How Many Margaritas will it take to sit through this film? 0. Nada. This film may be meant for kids but there’s plenty to keep a grown up entertained.
Who will like Inside Out? Children, and parents interested in having emotionally healthy children.
Who wont like Inside Out? Humorless and partisan psychologists, perhaps? I cant really imagine who’d hate this film, and to be frank, Id distrust any person who expressed a strong dislike. But there are a lot of adults who don’t need to see this film.
TL, DR: Hermans Head, but for kids! Or the Ancient Greek theory of the humors, but for kids!
Moar, Please: The ancient Greeks essentially held that there were four fluids that governed personality- sanguine (joy/courage), choleric (angry/ambition), melancholy (sadness/introspection) and phlegm (calm/thoughtful).
Pixar gives an alternate theory of five humors, namely Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and Fear (Bill Hader). These five passions are at the helm of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), an 11 year old hockey jock who’s having a hard time adjusting to her family moving from Minnesota to San Francisco. The relentlessly optimistic Joy is the leader of the group, but her attempts to crowd out Sadness lead to a mishap that results in both Joy and Sadness getting ejected from headquarters and lost in the labyrinth of Riley’s memories.
Riley’s psyche has five major kinds of geography: theres Headquarters, the tower at the center which represents Rileys self; there are islands which represent major facets of her personality; there are the labyrinths of her memory, the caves of her subconscious, and finally, the abyss- where old faded memories and feelings dissolve into oblivion.
Thats quite a bit for Joy and Sadness to navigate, and they have to do it before Riley’s other passions ruin Riley’s life with poor decisions. They are able to enlist help in the form of Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley’s now forgotten imaginary friend. What follows is a fantastic traipse through the sets of dreams, the palaces of imagination, and the express train of thought.
Character Arcs without a Character
Certainly, there was Hermans Head, but Inside Out achieves an innovation in dramatic- its a hero’s progress without the hero, a psychodrama which displaces the core character. By compartmentalizing the character, Riley herself is abstracted out of her own growth and development. Hermans Head never really explored this concept in a dramatic way, using the premise only for standard sitcom humor. Inside Out, instead, gives every character a bridge crew of squabbling emotions, and in the process, becomes a terrific film for getting children to think about how emotions work and interact- both their own, and those of others.
Giving New Names to Joy
SKIP THIS SECTION IF YOU DONT WANT TO READ ABOUT AESTHETIC THEORY
We dont have enough words for joy, or for pleasure, and how the interactions of those patterns of reward direct our participation in the viewing of film and other works of art. To explain what makes Inside Out so good, its time to introduce two new words. The two new words of the day are Feur-Proben, and Anakoufisis.
Feur-proben- n. The act of experiencing a psychically overwhelming piece of art or performance so as to be emotionally rehearsed for a hypothetical instance of emotional stress or trauma. Derived from the German words for rehearsing for fire.
Feur-proben is similar to Freuds concept of abreaction, but whereas abreaction is a therapeutic technique that is applied subsequent to a trauma, Feur-proben is a preventative technique- engaging in emotionally wrenching fictions so that one is more familiar with ones own irrational reactions in future moments of crisis.
Inside Out, like Toy Story, is a rehearsal for the pain of leaving childhood for maturity. The movie is very much about what Riley should keep and what Riley needs to leave behind. Inside Out is taking children through a very rough event- moving away from ones established home, which can be a very emotionally stunting event. By putting children through this gauntlet of a protagonists troubles, we acquaint the audience with emotions and reactions that they might otherwise lack familiarity with, allowing them to recognize and express these rarer points of emotional being.
Catharsis is a concept first developed by Aristotle. It refers to the purgation of emotion through vicarious participation in the cultural ritual. The idea that we engage with art as a means of having an outlet for purging our emotions is one of the oldest ideas of aesthetics.
Anakoufisis- n. The joy and relief that is felt by witnessing an artistic hyperbole that mirrors ones internal anxieties. From the greek word for relief.
Anakoufisis, like Feur-proben, is related to Catharsis. It is the joy that one finds by seeing ones anxieties reflected in art. It is one of the driving impulses at play in the enjoyment of horror literature and art. As I put it in my review of Carrie, its the relief of getting to see the nightmare walking around, as big in the real world as the way that it feels inside your head. By watching the terror and panic of others, we feel a recognition of the unexpressed undercurrents of anxiety that permeate our daily lives.
Sometimes, you need exaggeration in order to achieve an emotional resonance between the world that is being portrayed externally in the film and the world that is being portrayed internally. In Inside Out, thats islands of personality crumbling and collapsing into the abyss.
Kairosis is the pleasure of resolving into a victorious construction of the self through the mirror of a fictional self. When a character achieves a victory through sensible and logical actions, it becomes an affirmation to the audience as well. Here, kairosis is achieved by by Rileys maturation. This is a film ultimately about the transition from late childhood to adolescence, and the hazards that are involved in that transition.
Apotheosis is the moment of fulfillment of narrative, and the gratification of witnessing a character that is expressing a moment of transcendent iteration of an archetype. It is the pleasure we receive from watching the man become the myth, and of knowing that such potential remains inherent within us. Whether it is Indiana Jones running from the boulder (heroic apotheosis), or Voldemort reincarnating to physical form (villainous apotheosis), we derive pleasure from watching characters that completely embody the fullness of a characteristic.
Another of the conflicts of Inside Out is the conflict between apotheosis and kairosis. Joy seeks to be as continuously and extremely joyful as possible- the character is pursuing an apotheosis of joy. This conflicts with the other emotions of Riley. The character arc of Joy is to learn deferred gratification- that sorrow is sometimes a pre-requisite to greater happiness, and that a monopoly of one emotion does not make a healthy person, even if that emotion is positive.
Kenosis is the joy of sublimation to the imperative of an ideal. Traditionally used in theology to refer to moments where a person is controlled by the holy spirit, it can also refer to other moments in which personal will and agency is perceived to be surrendered to a social imperative. It is the pleasure that is at the root of fascism and authoritarianism, the desire for the abdication of responsibility to a superior authority.
Inside Out is a revolutionary film in terms for messages for children, because it is a movie that acknowledges not only that both children and adults can be out of control, but that it is ok to do so. Movies are frequently caught up within the heroic/macho narrative, and are thus unwilling to allow a character to be weak or mistaken without consequences. Inside Out tells children that it is alright to have a tantrum, or to break down crying. It is human to be overwhelmed by emotions.
I’d call this concept holistic humanism- an idea as old as antiquity, but not really one that sees much advocacy within capitalist society, which, being predicated upon consumption, is correspondingly based upon manufacturing a perpetual manageable level of dysfunctionality and inadequacy. Holistic humanism is the idea that the negative aspects of emotional experience are as necessary and important to a fully realized existence as the positive emotions. Given the run of Disney’s past films, it’s revolutionary to have a film with the message that not only should you not be happy all the time, but that it’s a good thing for you to be unhappy. In that regard,Inside Out is as much of a landmark in children’s cinema as the originalSchrek.
The Trifecta of Coping
So lets go back to Feur-proben. Inside Out is a masterpiece of children’s cinema, because it combines together three important processes for children. First, Inside Out provides children with a valuable for visualizing and parsing their internal psychology. Secondly, Inside Out teaches holistic humanism- that all emotions, even the negative ones, have a place and a necessary role in being a balanced and healthy person. Thirdly, Inside Out provides Feur-proben for an extremely common childhood problem- the relocation and migration of the family.
It may not be that Inside Out is going to be as iconic as Toy Story or Wall-E. But it is the most coherent expression of the Pixar cinematic ethos yet. It is creative and ground-breaking in terms of how it treats the audience. As far as being a useful teacher of lessons to a young audience, Inside Out is the new emblem of good film-making for children. Inside Out is the healthiest children’s film yet made. And for that it has my warmest endorsement.