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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Thank You, Saddness


(Spoiler Alert)
This blog post discusses details of the plot of the movie Inside Out
If you would like, please feel free to come back to it after you have seen the film.


In an attempt to have a constructive discussion with Boy One over lunch, I asked him which emotion he would want to be from the movie, Inside Out.

“What's an emotion?” he asked.

“The different feelings,” I replied. “All together, they are called emotions. Joy, Disgust, Sadness...”

“Anger!” he interjected. “I would be Anger!”

“Anger? Why?”

“Because he's so awesome!”

Puzzled, I asked, “What do you like about him?”

“He's so GRRRRRRRRR!!!!!”

Thanks for that articulate clarification, Dude.

It has taken me awhile to get over myself enough to watch animated movies with my son. I was never one of those girls who loved the princesses or dreamed of a “Whole New World”  or looked forward longingly to trips to Disneyland. But, admittedly, parenthood has messed me up softened me enough that I can now be convinced to pay $30 for me and Boy One to watch a movie in 3D. I'll even spring for the extra cash for bag with a week’s worth of popcorn.

Inside Out is a story about the end of childhood, and it comes with all the emotional baggage one would expect from such a tale. The main character, Riley, is shown from her first beautiful thought as an infant seeing her parents for the first time to a young person at the age of 12, a girl on the brink of puberty, and the film alludes to all the pitfalls that come along with that. But there is something magical about this film, something that goes beyond the expected chick-flick, family movie outcome. Somehow, this hour and forty-two minutes illustrates many of the realities and nuances of life through the actions of purely fictional beings that is both wholly unexpected and tremendously rewarding. I recommend it with as many stars as are available.

Back to the conversation over lunch, I asked B1 about which emotion he would want to be partly because of a conversation I had with a friend of mine about which character he would want to be. His answer, surprisingly, was Bing Bong, which I refuse to admit is an acceptable choice. Personally, I long to be Joy: thin, positive, blue-haired and eternally optimistic. (She literally shines throughout the movie, not unlike a certain pale, un-dead hero who is artfully referenced near the end of the film.) However, I have spent too much of my life as Sadness to fully embrace the part.

Excellent fiction makes room for the viewer to identify with fictional characters, and in this respect, Inside Out is excellent fiction. I could see either myself or my children in almost every scene. The images of young Riley running around with underwear on her head or riding magical wagons into space were clearly modeled on Boy Two. He lives in Joy. Every scene with a toddler rang true for him, especially Riley's instantaneous shifts from happiness to disgust to anger and back again. The youngest of us have, unquestionably, the least adulterated experiences. There is no mixing of the emotions before the age of four as far as I can tell.
No toddler high chair is ever this clean.

Then, when it came to her transition into childhood, I could clearly see Boy One and his struggles as a very young man coming into the world: Riley learns to skate; B1 learns to ride his bike. Riley has a BFF with whom to play; B1 is just starting to develop meaningful friendships. While this in-between time is only cursorily addressed in the film, it is from this childhood stage that she is emerging as her drama plays out, so it is without question that the stage B1 is entering rang unbelievably true to me. She exits, he enters, and I ache. Sounds like a plot line already.

But, surprisingly, the character who changes the most vividly during the course of the action is Joy. She, as does Riley, begins the story as a child and emerges, if not as an adult, at least as something more mature, as a pre-teen, aware of the changes taking place in the world and ready, although hesitantly, for more changes in the future. The first time I cried during the movie was with Joy, as she sat alone in the memory dump, reliving Riley's memories and slowly coming to the realization that the joy of childhood was gone, that she had irrevocably changed, and that the Riley she had known had forever changed as well.  

Surrounded by darkness, Joy looked at a forgotten memory and said, “You remember how she used to stick her tongue out when she was coloring?” Then, she picked up another memory and looked at it as well. “ I could listen to her stories, all day.” Lastly, she picked up a third memory, and then broke down. ”I just wanted Riley to be happy...” she cried.

Here, I cried for myself and my childhood long past, and I cried for Boy One, and his childhood just begun, because I know it too will end, and I ached for his pain yet to come. All we ever want is for our children to be happy.

The second time I cried was near the very end, when Riley broke down and told her parents how she truly felt about their move and the world at large. She recognized that they wanted her to be happy, and that they had placed significant emotional baggage in her happiness, to the point that she was scared they would be mad when they realized how unhappy she actually was. This made me cry not for her sadness, which was tremendous, but for the innumerable expectations we, as parents, place on our children; for the tremendous impact, intended and otherwise, that we have on them and the unbelievable impact that they have on us. I ached and cried with every character on the screen. Now try to tell me that animation isn't really art.

The final straw in this artistic drama came at the very end, when Riley's memories were shown as multi-dimensional, when sadness mixed with joy and anger mixed with disgust in the individualized spherical remembrances of fictional memories from the illustrated protagonist. It was here, at the very end, where maturity was most clearly shown, where mixed emotions, rather than the pure emotions of childhood, were pushed to the forefront, ever to rule the day. Because it is in maturity that we realize that emotions do not exist in isolation. It is in maturity that we find the nuance, the gray, in each and every experience. It is here that we realize it takes sadness for us to remember to connect, and that the joys of happiness, however great, will eventually pass. No one emotion lasts forever, however much one wants Joy to rule the day. It takes all of the emotions, together, to make a life worth living.

So thank you, Sadness. Thank you for your honesty and for keeping others near. Thank you for reminding me that crying is the best method available to help slow ourselves down and obsess over the weight of life's problems. I don’t want you to rule my head, but without you, the world would be far less beautiful.

That’s all from Headquarters. Over and out.



Sources
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2096673/quotes

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