full catharsis of the movie totally rocking me. The beginning of Up might be sadder, but Inside Out made that sadness okay.

This really is the thesis of the movie. All emotions are a healthy part of life with their roles to play in how we function. Joy so we can recognize the good things in life. Fear so we can stay away from the scary things. Disgust helps us keep clean, both physically and socially. Anger helps us to fight when we need to. Joy explains all of this near the beginning of the movie, but she is puzzled by Sadness. The entire movie is about this explanation, emphasizing how avoiding sadness is unhealthy. Sadness helps us cope with the bad things in life. That’s what Sadness does for Bing Bong that Joy couldn’t; she sympathizes with his sadness, doesn’t deny him his sadness, and let’s him work through it. Sadness let’s us express this to other people, and help us work toward a more happy situation. This is what Joy uncovers when she looks at the memory of the hockey team celebrating, only to rewind it to the sadness of Riley messing up the key shot. Denying Sadness doesn’t make you happier, it makes you numb.

Which is what happens to Riley over the course of the movie. Both Joy and Sadness are shot out of the command center of Riley’s mind. To everyone else, Riley seems sad, but that’s not possible because Sadness isn’t there to run the console. Riley is depressed. She’s numb. When the console starts to go grey, when the emotions are no longer in control at all, that’s when the depression is really setting in. And it’s only when Sadness is allowed at the console, to let Riley feel her sadness, that she understands what is driving her actions and goes home.

Which is about when I started crying, right along with Riley. I’m not the kind of guy who usually cries at movies. But as Riley came to feel sadness, to realize that denying herself sadness was what was causing her so much pain, I let myself feel sadness. I let the film wash over me, and let the little sadness in the console in my head take full control, and I became a blubbering mess. Like Riley, I too often deny myself sadness, and this movie let me realize that and deal with it by feeling sad for Riley.

It’s a relatively simple point, when you think about it. Sadness is a necessary emotion, just like all the others.

But the movie has a lot of other subtleties that add nuance and complexity. After Sadness takes control of the console, allowing Riley to deal with her sadness, there is the touching scene when Riley comes clean to her parents. In her mind, both Joy and Sadness are at the controls in this moment. They form a new Core Memory, one that is different from not just the five yellow ones that Joy had created before, but also from the blue one Sadness had made in the earlier classroom scene. The new Core Memory is both Joy’s yellow and Sadness’s blue. It is a memory with an added level of complexity, allowing Riley to remember it in more than one way. This moment marks Riley’s emotional development, and is a great lesson in itself. After this, we see that a majority of the memories that Riley has on a daily basis are this two color kind of memory. Riley is able to think about her life in a more complex way and allow herself to feel more than one emotion about any one situation. The fact that life has nuance, and you are allowed to feel multiple ways about any given event is something that surprisingly few people realize, and it’s something I’m so glad this movie is teaching audiences, especially kids who will grow up loving this movie.

And while it is seemingly a throwaway at the end when the audience is given a glimpse at the emotional centers of other people besides Riley, this moment is far more important than that. For those that paid just a bit closer attention, they would notice that each person has a different emotion at the center, as the leader of their emotions. While Riley had been run by Joy for most of her life, we also saw that her mom was run by Sadness, and her dad was run by Anger. Other people are run by Disgust, or Fear, or in the case of the cat, none of them. This is a great way of looking at different people’s psyches and coming to understand why they take certain actions, and is another great tool for understanding the emotional complexity of others. (There are other discussions to be had about the genders of the emotions in other people’s heads as well, and how Riley has emotions of different genders, but that is largely speculation as opposed to analysis, so better to just leave it off at this point!)

This movie is really about empathy, and giving people the tools and language to convey that to others, and it’s just so wonderful for doing so. Not only do I recommend everyone should see Inside Out, I recommend making sure this is one you actually buy the digital copy or a Blu Ray for, just so you can look back on it in years to come. I think we may find that years down the line this movie will have made a bigger splash than we can see as of right now, and I’m so glad that that is likely going to be the case.

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