Monday night, David and I went to the drive-in theater to see the new Pixar movie, Inside Out. I laughed, I cried, I went emotionally numb, I was scared of my own feelings and then ultimately experienced an overwhelming sense of revelation to the inner workings of my mind.
I was pleasantly surprised about the concept developed for the plot of this movie. The story follows the emotional roller coaster that is the prepubescent life of a young girl named Riley dealing with the struggles of moving to a new city, starting a new school, and leaving her friends and past life behind. The cast of characters that are the makeup of the young girl’s emotional mainframe each represent a primary emotion: Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and of course, Sadness. Within the emotional universe where they live are lands of long-term memory banks, a train of thought, the subconscious, and Personality Islands including: Honesty Island, Friendship Island, and Goofy Island. There are valuable core memories and memories that fade and are subject to the clean-up crew who collect and dispose of useless, old memories (albeit leaving a few bizarre memories that most of us recall at the most unrelated moments–memories of information that would be useful to a pop-culture wiz who probably had been subjected to years of subliminal messaging). All of these memories are literally colored with their corresponding emotion that was present at the time: anger-red, disgust-green, fear-purple, joy-yellow, and sadness-blue.
Without revealing too much about the premise of the movie, there is a breakdown in the balance of the emotions; Joy and Sadness become a focus and get lost within Riley’s mind. Each consecutive emotional disruption corresponds with what life event Riley is experiencing; although instead of her actions controlling her emotional mind, the characters of her emotional mind quickly react and decide what she should be feeling at the time and how she should respond to certain stimuli. The entire movie is a metaphor in-plain-sight, allowing the viewer to think about their own emotional mind while enjoying a frolicking animated Pixar movie. I couldn’t help but wonder throughout the movie if the writers were themselves psychologists, and whether they based the movie off of the understandings of Mindfulness that is so prevalent throughout Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).
I see absolutely nothing wrong with this.
The world needs more movies like this one, especially during times of great hardship. There are more tragic, sometimes preventable, causes to breakdowns in our family systems today and more impeding situations such as technology that stunt the healthy growth of a nurturing, balanced family. An emotionally needy child that goes unnoticed may develop skewed perceptions of future relationships and of his/her own self. Although Riley grew up in a balanced environment, she is still controlled by her many emotions that react to the situational changes in her life. This means that even though someone may have had an emotionally nurturing childhood, he/she can still be subject to irrational automatic thoughts. This movie encourages the viewer to reflect upon his/her emotional reactions and how his/her automatic thoughts may not be the rational ones.
My current research study is partially comprised of the teachings of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)–where you focus on your automatic thoughts and determine whether they are rational or not, whether there is factual evidence to support them or whether they stem from an overactive emotion. The Emotions in the movie react without rationalizing the situation. This causes a chain of events in the breakdown of the little girl’s emotional state until she eventually becomes numb.
We’ve all been there before. We’ve all been controlled by Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and of course, Sadness. Some people experience one emotion stronger than the others and this is what the movie teaches us: All of our emotions are important, and there is a time when focusing on one emotion over another is appropriate, but not to allow this to happen all the time.
Now when I find myself falling down into that deep melancholic hole, I try to picture(when I’m aware of it) my emotions as these animated Pixar characters, and which one is taking total control. It helps me to personify intangible feelings. If I can put a face to a name, I can work to organize and understand my thoughts and thought processes. So for now, I’ve put Sadness on my desktop, my cell phone, and on my shoulder. The artists at Pixar have created a tiny character that illustrates my depression almost perfectly–even down to my blue hair.