Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Review: Inside Out

Trying to think back to the last time a movie really had an emotional impact on me, I found myself thinking back to the movie The Impossible.  The movie Inside Out is nowhere near as powerful a story, yet I found myself getting extremely emotionally involved in the story spotlighting the little characters controlling the emotions of an eleven year old girl whose parents move her halfway across the country from Minnesota (no city given) to San Francisco (no state given).

I will freely admit that, during one part of the movie, I was crying.  Not choking sobs or bawling or anything like that, but I had tears coming down my cheeks as I watched.  For some reason, an animated children's movie was able to evoke a powerful emotional response in me, and I think I know why.

To get to the meat of a review, the film is about Riley, played by Kaitlyn Dias, whose family needs to move from one part of America to a drastically different part, leaving behind her friends, hockey team, and a major part of her childhood.  Inside her head are five "emotions" that keep Riley getting through each day and try to make sure things don't get too far out of control for her.  There's Joy, (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (played by Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black, naturally).

Joy runs the "show" in Riley's head, but soon finds it more and more difficult to keep things under control as Riley's life slips more and more into uncertain terms.  Instead of an amazing house, they're in a small, cramped building.  Instead of an amazing bedroom, she has two awkwardly slanted ceiling sections and no furniture while the moving truck is somewhere else.

Sadness, either compelled by some unnatural force or simply doing what comes naturally, is suddenly able to touch Riley's memories and turn them from happy ones into sad ones.  This happens a couple of times, but Joy is able to minimize the damage, until Riley's first day at her new school where Sadness "corrupts" one of Riley's core memories, making it sad instead of happy.  The core memories make up the major aspects of Riley's personality (Family, honesty, friends, hockey, and wackiness). Without them (and without Joy or Sadness), Riley finds herself emotionally distant, with only Fear, Anger, and Disgust able to work the control panel.

Now, as an adult, we understand what's happening.  Memories can be both happy and sad, which is where things like nostalgia come from.  In the mind of a child, however, things are much more black and white (or, in this case, yellow and blue.  Or red.  Or green.  Or purple.  But only those, never mixed).  It's when they start to grow up that being able to comprehend deeper emotions and other more "abstract" thoughts comes naturally.

However, there's a few things really important about a movie like Inside Out, and the first is that, out of all the movies I think I've seen in my life, I've never seen one like this one.  Nothing about it felt too "familiar," and I wasn't presented with ideas and characters I've seen a million times before.  Moments where I expected a standard storytelling "beat" whizzed past with no sign of what I expected anywhere around.  Classic and regular settings and ideas from children's movies (and even adult movies) are missing completely, leaving me paying much more attention than I normally do.

Second, it does something I don't think I've seen a movie really do before: it tells you that it's okay to be sad.  In so many movies, being sad is something to get past.  You need to "tough it out," or "get over it."  You don't let depression (and, in a lot of ways, what Riley's feeling is depression) beat you, you beat it, and if you cry, well, then you've already lost.

But no.  Sadness is part of life, and trying to simply deny it is just as healthy as embracing it.  I've talked about depression before, but something I haven't gone into a lot about is that, when you're fighting depression, it's possible to start to believe that you can never be "sad" or the depression is winning.  You're so worried about your emotions cascading out of control down into the abyss that's so hard to climb out of that you push down every tear, every pang, every "feeling" in order to never let yourself have the chance to be "sad."  It stunts your emotional development, and learning to separate the two emotions (or, in this case, emotion versus chemical imbalance) is difficult.

But here we have a film that not only lets the main characters learn that Sadness has a lot to contribute to Riley being healthy and (overall) happy, but it also helps any of us.  Being sad lets people know we need help.  Being sad helps us get past changes and loss, or helps us remember happier times through the lenses of nostalgia.  Being sad lets you know you care.

And there's no simple movie cure ("true love!" or "adventure!" or anything else) that lets you completely forget about your pain and pretend it never happened.  You just have to be patient and let that part of your life shape the greater "you."

Third, the movie made me cry, and I'll never forgive it for that.

Fourth, there's layers and layers to Riley's mindscape, and between the clever movie references are some pretty deep ideas.  A chamber where Abstract Thought is developed winds up becoming a danger-filled escape filled with new ideas about how art and our perception of it works.  We see the formation of ideas that become relevant when people get older (an imaginary pop star boyfriend who would "do anything for Riley" and "is from Canada") while other ideas get swept away, along with memories that aren't as important any more ("Phone numbers?  We don't need these, they're in her phone!").  

We recognize similar events and thoughts from our own lives.  Watching the movie, I found myself thinking back to the fondness for particular ideas and games and things that were "fun" that these days I can't imagine myself doing.  I used to tell elaborate stories using the tokens from Monopoly as characters in a LEGO-built landscape.  I miss some of the simplicity of those days, but know that my own ideas have grown into things that the younger me would never, on his best day, imagine.

This is a movie I earnestly encourage people to see.  It's layered in so many ways (in that perfect Pixar tradition) that no matter your age, you'll find yourself enjoying it.  You could even find yourself loving it.  You may even, and I wouldn't bet against it, find yourself crying in a theater over it.

1 comment:

Néna Riley said...

Love everything that you said. I too felt this movie was so unique and different. Thank goodness someone is making stories that have yet to be told and don't reek of the same ol' same ol' ! I also cried like a baby, but I cried the whole movie, I think something about watching a little girl grow up and go through things was really really emotional for me.

In short, you hit the nail on the head and this movie was fantastic.