I am not a movie critic, and this is not even an attempt at a movie review.
And SPOILER ALERT, I’m not going to try to NOT spoil this for you.
I just want to tell you about a family who went to see a movie together and what happened in our own “inside out”.
The characters that you see above are Anger, Disgust, Joy, Fear and Sadness.
They live inside Riley’s head.
As the film begins, we are welcomed into to a story about a little girl who grows up reaching childhood milestones, loving hockey, developing sweet friendships, and having a wonderful family life. She then finds herself moving across the country with her parents where everything is new and different. The film’s focus is the emotional upheaval that the move has on Riley, however, the setting of the story takes place less on the landscape of Riley’s experiences and more on the landscape of her mind.
Inside Riley’s mind we are introduced to these 5 main characters: Anger, Disgust, Joy, Fear and Sadness. They operate a switch board that is Riley’s “brain control board” so to speak. They take turns at the board giving emotion to Riley’s experiences. They capture memories in glass balls and take them to a shoot where they are deposited into short term or long term memory. We are introduced to places like Imagination Land, Abstract Thought, a Subconscious “jail”, Forgotten Memory, a colorful train that runs through the story, aptly named “The Train of Thought”, and the various Islands of her life experiences.
But as I mentioned earlier, this is not a movie review and I’m not even going to attempt to break down the whole story line.
Here’s what I want to share with you about the power of this movie.
Pixar and Disney have managed to bring two movies to the screen recently that have had a powerful effect on our family. I wrote earlier about Big Hero 6 (read here), a movie that allowed Aiden to find a voice to express his grief. And now Inside Out goes deeper to give us all language to express the incredible power and importance of human emotion.
Grief is a crazy beast. There are many days when I feel like juggling the emotional rampage is more than I can bare, not only within my own heart and mind, but in helping to carry my children through this as well.
This movie has so many layers, so much depth, but let me focus on one.
Inside Out has helped me give language to the emotions on this journey called “Grief”.
In the movie, there is a scene where Riley is distraught about all that she has lost in the move: friendships, activities that were important to her, and the security of the familiar. Sadness takes the controls, competing with Joy who is trying to help Riley remain her “happy self”. Joy tries to keep Sadness away, hating to see their girl Riley feeling so sad. At one point Sadness and Joy are both “suppressed”, leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust as the primary controllers of the “brain control board”.
Joy is desperately trying to find her way back to the controls, dragging Sadness along with her; yet at the same time trying to get Sadness to cooperate with her mission to restore Joy.
Grief is like that. Joy becomes further and further removed from the control system of our minds, Sadness tries to express itself, but so many, many times Anger and Fear take the front seat.
As someone I know and love recently said, “Anger is simply a cover for Sadness. It pushes Sadness away because Sadness is more painful to feel.”
I’ve seen this battle in my life, in my husband’s life, and in my children’s lives- Anger covering up Sadness, pushing it to the background because, let’s face it, Sadness is a heavy load. I’ve wrapped my arms around a raging child and tried to help them get to the deeper root, the Sadness that is hiding behind the Anger. I’ve watched as screaming and kicking give way to a weeping and collapse.
As the movie comes to a close, Joy comes to an understanding of how important Sadness is in Riley’s life. She discovers that unless Riley is allowed to feel the sadness of this big change in her life and express it to her parents, that Joy will never be able to return. She is able to look back at Riley’s life and see moments where she had always perceived Joy as the primary emotion, when really the moment would not have been Joyful had Sadness not been expressed first.
So as Joy and Sadness return to the control board, they are united, Joy places Sadness’ hand on the board, allowing Riley to step out of a place of Anger and to express her true feelings to her parents. As Sadness is released, Joy then places her hand over Sadness’ hand, and Riley is able to experience the unique ability of the human spirit to feel both Joy and Sadness simultaneously.
And there you have the beauty and bittersweetness of grief. As the human spirit walks through Anger at pain and loss, and allows Sadness to be freely expressed, it is then that Joy can be experienced again as well, and often with that hand over hand simultaneous expression that is Sadness and Joy interwoven.
Deep within the theme of this movie is also the impact that tragedy has on our past memories. Joy keeps finding Sadness putting her hand on past memories and touching them with Sadness. She keeps trying to stop this. Sadness doesn’t understand why she is doing it. Then the realization comes that because of tragedy even some of the memories of the past are now touched with Sadness.
And so it is, the memories I have of my sweet boy have now been touched by Sadness. It changes them. It doesn’t take them away from me, it deepens them. I can recount beautiful, miraculous Joyful moments of our lives with him and feel at the same time the sting of Sadness, knowing that memories are all we have left; that there will be no new ones. The memories, though they bring a reminder of Joy, also carry the ache of Sadness.
So my friends, whatever shape your pain and grief may hold, Anger is not bad. Feel it. Acknowledge it. It’s ok. It’s not a place to stay, but at times a visitor that creeps in to the journey. But as I am learning and as I am teaching my children, never let the Anger push Sadness to the background for too long. Sadness must be felt because Love is great, and together we are learning the unique dance that Joy and Sadness share. Joy comes in waves. Sadness comes in waves. And at times one hits with more intensity that the other, and at other times they wash up against us with the same steady rhythm hand in hand.
Thank you Pixar for helping our family and many others find expression for the feelings that are part of each of our unique life journeys.