Review: Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015, U.S.A)

Inside Out is the latest 3D animated gem from the Pixar mind. When I first heard about the idea for this film I had imagined it being a more fun, less expository Inception-esque venture. The film is more fun (and more funny) than Inception and contains a lot less on-the-nose ‘zzzz’ exposition, and the narrative idea behind the two films –making external the internal emotional journey of the protagonist – is essentially the same, but beyond this the comparisons end. I’ll admit now that I am biased towards mind-centric narratives and that Inside Out was already lighting up quite a few pleasure centres before I ever saw it. However, after watching, my admiration and appreciation for it comes from a completely different place.

Inside Out’s main chunk of narrative follows a few days in the life of Riley, an eleven year-old girl who has recently moved with her family to San Francisco from Minnesota, being forced to leave behind a life that she is content with. What sets this film apart from others with a similarly bland set-up is that we are privy to the world and machinations of five semi-anthropomorphic manifestations of Riley’s different emotions that exist in her head – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, who are the real principal cast of the film. These emotions man an interface that allows them complete control over how Riley responds to the external world. The only aspect of their existence that they don’t know how to manage is how to work together with each other – and herein lies the central conflict. The world they inhabit is equally as nuanced and charming as the five emotions; with surroundings ranging from the library of Long Term Memory, to the canyon of the Subconscious, and a literal Train of Thought.  

An integral mechanism within the outside-in world the emotions inhabit is the allocation, retrieval and viewing of memories. Onscreen the memories take the shape of marbles and are coloured depending on which emotion is most strongly associated with that memory. However, the marbles emotional affiliations are not fixed, the same memory can become associated with any of Riley’s characterised emotions. The viewing of memories leads to both difficult and hilarious scenes – my favourite being the visualisation of what really happens when we get an annoying song stuck in our head. The film doesn’t consist entirely of a representation of Riley’s head – we also take two brief dips into her parents’ machinations, which provides some adult-centric comic relief.

As is the norm with Pixar animations, both children and adults alike can enjoy this, but I can’t help but feel like this was meant for adults more than children. Beyond all the visual jokes and puns that are completely aimed at adults, the scope and range of ideas explored touches that of mental and cognitive processes. You can’t watch this without contemplating the nature of Schizophrenia. You also can’t watch it without relating to the tantrums you may have thrown as a child and how your parents approached you about them, forcing you to think about your reactions to the same. Where Adventure Time is amazing at helping kids relate to and understand their own complex psychologies, I feel like Inside Out is similarly skilled at helping us as adults relate to children’s psychologies, by reminding us of what is was like for us at that age.

However, the greater commentary at play here is relevant for everyone. Never have I seen a film that so fervently displays a pro-expression stance and illustrates the dangers inherent in repression of thoughts, feelings, experiences and perceptions. Which means it’s the type of film I have waited my entire life to see. The context of this story may be limited to a young girl and her parents, but it isn’t hard to extrapolate the situation and apply it to friends, family and ourselves. It’s the type of film that wants us to foster a greater sense of compassion, understanding and openness between each other, and within ourselves, for the benefit of us all. Don’t “fold”. If you don’t journey within, you go without.

Written by Samuel Ruthjen


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