Inside out - the Mind & soul review!
The summer holidays are here, and if, as is often the case, you’re left trying to work out what to do with yourself and/or your kids/other people’s kids on rain soaked days you might well be tempted to head to the cinema. If you are, this year amidst the usual crop of summer films, emotional health hits the big time, with the new Pixar animation, Inside out, which observes the turmoil, chaos and interplay between the various emotions of a tweenage girl as she experiences the first big challenge of her life, leaving the town and area where she grew up and moving to a totally new area.
Now we will all have experienced the emotional reactions of a child, whether just our own, or those of our children. With the increasing focus and concern about children’s emotional health in the Uk, the emotions of our children are under more of a spotlight than usual, making this film right on trend. For us at Mind & soul, obviously a film which claims to explore our inner emotions is particularly interesting. As a psychologist, often working with children and young adults, and with an expertise in emotions, I was intrigued to see how Pixar tackled this often tricky topic. And even more so because for us it hits on a strangely familiar theme as we prepare for our own Big Move, the second in two years, this time moving back to the Uk from Paris, where we’ve been living whilst my husband is on a placement there. Add to that the fact that my daughter is 10, and you can see why interest in our household in this film was intense.
So, my daughter and I decided it was a Must See, and off we headed together. Would the film, we wondered, accurately capture the inner world of a tweenage girl? Would it explain something of the emotions they encounter? Would it help either of us understand better what is going on in each other’s heads?! So, on we went to the cinema, agreeing beforehand that we would both write reviews afterwards before comparing notes...
First a bit of background: The film opens with a brief back story on the character’s lives so far. In typical (and perhaps slightly schmaltzy) fashion, it is idyllic, full of soft focused happiness. It has its laughs too - and it introduces the film’s unique (that is unless you were a fan of the numbskulls as a child!) perspective, looking into the minds of the characters and portraying each emotion as a character. So, we meet the emotions that exist inside each character’s head - and most notably inside Riley’s head (the tweenage lead character). Psychologists, counsellors or just those with a healthy interest in the mind might find their depiction of our emotional world a bit simplistic: just 5 emotions are portrayed: joy (the main emotion, who has up to this point run things inside ‘headquarters’ - Riley’s mind), sadness (depicted in blues and greys, often criticised for being portrayed as fat - though this wasn’t something either of us particularly picked up on), anger (stocky and red and with a tendency to blow up like a volcano - this one went down very well with both Mum and daughter!) disgust and fear (much laughs from daughter who endures her Mum talking a lot about this particular emotion).
Swiftly the film moves on to the new stage the family are about to encounter. Riley is now 11, and they have moved to a new area. From this moment the action is split between what is going on in their ‘real’ life, and the emotional drama occurring inside their (mainly Riley’s) heads.
So, what did we think about the film?
Daughter: age 10,
Inside out is about a young girl named Riley who has to move house and change schools. The film is all about the things that happen inside her mind. There are five different emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust. Every one of these emotions plays a very important roll inside our heads. However, despite sadness’s important roll she is neglected by the other emotions. Inside out is about how the the other emotions get to understand sadness’s importance.
In the real world sometimes we don’t want to think about being sad but sadness is actually a very important emotion and we need to let ourselves feel sad.
I think that Inside out is an accurate impression of moving house. I do however think that that there should have been more positive emotions like maybe comfort or kindness and I think embarrassment is an important emotion. Disgust plays the roll of embarrassment but disgust and embarrassment are totally different and Joy plays the roll of kindness but the two don't seem to match.
Inside out is a funny film with a point. There are a couple of bizarre bits that don’t make sense but a part from that it is a really good film. I am rating this film a 8 out of 10.
Mum, aka the psychologist ('supposed to know what she is talking about'):
The film is a really interesting take on our emotions and how they influence who we are and how we react. At times the depictions of certain concepts are so detailed you almost wonder if you are watching an educational film aimed at explaining something like CBT to children! So, we learn that there are ‘core memories’ and experiences in life which influence key aspects of our personality and who we are, and how these contribute to whether we are overall happy or not. Aspects of memory are also depicted, with memories set by each day’s experiences like large marbles which are then moved down to ‘long term memory’ at the end of each day when the character sleeps.
At times the ambition of the film in illustrating concepts seems to be a bit too great. Some attempts to bring things in (such as the brief move into the abstract mind and a potentially interesting diversion into the unconscious) seemed out of pace with the rest of the film, and left most of the younger audience behind (as well I suspect as much of the older audience!). However, the storyline and pace are such that even though younger viewers might not understand the whole thing, it keeps their attention, and there are genuine moments which will trigger emotions in you, the viewer, just as much as they do in the characters depicted. At one key point there was much sniffing in the audience and I distinctly saw the Dad sitting two chairs down from me surreptitiously dabbing his eye with a hanky!
In terms of the psychology of the film I was surprised by how serious it was on the whole. Though there are funny moments (which are done really well), most of the story looks at the struggles Riley is having as she moves to her new area. Parents in particular might find this unsettling as the drama is played out and key parts of who she is, previously set in stone literally crumble and fall into nothingness. It can feel like a bleak portrayal of childhood experiences at times and I think we would both have enjoyed more of the lighter moments - particularly where the interplay between child and parent emotions is played out so accurately (and in a way which helps both parties understand what it feels like from the other perspective!). Meanwhile in the more serious themes, some interesting ideas are raised, and this offers some great chances to chat about emotions afterwards. For example one thing shown really clearly is the way our different emotions can offer totally different perspectives on the same situation, and our choice in which one we choose to believe as ‘reality’. When Riley arrives at her new home (not the fairytale house she had hoped for) and finds it empty, dusty and intimidating, her different emotions offer her a full range of different thoughts, and it is up to her to choose which ‘wins’ and which she goes with.
Probably the main theme throughout the film (and a very interesting one) is the interplay between joy and sadness as the basic ‘happy or sad’ emotions. The film starts with what for many people would be a ‘traditional’ perspective on this, with a ‘happy is good, sad is bad’ philosophy. In fact, the film sets out the impact of how a decision to try to be what the Mum in the film calls ‘our happy little girl’ causes so many problems for Riley in a stage of her life when in fact the reality is that she is feeling many things other than joy. The implication, though not set out literally, that trying to push down her sadness inadvertently also pushes out joy is one worth discussing afterwards, as is the idea that sometimes we feel under pressure to pretend to be joyful when we are not - a topic that may be particularly interesting to people who have felt the same pressure in church!
There is a really interesting journey throughout the film changing our perspective on sadness, from the start where it is viewed as a negative thing and encouraged ‘not to touch’ too much in the mind - we see the alarm of the other emotions when sadness touches memories and ‘turns them’ sad. As the story continues we begin to change our minds about sadness, as it becomes apparent that in fact the key to Riley’s happiness is not blocking sadness out, but allowing it to be expressed and processed in a positive way. We are left with a much more complex concept of sadness - and a much more positive one, as it becomes the key to enabling Riley to move on, process her feelings of loss and grief for what she has left behind and ultimately accept her new life.
Overall the film is fun, moving and engaging. If I had one criticism of it as a therapist it would be that I wish it went into as much detail about how she becomes more ‘well’ emotionally as it does for how she becomes emotionally in a difficult place. The portrayal of her crumbling personality and the desperate struggle to keep her core memories safe and happy is really powerful and it would have been wonderful to see an equally clear and inspiring depiction of her rebuilding those things. However, the film is not intended as a therapeutic tool, and it is good to remember this - especially for anyone viewing it with the hope that it will help them understand their own emotions. My advice would be whether you take someone to it as a parent, friend, pastoral carer, therapist, or whatever is that it is a great springboard for conversations about emotions. It doesn’t do all you’d want it to do on its own. Appropriate caution should be taken for those who are emotionally vulnerable - although it is a great film (and it does all turn out well in the end!), some might find certain bits difficult, or at least emotionally provoking - bear this in mind and perhaps plan time afterwards to unpack the thoughts it has triggered if you think this might be difficult for you or someone you are taking.